We’ve gotta do it for the (fur) kids

Yesterday morning, I received a phone call from my dad, who has been amazingly helpful to me, monetarily and otherwise, while I pick up the pieces of my past life, and prepare to start anew. So much so, that he has power of attorney over my legal and financial matters. He had three things he needed me to do, yesterday, as part of that process. One of those items included finding a place for all of our animals. My ex is currently taking care of the dog, but that has limits, due to her apartment. I’m staying elsewhere, while a crew of family from both sides is getting the house ready for market. Instantly, I thought of the possibility that our cats could end up in a shelter – which is an inevitable death sentence.

As ugly as our divorce has been, and as angry as we’ve been at one another – for lots of reasons – our views on animals are one of the things we have in common. And, the thought of sending any of them off to die, simply because we weren’t providing the best home…well, that’s just unconscionable for both of us.

Immediately, I went to work, contacting friends in the rescue community, coworkers who also happen to be big animal lovers, and a post on Facebook, looking for assistance. And, I assured my ex that I would do whatever I could to keep them out of a shelter. She, of course, knew I would. Within minutes, I found someone who can care for the dog, while I get settled – which takes a huge burden off my ex, and allows her to take in a couple of the cats. We’re still working on getting one cat re-homed – and she’s our biggest challenge.

Our stance on re-homing has been influenced by two things; 1) Our work in animal rescue (Nikki volunteers for a local cat fostering organization, and I often work with residents over animal-related issues). 2) Several years ago, we took a cat back to the APA, who was having all sorts of issues peeing everywhere. We tried everything we could think of, and nothing was working. I was the one who talked my ex into dropping the cat off at the APA. It’s a decision both of us regret, to this day – especially after we figured out what may have caused her problem.

The cat was declawed (something we are now dead-set against). For non-cat people, think of it like this: declawing is the equivalent of chopping off your fingers at the knuckle. If done correctly, the long-term consequences are minimal – especially, if they’re indoor cats. If done at too young an age, the consequences can mean constant pain for the cat. In other words, regular litter was causing her pain. We found this out, a few years after we had made that decision to drop the cat off at the shelter. And, we could have handled it differently. We sent her off to die over something that could be fairly easily remedied, by using different litter (think of shredded paper, rather than sand). I’ll have to live with that for the rest of my life, and I wasn’t about to add another bad decision to the list.

Both of us grew up with animals, but when we were dating, I had none. She had two cats: Stella and Missy (short for Mistletoe, because she was adopted around Christmas). Missy – the tortie we ended up taking back to the APA, bonded with me right away. Stella took a while, but I remember the moment she climbed in our bed and sat down on my chest. Her cats were now our cats. For the first three years of our marriage, we were a two-cat household. Within a month or so of giving up Missy, we ended up with Leah, after someone from Nikki’s work posted a message about needing to find homes for a litter of kittens. Both of us fell in love with the spunky calico kitten, and she quickly attempted to assert herself as the boss of the house – much to Stella’s consternation (she doth protest too much, anyway). Eventually, they began to tolerate one another…and, then, we bought a house.

Within a week or so of moving in, one of Nikki’s friends asked if we could take in her Russian Blue mix. “Sure,” we said. We have a house, now. We’re set up for a third cat. This didn’t sit well with the other two, but that’s normal, and eventually, it passes. Usually, that’s how it works. Her former (and, now current) guardian named her Graysee, ’cause she’s gray…see? We kept the name as it fit her personality, and she bonded with us right away. Again, we figured the situation would sort itself out, just as it did between Stella and Leah.

Then, along came Rocco. He showed up on our back porch, and we realized he was domesticated. Later, we found out that our neighbors across the alley had taken him in, and put the word out that he needed a home. With no takers, they turned him loose, and because we’re suckers, he became Number Four. And, that seemed to traumatize Leah. We tried different remedies, but none seemed to work, and so she became isolated. It’s not a life that any cat deserves, and when we were faced with re-homing cats, as part of the divorce, we knew she would be our greatest challenge.

Thankfully, we don’t have any human children in the middle of this mess. Though, I think it’s fair to say that both of us grieve that we either couldn’t afford, or weren’t able to have kids. We poured our energies into the fur babies. At one point, we had seven cats and a dog. Did I mention we’re suckers?

And, then, we separated. And, then, Nikki decided she didn’t want to be married to me, anymore. To be fair, I was miserable, too. And, our divorce is for the best. But, that decision meant making some other tough decisions – such as which cats to keep and which ones to re-home. Within short order, we were able to re-home three of the cats. And, while we’re sad about that, we know they’re in good hands with their new guardians. Deciding who would get which animal was actually a very easy process. Nikki knew she wasn’t going to be set up for taking care of a dog, and I was going to take one of the cats. That still left our beautiful, but incredibly frightened calico – who really needs to be the only animal in a house.

Today’s coordination of efforts required my ex and I to work together on a set of solutions. We’re still figuring out what to do with Leah. I’m sorting through a couple of options to, possibly, get her in a better place mentally – which might allow me to take her. And, regardless, re-training our 66-pound bull in a china shop has to be a priority.

For today, the two of us were able to set aside all the garbage we’ve put each other through, and work on what’s best for our fur kids. It’s not unlike what divorced parents try to do with their human kids. All I could think about was how much it would break both of our hearts to put any of our animals in a shelter. Our hearts are broken enough, already. And, it made me reconsider some of my apprehension about letting Nikki have a key to wherever I end up, so that she can see Lola whenever she wants (provided she messages, first).

I’ve been so caught up in my own pain, and so angry over the battle between the attorneys (an absolute waste of time and money), that I couldn’t consider my ex’s pain. Our common love for the animals changed that – at least, for today.

The fact is, Nikki and I will always love one another, even if we made a horrible couple. Today, my grief is less about the loss of my wife, and more about how we got here. I think about the years wasted, when we could have been with better partners. I think about how both of us deserved better. We made a sincere effort, but at the end of the day, it simply wasn’t meant to be. And, frankly, I’m tired of being angry and resentful. I’m tired of feeling bitter. I’m. Just. Tired.

And, thankful. Both of us are compassionate animal rescuers, and it’s been the one place where we’ve been able to keep a united front. So, I’m working on letting go and moving on. Hopefully, so is she. Because, we’ve gotta do it for the (fur) kids.

Brokedown Palace: Confronting Prejudice, And Finding Solace In Loss Through Music

Brokedown Palace: Confronting Prejudice, And Finding Solace In Loss Through Music

Fare you well, my honey. Fare you well, my only true one. All the birds that were singing, are flown, except you alone. (Jerry Garcia/Robert Hunter)

If my brother-in-law ever reads this, he would find it rather amusing that I’ve referenced what was once one of his favorite bands. He was, for all intents and purposes, a Deadhead. One of my favorite stories he told me was about running into Jerry at The Grind. Some of us are old enough to remember the place, in its original Maryland Plaza location. These days, Maryland Plaza is the picture-perfect representation of gentrification. Back then, it was still a bit bohemian, a little rough around some of the edges as you got east of Newstead, but a wonderful place for a bunch of crazy college kids to hang out and escape suburbia.

Back then, I was “too cool” for The Dead – largely due to the caricatured representation of its fans – especially during their high point in the late ’80s and early ’90s, when people started to deify Jerry – something that really frustrated the band.

One of our greatest flaws as humans, is that we allow our prejudices to close us off – whether that’s artistic elitism or the fear of people who don’t look, act, or worship like we do.

Bob Weir has become one of my top five favorite guitarists. The man plays rhythm guitar like a jazz pianist – and that was very intentional, as he studied Bill Evans (Miles Davis’s pianist) and McCoy Tyner (John Coltrane’s pianist). He had me there. The Cool period of Jazz is my absolute favorite. His fans include Lee Ranaldo from Sonic Youth and the members of The National.

From a technical standpoint, their Wall Of Sound remains one of most innovative PA systems created, and was the model for current line-array systems – allowing the music to sound GOOD and LOUD.

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One of their tech crew went on to head up audio post-production for Skywalker Sound. Dennis “Wizard” Leonard has made many of your favorite movies sound as phenomenal as they look. He was in charge of the live-to-recording mix of Europe ’72.

As per usual, I’ve gone fanboy and digressed.

Lately, I’ve found such great comfort and catharsis in the lyrics – and so much damned respect for each of the band members as musicians (all without the assistance of psychedelics).

“A lot of Garcia’s music was about death. That’s an appeal of the man that you have to discover over time. You don’t see it, immediately, because of the way he presents – historically – as this sort of big, happy hippie icon. You get to know, as you listen to the music, that actually, he’s a deliverer of dark news, you know. And, that’s when you begin to really take him seriously.”Nick Paumgarten from the docu-series Long Strange Trip

As I’ve said before, many people listen to music simply for background noise, or to keep the party going, etc. And, there’s a place for that – one, of which, I need to be mindful. But, my relationship to music has been so much deeper. I’m told that obsession was such for me, long before I could remember it.

My earliest memory is crawling and bumping into one of my dad’s Bose 901 Series II speakers – part of his own elaborate sound system. When I was eight, he began to trust me with the big-boy toys. He taught me how to set recording levels, and I learned my first lesson about being careful with high-end gear, when I damaged the diamond stylus on his Technics SL-1100 turntable – released the year of my birth and predecessor to the legendary SL-1200 series, which became the professional standard for radio and club DJ’s alike. It was recently resurrected by Technics and costs thousands, today.

And, because he has an engineer’s mind about EVERYTHING, my dad taught his eight-year-old about signal paths. Which switch did what. Which cable connected to which device. I became a natural troubleshooter, so it should be no surprise that I spent several years producing commercials and running live sound. I owe you for that, Pop.

In short, music was my first escape mechanism, my first love, a career path, and my current therapist. My favorite artists tend to have a bit of a dark side to their writing, and as such, I’ve been able to jump into the fire, so to speak (inadvertent Harry Nilsson reference, but I’ll leave it). So, whether it’s an obsession with Radiohead‘s discography, starting with Kid A, Dave Matthews Band’s Before These Crowded Streets, The Dead’s version of Morning Dew from Europe ’72, just about anything from Nine Inch Nails, or Pink Floyd’s The Wall – all of it has served a purpose. It’s been a way for me to face my own demons, grieve them, and move on, one step at a time.

For any Pink Floyd fans, I highly recommend Roger Waters’ recent documentary on his three-year tour performing The Wall. The man is 72 years old, worth a quarter of a billion dollars, even after four divorces, and he is still grieving the death of his father in WWII. Call it the universal human condition, if you will.

Today, I face the prospect of losing everything – as if losing my wife to divorce wasn’t enough. I’ll be involved in some practical measures to put me back on a path to healthy coping skills, but to be honest, I don’t hold much hope of gaining any kind of meaningful life back. Much of that is the consequence of my own bad decisions, and unhealthy behavior. And, while it’s important to own that, the consequences aren’t any easier. And, the hope of rebuilding isn’t there. I’m leaning on the only people in this world that I have ever been able to trust – my family. I’m leaning on their hope for me, because it’s all I can do, right now. And, in the meantime, I grieve. And, I trust the music to be there for me.

“Going to leave this brokedown palace, On my hand and knees, i will roll, roll, roll. Make myself a bed in the waterside, In my time, i will roll, roll roll.” (Garcia/Hunter)