The Christmas Reaper

More than five years later, the subject matter behind this one still kinda haunts me.

Originally posted to MySpace on:

December 21, 2008:

Three weeks ago, I was told to start leaving my cat, Sniffy, inside the house at night. Raccoons had built a nest somewhere near the backyard Schefflera tree and they’ve been sleeping only during the day. Not that I’d consider that a problem, of course, because they’re just raccoons and don’t really bother anyone. But someone had told my mom that raccoons are overgrown rodents, and natural enemies of cats, and can kill cats. So my cat, Sniffy, the backyard prowler, has to stay in at night despite his whining.

I left him inside overnight maybe three times since.

He can take care of himself. He always does.

Two weeks ago, I went for a walk to clear my head. My creative life had hit one disappointment after another, and I just had to re-collect myself, so I put on my flip-flops and headed for the sidewalk. It was pushing eleven o’clock at night. It was also chilly. And I had no jacket. And my incentive to walk was replaced by a thirst (for an actual beverage, not a metaphor for anything else), and not strong enough to warrant continuing, though I continued anyway because I was still discouraged over creative problems. So I walked about a block or so, contemplated whether to keep walking; then I stopped. I saw something furry in the street.

It was small, lumpy, lying in a puddle of liquid or some kind of grease spot, and clearly road-kill. Cars were coming—it’s a busy street after all, not some quiet residential road—and probably destined to do what other vehicles had already done, which was to run it over some more. And since road-kill wasn’t my problem, I kept walking.

Until it moved.

I looked back. It was the size of a kitten. And lumpy. Not squished.

Traffic had drawn closer; though, being that it was eleven o’clock on a Sunday night, it wasn’t coming in volume, or particularly quickly, so I had time to investigate this moving object.

And it was definitely a kitten. And it was still alive.

I thought it was dying—maybe three inches from death—so I wasn’t sure it was worth going into the street for (a girl from high school had died over something similar years ago). But it still moved, and traffic had yet to run me over, so I took the chance and scooped the creature off the pavement, uncertain if it would even come up in one piece. And it was shaking.

Then I had to figure out what to do with it. It was, after all, eleven o’clock at night in a not-so-upscale neighborhood, and the closest neighbor it could’ve belonged to had a “Beware of Dog” sign on his front door.

I took it home.

My sister is something of a pet nurse (not officially; she’s just good at taking care of animals), so I told her she had a “project.” She immediately took the kitten and started cleaning it up when she noticed its mouth was bleeding. The kitten had bitten through its tongue.

We kept it overnight, gave it water (which it didn’t drink), and waited to see what would happen over the course of the next couple of days before deciding whether to take it to the shelter or chance contacting neighbors about it. Because I found it in the middle of the street at one hour to midnight, however, I decided that taking it to the neighbors—if it had in fact belonged to anyone at all—would’ve meant dooming it to another night spent underneath passing cars, so I decided that if it lived for the next couple of days, we’d take it to the shelter.

“How’s she doing?” I asked my mom the next day, when I was heading off to work.

“She’s dying. Or still in shock. But she hasn’t been drinking anything.”

I prayed, of course. I didn’t rescue a kitten from the street just to have it die on me. It was supposed to go to the shelter and bless some kid. Or best case scenario, Barack Obama would hear about the kitten, request to adopt it, and the kitten’s story would become a feature in Time magazine and tickle the world. Either way, it wasn’t supposed to die.

Well, it recovered, we didn’t take it to the shelter after all that, and now she—my sister called her Nami—thinks she owns the house.

Now I have a third cat.

My other cat, Nova, has this tendency to get nervous around new felines, regardless of their age. Nami is the third rescued kitten to come into this house since the summer of 2007, and the third one to put Nova’s whiskers in a bunch. To show her contempt of the situation, she has spent the last two weeks running outside at any chance she could get.

A couple of nights ago, I heard a really aggressive cat fight take place out back. I went out to break it up, but all participants had already scattered. With my socks now covered in grass, I went back inside.

The following evening, or last night if you’re keeping score, my family told me to start covering the furniture with blankets. Apparently, Nova was the one in that fight, and was still bleeding from it (a day later). She didn’t seem off-kilter initially, but then I took a closer look and realized just how bloody she had gotten.

Turned out, though, it was just her mouth that was bleeding, and all that red fur had to do with her cleaning and biting herself.

That was last night.

This morning, I heard a knock on my bedroom door. Well, not a knock—a pounding. I got up, opened the door, and saw my sister standing there with a somber look on her face.

“Really bad news,” she said.

Oh no, I thought. What happened to the cat now?

“Uncle Lee died this morning.”

* * *

It was just before 9:30 when she woke me. My alarm was about a minute from going off anyway, but 9:30…it wasn’t the first time that had happened. I just stood there, as anyone would from receiving such news first thing in the morning, and didn’t really know what to say. What was I supposed to do with that?

He was 44.

I didn’t know what to do with it, so I turned around and closed the bedroom door.

Everyone deals with this kind of thing eventually. These surprises, in essence, aren’t surprises at all but inevitabilities with undetermined clocks. Sooner or later the alarm goes off.

But then, after considering this moment, I have to wonder just how undetermined that clock can be. When you’re fast asleep, you have no idea the end of dreams is coming. Or you might, but you’re not aware of the time. Then it comes and snatches you away from your vision of purple monkeys dancing in a tree. And it’s over.

Always. It always ends.

Freaking alarm clock.

I suppose the news itself isn’t what bothered me, though. Well, it did, but I had known for several weeks that the possibility was coming (though I refused to believe it—he had to be the one man in my family to break the fifty barrier by more than two years)—just like I knew that when my head hit the pillow last night, my alarm clock would buzz soon enough. No, the thing that weirded me out most about this was the patterning. And the timing. The fact that maybe the clock had already been set.

First of all, Christmas is coming. In just four days. Four days. Never a good time to lose a family member. The holidays are brutal enough without that cherry on top.

But I suppose it’s not unusual that someone, somewhere, has to lose a family member so close to the holidays. The peer group for such an occasion, I imagine, is larger than I realize.

But as I said, there’s more to this than timing. There’s the patterning. The fact that my alarm clock goes off at roughly the same time every morning, regardless of my dream state.

Thirteen years ago, at just a few minutes before 9:30, my mom burst into my room and woke me. It was on December 29th, 1995. Four days after Christmas.

“The hospital called,” she said. I was still groggy. “It’s more serious than we thought. It wasn’t a heart problem. Dad had an aneurysm and he’s in a coma. They don’t think he’ll make it through the day.”

And they were right. He didn’t make it through the day. In less than twelve hours he was gone.

Four days after Christmas.

Christmas. Four days.

I suppose that peer group is a bit smaller now.

My uncle was beside him when that alarm clock finally buzzed thirteen years ago. I doubt that, as he saw his brother pass away before his eyes, however, he knew his own Christmas alarm clock was about to set.

Now, I’m not gonna pretend I understand any of this. It could just be weirdness through and through. But then I think of a New Year’s invitation I have this year and wonder how many different clocks are running. There’s a woman my mom had worked for back in the eighties and early nineties that I’m sure I haven’t seen since my dad’s funeral, which happened ten days after his death. This year, that same woman is throwing a New Year’s Eve party and we’re all invited. That’s ten days from now. I haven’t seen her since January 8, 1996, if memory serves me.

How many clocks are really running here?

That said, I’m now officially the oldest male in my family. And I’m only thirty-two. And I’m reeling. And while my biggest question in all of this still remains, “Why the hell am I sleeping in the same room after thirteen years—is the economy really that bad?” I still have to wonder, do I have a chance at breaking fifty? Only one man in four generations has done it, and he made it only to fifty-two. Will I be the first to see fifty-three? Sixty? Or will I have to hear that blasted alarm clock at a few minutes to 9:30 again?

This has nagged me since I was nineteen. And I’ve tried to make the most of my life since. And while I’m not particularly afraid of death, I am afraid of dying without having anything to show for my life. As of now, despite my bloody, sweaty, tear-filled efforts, I’ve yet to achieve my dreams or create a legacy. I’ve written a couple of novels, yes, but I have close to twenty ideas still on my plate, and I have to complete each one if I’m to feel like I’ve done my job. And none of them are published yet. And none of them have been made into a movie. And ten of them belong to the same story arc. I have to finish them. Sometime between now and the next twelve to twenty years. And then there’s the legacy. I’ve had zero luck with women. My whole life. Zero. And I’ve never gathered why. And while those same women I’ve had zero luck with have tried to convince me in subtle ways that I don’t need romance, relationships, or whatever, and that to expect it from anyone, especially them, is to lessen my need of God—easy way out for them, I suppose, though I never figured out why they even wanted the escape clause—they somehow conveniently forgot to understand that the whole point of seeking out marriage and intimacy, and those little dates that lead to marriage and intimacy, is to ensure that I can leave a legacy behind once my clock finally expires, which I’m certain now, is coming, and probably sooner than I’d like.

People used to ask me when regarding the affairs of my life (like the career, marriage, and all of that), “What’s the hurry? You have your whole life ahead of you.”

My answer, though never in so many words, has generally boiled down to this: “Isn’t it obvious?”

Now, after the events of today, I can add a secondary response that states, plainly: “You’re delusional if you really think that,” in case they still don’t get it.

Though, in fairness, they don’t ask the question much anymore. In fact, they don’t ask me much about anything. I suppose they think thirty-two is kinda late for one to be getting his life in motion. Even when he’s spent every day since high school trying to make life happen.

What’s the hurry?

In case it isn’t obvious, my head is still spinning.

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