The trouble with giving your pet a name that has significant symbolic and mythological relevance is that you get everything that comes with the name—good and bad. And while you can be clever and ha ha ha! laugh some of it off for awhile, eventually, everything comes full circle.
Let’s start at the end, and work our way back around. Last night, Enkidu—Ghost Cat, Ole Squinty, Hook Fang, or any of the dozen other names I’ve saddled him with over the years—wandered out into the yard, flopped down on the wet grass, and spent his last hour breathing the night air and listening to the river and the wind. The cat years had caught up with him in the last month or two, and the recent move disrupted him more than either of us thought it would. Over the last few days, he stopped eating, and yesterday, when we got home, he was very wobbly and gaunt. He didn’t want any company, and so we let him find his own spot in the yard. Soon after, he quietly passed on.
Two years ago, I spent a weekend in the woods at a personal retreat that I quietly dubbed “occult camp,” and the experience was, well, transformative. I came out of the woods with the idea for XIII, the anthology of transformative stories that Resurrection House did last year, as well as a relationship with Ereshkigal. Make of that what you will, but during the next year as I was charting a new course both personally and professionally, it was comforting to have some manner of spiritual guide to interact with. Someone who would offer me signs that I was making the right decisions. Ultimately, regardless of all that, the experience in the woods and with the number ’XIII’ gave me strength and focus.
I’m going into the woods again this weekend for another round of occult camp. This year, the theme is “Stories at the End of the World,” and the basis is XVI—the Tower, the impossibly tall one which has been struck by lightning. The blast throws the magician, the king, and the fool into the void. If there is a shitty card to get in the Major Arcana, this is it. Symbolically—always keeping things positive, right?—this is the cataclysmic opportunity to find yourself.
In the Epic of Gilgamesh, Gilgamesh is so wracked by despair at the death of Enkidu that he sets off on a quest that will consume the rest of his life—the quest for immortality. Is because he can’t bear the idea of losing someone else? Because he is afraid of dying, now having suffered the loss of someone he cared so much for? Or was it because he became aware of the fleeting futility of existence and wanted something more—something more permanent. Something that, ultimately, he realized he could never find.
How much of the later portion of his life was merely spent trying not to think about the absence of his best friend?
I’m trying to not think about any of this as I pack my bags for a weekend in the woods. I think I’m failing. That’s the downside of giving symbolic representations power over you.
In the tarot, XIII is Death, and Death is transformation. Today, I realize that the transformation that occurs upon death is mostly in the mind of those who remain living. The cat version of Enkidu is no longer here with me. He’s not going to jump onto the back of the couch and lick my head or shadow box the plant. He’s not going to give me the stink eye about sitting on my lap before coming over and flopping heavily against my leg while I watch a movie. He’s not going to poop in the garage next to my exercise bike to let me know that I was gone too long today. What’s left is a memory—a fleeting shadow of a presence. He’s been transformed into the best parts of who he was (including the garage pooping, because, frankly, he never did it when I was out of town; he always waited until I returned).
It sounds like maudlin bullshit, and probably is. But he was a good cat and a good companion, and I am going to miss him. Because, every day, I stopped and paid attention to him until he started to make the cat noise. And nothing else mattered for those precious minutes. That’s what friends do for each other, right? We stop time. We cover eyes and soothe savaged spirits. We smile and make eye contact and say I believe in you.
And sometimes it is just: I waited a long time for you and I crapped on the cold garage floor to show you displeasure at your absence, and I’d really like you to crack open one of those cans of tasty chicken and tuna right fucking now or I will trip you and eat your brains after you bash your head in on the edge of the counter as you fall. And other times, it’s merely: Go away; I’m napping.
Friends, you know? It can be hard to show affection all the time. I get it.
But there was always the sudden arrival, the querulous throat noise, the flop, and the presence. And now that’s all gone.
Last night, the kids’ new cat—Eli—came up to my room and made himself comfortable on my bed. Eli is a bit like a puffer fish shoved into a cat suit, and unlike Enkidu, he wasn’t terribly bothered by the fact that he was right where I wanted to put my legs when I got into bed. I was polite for a bit, and then I picked him up and moved him over. As I got settled, I figured all the movement would disturb him and he would wander off to find some other place to sleep. This was not the case. He just turned and crawled toward the head of the bed so that he could look at me with his big dopey eyes, as if to say, “I’m going to stay right here tonight. I’m going to watch over you.”
I didn’t let Enkidu sleep with me because he had a tendency to walk across my head three or four times a night before he left the room. And when he did stay, he wanted to sleep in the exact center of the bed.
Eli stayed until after I was asleep, and then he wandered off. I didn’t hear or feel him go, but I didn’t need to. I knew he had stayed.
Cats are funny creatures.
The dedication to XIII reads: “To E, who resides in the woods and in our hearts.” At the time, I thought the “E” stood for Ereshkigal, but now, I’m not so sure.