Saying Goodbye to Sake

 Over the past few weeks, my heart has been slowly breaking. It’s been trying, difficult and frustrating to wrap my fingers around the idea that a piece of my life is missing; there’s a definitive void – not just within me, but surrounding me. Words have failed me, and at every turn I feel like I’m going to crumble to the ground, overcome by emotion and struck by reality.


Back in college, I was going through a transitionary period. Becoming a fifth year senior isn’t usually commendable but at an institution like UCSB – it also wasn’t uncommon. It was the Summer of 2007 and I had just moved out of Isla Vista to the Mesa – a wonderful area near downtown Santa Barbara, surrounded by a stunning almost 360 view of the Pacific Ocean. My best friend at the time, a wonderful, warmhearted gal with an affinity for furry friends, moved in with me and between the five housemates we had two cats – Ssleman, a beautiful grey and white cat with a warm heart and a little black kitty that hid every chance it could; and then there was Roxy, a Golden Retriever / Yellow Lab puppy with more energy than I’d ever seen. After living there for a few months and going through a few mental moments of manifest destiny, I decided it was time – time for me to get a cat. I needed something to love beyond myself, to remind me that I was worthy of love; I needed to care about something to remind myself of the circular motion of life.


Arriving at the shelter, I gallivanted into the cat room and immediately felt at home. Throughout middle school and high school, I’d volunteered at cat shelters and there’s nothing like some kitty cuddles to brighten your mood and cultivate altruism. I glanced at an 8 month old Siamese that I immediately wanted to bring home, and a litter of orange tabby kittens not more than 2 weeks old. After getting to know me a bit, the young man working this room had a visceral lightbulb moment…“There’s a cat over here that I think will be perfect for you; he’s a little trickster and a lover.”  As we walked over to the carrier, a beautiful blue-grey cat sat poised in the back of the cage. “No…” I mused “…what about the playful girl next to him?” The man smiled back “Why don’t you guys go into the play room, and if it’s not a good fit we can keep looking.”

As Maguro was plucked from his perching position and was handed to me, his front paws reached out around my neck and he looked at me like I was home.  From the moment we were in the play area, he flopped and stretched ten ways to Sunday, purring, prancing and pawing at me. Looking up with a glimmer of gratitude in my eyes, I laughed “Ok, you guys got me…I’ll take him!”

As it turned out, I couldn’t bring him home immediately – upper respiratory infections are incredibly common in shelter cats and he’d just come down with one. Instead of bringing him home, I played with his sister – Saba – and it felt like she knew I was taking her brother away. I whispered that I would take good care of him and she purred in response.

Eight years later, I can say that without a doubt – he’s actually taken care of me.  From Santa Barbara to now four different homes in Los Angeles, Sake has been my confidant, my best friend, my furry little man and the light of my life. He’s gotten me through heartbreak and deaths, losing friends and losing my mind. 

 

My little Sake bomb. Sir Saks a Lot. He was the most playful, loving creature I’ve ever known. He would wake me up by pouncing on my chest and announcing his hunger with a miniature roar, he would zoom around the apartment with gusto and cuddle-hug you like he was a person. Sake converted friends that had sworn they were solely dog people, and made cat lovers rejoice. He was the best thing that has happened to me in my 30 years of existence. And now, he’s gone.

We only noticed the symptoms a few weeks ago and it wrenches my soul to think if we could’ve saved him. The last two weekends were full of friends that I consider family, doting their love and happiness on him and he loved back in kind – curling up and lapping up attention like it was his job. But in the back of my mind, I was scared, sad and confused. It felt like just yesterday, he was running around in the Santa Barbara sunshine, lounging in the flowers and running to my car from down the street whenever I returned from campus. And now, I was feeding him by hand, cradling him like he was my child, wishing for a better tomorrow. But that better tomorrow never came.

Yesterday, Sake lost his battle against lymphoma. The last thing he ever did in his life was jump into my arms, almost in parallel to the way he came in. We held his paws, wiped his eyes and sang with him until his final curtain call. I’ve never been so conflicted and overrun with emotion; I don’t know if I’ve even ever been this uncontrollably sad. I miss my dapper little man but I know he’s in a better place, cathartically chasing mice and lapping up love in the great beyond.

Because of Sake, I know what it means to love, to care, to be a friend and just listen; I know the true meaning of life, to love and be loved. When you get home tonight, hug your pets…hug your loved ones, life is too short to be anything but blissful. RIP Sake, I only hope that I can have half the effect on the world that you did.

              

Before You Know Kindness

The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”

– Elisabeth Kübler-Ross –

This morning has ushered in a lot of reflection and as with most stories, this should also start from the very beginning…

“Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.”
― Albert Einstein

Leave it to me to want to come into the world on a Friday morning.  In 1984, through a fantastic stroke of genius – and after 18 years of marriage,  my parents finally had their first (and only!) child and from day one, I was immersed in a world of strange coincidence and wonder.  My name had already been chosen for me – Amanda Pearl – partly because of the simple beauty, and partly because of family history.  My mother was the third in a line of amazing, strong African American women named Lola and would be damned if I was the fourth; which is where Amanda comes in.  The direct translation from Latin is “Lovable; one who is loved” and my family made more than sure of that.  Middle names have a good and long tradition of being lineage based – and mine is no different.  My parents couldn’t be more different from each other and it has very little to do with their ethnic background – but, that definitely plays a significant hand! When they went down to the courthouse to apply for their marriage license, they were asked assorted bits of information, including parents names, maiden names, place of birth, etc – and all of a sudden, they got the strangest question: “You two aren’t…related…are you?” As it happens, both of their mothers have the same maiden name – Pearl.  If that wasn’t weird enough, I just happened to pop into the world on Pearl Harbor Day.  And if those weren’t enough coincidences to handle on the day of my birth – my mom shares her maiden name with the street I grew up on.

My first word was “Hi” and it couldn’t be more fitting – I used to crawl, then skip and frolic, from table to table when my family would take me out to dinner.  I was an extrovert by nature and as social as they came; playtime was my favorite, and as an only child playtime with friends was even better. But the more I would interact with others, the more I became aware – even at a young age – that the world was cruel and slightly unfair.  To their own credit – and absolutely nothing to do with me – my parents separated before I was 2 and got a divorce shortly after. When I was 3, my father’s dad passed away and as the stories go – I sat there with him in the hospital on his last day, and asked where he was going.  He told me he was going to a much better place, where he would be better – and all I could wonder was could I go there to? I remember the look in his eyes – partially bewildered and taken back by my question, partially amused by the workings of a child’s mind.  When he passed away, the void he left permeated physical space – it crept into my heart; but at the time, I lacked the words, maturity or knowledge to express any of this.

As with most people, growing older meant growing stranger – growing wilder, growing weirder.  It took a long time for me to grow into myself – and as I sit here at 28, I can’t say much has changed.  The “big glasses”-“big braces”-“big hair” snafus that seemed to be singular occurrences for most girls hit me like a hat trick in elementary school.  I was highly intelligent…which meant I was peculiar, learning long division on my own and with my head in the books.  Social, sure – to a point; but as with every other consecutive phase in my life, I got along better with teachers, aides and instructors and found it increasingly hard to relate to people my age.  I went from being a fan of mud baths and minimal clothing to a math-nerd, book-worm, and then thanks to both coaching and coaxing from my family, an athlete.  I choose my schools based on academic and athletic merit…leaving the school district I grew up in for al all girls middle school, then twice in High School – once to play basketball and the second time, to escape it.  And each time, I had a similar thought: I had built these support systems like ecosystems around me only to disrupt them by leaving.  The only constant seemed to be me – moving on, moving forward and lamenting on what I saw in the rear view mirror.

“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive.” 
― James Baldwin

As a child, I always found myself to be of the more “emotional” variety and I think my parents would agree 110% – as a child, the news would make me upset.  I’d frequently find myself in tears without much of a rhyme or reason – and when your parents are bombarding you with statements like “If you don’t know why you’re crying, you need to stop” life can get pretty frustrating. When I was in elementary school, my parents noticed that I would get sick with far more frequency than the other kids – I would end up in the nurse’s office with a sour stomach, begging to see a doctor.  I now wish I’d been more specific – after finding out I had ulcers, I was also placed in therapy…in 5th grade.  In a few weeks, I’d grown absolutely sick of the phrases “Well, how about you draw us a picture.” and “Let’s see if you can put this puzzle back together…” – why wouldn’t they just let me talk about my feelings?!  The coup de grâce was in 6th grade when a close friend of mine passed away – I’d just started on a competitive basketball team and we were about to leave for my very first away tournament; to this day, I still feel like I don’t have closure – but it’s also helped me process death differently. The school therapist was the opposite of helpful, and  bless her soul, my sixth grade art teacher – and granted, art was my least favorite subject at this point – became my safety net.  Through her guidance, I learned that the arts were created to embrace the emotions, and there was no shame in that.  There is a confidence that we ought to possess, for life possesses us.

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.”

–  نعومي شهاب ناي –

It’s not often that I’m at a loss for words; but a year ago to this day, that’s exactly where I stood: mouth gaping open, head in my hands and tears forging a river from my duct to the floor.  Losses, I’m told, come in threes – and this situation was no different.  First, there was my great uncle who passed away, natural causes mind you but that’s of no importance to me; a loss is still a loss, the world is always dimmer in the moments we suffer.  Then I got the news that a friend had his life taken in the strangest of circumstances: whether it was his own doing or there was foul play, the circumstances are upsetting to say the very least.  Last but not least, was the toughest blow for me to take…

My step mom has been in my life as far as I can remember, and best friend, Jan, has been like an Aunt to me.  Being a product of divorce, I was given wisdom at a young age that family isn’t determined by blood – it’s determined by heart, and my step mom’s love for me is a shining beacon of an example.  Jan has been through more than any one person should have to endure in a lifetime – and I’m not just flippantly saying that; how many people that you know have survived brain cancer…twice.  That said, I’ve heard from a young age that God doesn’t give us problems that we can’t handle – well, Jan may as well be Job reincarnated.  A year ago, the unthinkable happened – her granddaughter’s husband opened fire on his two children, shooting both in the head and then himself.  Bless their souls, one of the children survived – but we waited weeks on pins and needles for the news.

In that time, I’d gone into myself and had refused to resurface; I wasn’t the bubbly girl skipping to her cubicle with a smile on her face anymore.  I was sad.  I was 28 and afraid of the world, and I’d never felt so alone.  But loneliness is like drowning, it can’t consume you unless you let it: so I reached out.  I put my pride aside and – slowly, one by one and over time – I came face to face with my fears.  What I needed to remember was that verbalizing the truth doesn’t make it any more or less true, but it makes us human.  To reach out and be touched is the human condition and by no means should we deprive ourselves of it.

As painful and tragic as this week was last year, at the end of it all, I have to – we have to – remember that even in tragedy life is magical, precious and beautiful.  It’s true that people cannot hurt us if we don’t let them into our souls, but if we don’t open up – people can’t love us, either.  The battles you’re fighting in your head – those demons you struggle against, have the courage to fight them and the tenacity to talk about them.  People – strangers, family, friends, mentors – they’re  kinder and stronger than you think, but they’re also just as broken as we are – and there’s no telling what they’ve been through…

“Put away your pride: be kind to strangers, love your neighbors, hug your friends.
Cherish the people close to you and remember that everyone is fighting their own battles;
but if this year has taught me anything, its that we don’t need to fight them alone.” 

-Amanda Pearl