From: Jane Nielsen
Sent: Thu 9/7/2017 3:17 PM
Subject: RTBS Offer Letter
Welcome aboard, I am so happy to have you as part of the RTBS team!
Attached is an offer letter for you. I don’t know if a screen reader will catch a handwritten statement, but after typing the letter I added the 3% RTBS match for retirement as one of the benefits.
If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to call me at the office or on my cell after hours or on the weekend.
Also, Paul said for an apartment The Martinique was a good place too. That is where he and Ann lived before moving to Council Bluffs. He said he would be happy to talk to you about it too.
Have a great rest of your vacation and see you in 3 weeks.
Jane Nielsen, Executive Director
Radio Talking Book Service
7101 Newport Ave., Suite 205
Omaha NE 68152
Week Three: The Anna Karenina Principle
Monday, March 30, 2020
145 confirmed cases in Nebraska. DCHD confirms a third death due to the Coronavirus. Governor Ricketts extends the statewide social distancing restrictions until April 30. I guess we can all play catch with our Easter eggs. The EPA urges everyone to only flush their toilet paper, not their disinfecting wipes. I read that and start to believe that humanity deserves what it’s getting. Methodist Health System has created a hotline for those in need of mental or emotional support during this crisis. I jot down the number and make a mental note to pass it along to every stay-at-home parent I know.
Jackie is the cheerful lady who’s been working the screening table right outside the back door of our studios. When I first discovered the screening table a week ago, I jokingly said, “The least you guys could do is put out donuts or brownies for us.” She laughs and tells me she’ll get right on that. I’ve been giving her our extra copy of the Omaha World Herald so she can work on the crossword puzzle in her ongoing battle against boredom. Today as I greet her, she tells me to stick out my hand. “I made a chocolate cherry dump cake this weekend and I brought you a piece. It’s not as good as brownies, but I hope you’ll like it.”
I am deeply touched. This lady has no way of knowing that I’m deep in the Keto diet and I’ve just squeezed into a pair of jeans that wouldn’t fit after Christmas. I thank her and promise that I’ll eat the cake for breakfast. Later, I give it to Jane as I choke down agonizing waves of regret.
I feel so bad for Jackie. She’s been mandated to wear a mask since last Thursday and she complains that it fogs up her glasses. But I feel even worse for myself. I really, really want that cake! I actually need it. Earlier that morning, the bus with the new driver pulled up and opened the back door, but I didn’t find it right away. A well-intentioned fellow passenger got off, grabbed my arm and pulled me toward the door.
Any blind person will tell you that they hate being touched or grabbed by strangers, well-meaning or otherwise. It’s not necessary to violate one’s personal space when simple verbal directions would suffice. But now, we have an even more compelling reason to detest random contact. You sure as hell can’t maintain social distancing when you’re feeling up on some blind guy.
The morning goes well. I wait until after I bribe Jane with the cake to ask for early dismissal so I can go to AT&T to get a new phone. She agrees. At two PM, I’m in a Lyft with Rick. He’s not very talkative, so I don’t ask him what he thinks of the Coronavirus.
When I walk in the front door of the AT&T store, I am immediately greeted by a guy named Colton. I’m a little gun-shy at this point, but I’m gonna go out on a limb and guess that he’s white. He’s married with a one-year-old and a newborn. He sounds like he goes home every day for lunch and has a grill cheese sandwich and a cup of tomato soup; very much a white guy’s meal. Colton loves AT&T because they gave him two weeks’ pay while he was benched at home, even though he’s been there less than a year. Maybe I could get word to my Asian buddy at Metro Transit Omaha that he’s in the wrong business.
I anticipate that upgrading from my fried iPhone 7 to the iPhone 11 will be a pain in my slowly shrinking ass, but it’s relatively painless. It doesn’t even hurt my hip pocket; that part will come later. The most arduous part comes when Colton restores my phone. AT&T has lousy Wi-Fi and it takes forever for everything to download.
Then, Colton offers to help me with the face ID authentication. I have to admit that this is the part I’ve been nervous about, so I take him up on his generous offer. But then, he touches my face. Worse… He then touches my neck in an effort to show me how to rotate my head so the camera on my phone can capture my impeccable visage from all angles. I wince inwardly every time he touches me, but I say nothing.
I’m also tense because, although I can’t verify it, I’d swear there are more than 10 people in the store. I see a few people come and go as I sit there for the 45 minutes it takes for my software upgrade to complete and my apps to restore from the cloud. I overhear another sales rep chatting up an older-sounding guy who claims he’s, “just running errands today.” IDIOT!
In my previous entry, I explained why I felt that buying a phone was, in fact, essential travel. I genuinely need it for my livelihood, my safety and my mobility. Yes, I also need it so I can continue to play virtual dice and flirt with Kelly long distance, but that’s beside the point. That said, I wonder if I’m not a hypocrite as I sit there and quietly fume at the other people who are milling about the store.
After my phone is partially restored, Colton shows me how to access the home button, which is no longer a home button. In order to do this, he takes hold of my hand several times. Dude, I think! You got a wife and kids!
… That’s not as dirty as it sounds.
After I leave, I spend the rest of the evening struggling with my new phone. I eventually get the gist of the basics, but Face ID frustrates the hell out of me. Still, I take a chance that it will work if I set it to unlock my phone.
… It doesn’t. It claims I don’t have a face and keeps going to sleep. Damnit! I’m locked out of my phone and, for some reason, my pass code won’t come up. I panic! If I can’t get into my phone, I’ll have to call in sick tomorrow until I can get back to AT&T. I’m as mad as a hornet and, if I stay this way, Colton won’t have to worry about the virus, because I’ll put him in the ICU.
20 minutes later, someone whom I suspect to be Terra rolls me in Dice World. I tap on the icon and my pass code prompt comes up. I unlock the phone and immediately turn off face ID. Thank God! I am whole again!
Tuesday, March 31
177 confirmed cases in Nebraska. CNN host Chris Cuomo (aka Fredo), has tested positive for the virus. At his daily presser, President Trump warns the public that the next couple of weeks are going to be really, really hard. Two cruise ships can’t find a port at which to doc due to infected passengers. Shades of the novel, Pandora’s Clock. The stock market closes out its worst quarter since Black Monday in 1987. Mayor Stothert spanks some retail store managers around town for allowing crowd sizes to exceed the recommended maximum. We haven’t all been grounded and sent to our rooms yet, but it feels like we’re getting close. Coach Scott Frost says we need to take the threat of COVID-19 very seriously. If that doesn’t flatten the curve in the Big Red State, nothing will.
On the KFAB morning show, Gary Sadlemyer and Jim Rose interview Dr. Adi Pour, Director of Douglas County Health. They actually argue with her over whether or not it’s a good idea to encourage social distancing in big-box stores. Jim Rose has always been a pompous ass, but I thought Gary had better sense. Dr. Pour still has an aura of tranquility about her, as if she’s the great calm in the center of a storm that is bound to increase in its ferocity.
Bekah tells me that the entire staff at CHI are now required to wear masks. I hope they all use contact lenses. A staff member saw her in the loo and asked why she was walking around with a naked countenance. If we all wind up under masks, I wonder if they’ll let me make mine look like The Green Hornet.
As I walk home from the bus, I encounter a maintenance man named Happy. His real name is Justin, but he goes by Happy. He is redneck through and through. He once told me that he shoots raccoons in the field in back of his house, then cooks and eats them. I have absolutely no reason to doubt the veracity of his claim. He fits the part too well. I used to bribe him with beer to come fix my screen door whenever it went off the track, but I haven’t seen him in a while.
“We’s just puttin’ some sans up on all the dowers for the buildin’s. I ain’t read’em yit, but I’m sure it’s about that vahrus,” he says.
Later, I receive an Email from my apartment complex with the subject line, “Covid-19.” It says:
“Please view the letter regarding Covid-19 that was left at your door earlier today.
This is the first communique I’ve ever received from management that has arrived electronically.
“I sure would if I could read it.”
Their reply states:
“HI Ryan. It was left at the door of your apartment. Let me know if you can’t find it.
“I’m a blind guy. I’m not able to read it. Can you please Email me an electronic copy?”
My last message was sent at 6:27 PM. No response as of 10:52 PM. I’m off to my lavender bath.
Wednesday, April 1
214 confirmed cases statewide. DHS reports a fifth death attributable to COVID-19 in Nebraska. According to a report submitted to the White House, the U.S. intelligence community has concluded that China lied about the extent of the outbreak in Wuhan when it first occurred. The Grand Canyon is the latest national park to close in an effort to curb the spread. The governor of Florida is the latest to issue a mandatory ‘stay at home’ order for the entire state. Denver’s paratransit service is offering free grocery deliveries to their disabled customers. What a concept. Omaha police make it clear that they will enforce the governor’s directed health measures. They likely put out this statement because of the beautiful, sunny weather we had in Omaha today.
I’m standing at the front door of my building at 7:39 AM. The AIRA Agent says, “Hi, Ryan. Thank you for calling AIRA. My name is Rosina. How may I help you today?”
That is the only complete sentence I ever hear from Rosina. I try to get her to read the printed sign taped to the front door of our building, but she keeps breaking up. It turns out my Wi-Fi is still connected, but the signal is too weak to allow for stable reception. I turn off the Wi-Fi and try to call back, but no one answers. I don’t have time to make a third attempt.
AIRA has definitely made a positive difference in the lives of blind people. They’ve been a big help to me in many ways, particularly when I was faced with my inaccessible thermostat. But don’t let anyone kid you that it takes the place of real accessibility offered on the part of companies, property owners and websites. AIRA is a workaround, nothing more.
At about 11 that morning, I go into Jane’s office. After much soul-searching, it is time to force the issue. I tell her that we really should strongly consider closing down the office for two weeks. I feel like the guy on death row telling his lawyers not to appeal my case any longer, but we’re coming to a point where it feels like the right thing to do for the company and for my coworkers.
Jane agrees with me and calls the chairman of the board of directors. By the time I finish breakfast, she’s talked to him and they agree that it’s time to pull the trigger. Bekah was going to work from home today, but after Jane sends an Email to her and MeMe explaining our new plan, she’s there by one. We all have a conference call and discuss remote measures going forward. We decide that we will wrap up loose ends tomorrow, but as of Friday morning, Radio Talking Book will be closed for at least two weeks.
After I walk out of Jane’s office, my will breaks. I head straight for the fridge and grab the small, square plastic container. I don’t bother looking for a plastic fork, but just shovel Jackie’s chocolate cherry dump cake into my greedy maw with one hand. Thank you, Jane, for not getting around to eating this. Standing there with my fingers coated with crumbs and cherry pie filling, I am the consummate emotional eater.
That afternoon, Katy helps me try to figure out why NVDA won’t cooperate on my Dell computer. Our efforts prove fruitless. I call Michael and he says he is willing to work from home on weekend mornings if it means he can stay on the payroll.
When I catch the afternoon bus to go home, I am in for a shock. For the first time during my two-and-a-half years in Omaha, I have to search for a seat. Social distancing is impossible because there are people sitting directly behind me, in front of me and across the aisle. I am ultra-conscious of one guy a couple rows ahead of me who keeps coughing. I guess people love a free ride.
Someone from Martinique management finally replies to my Email and attached an electronic copy of the mysterious sign per my request. Of course, it was an image scan, so my screen reader couldn’t decipher it. Jane was very obliging. In short, they made it clear that, if anyone is going to forego paying rent, they must submit proof of loss of employment and related income. Jane has assured all of us that we will continue to be paid, but for how long, I wonder?
Very funny, God. April Fool’s! You can knock it off now.
Thursday, April 2
255 positive cases in Nebraska. The death tally climbs to six statewide. 6.6 million new unemployment claims, far higher than expected. Starting tomorrow, Costco will limit the number of shoppers to two members per card per visit. Omaha cops busted a bartender for allowing two customers to share a pitcher. UNL has agreed to make their dorms available as quarantine quarters if needed.
Today is all about doing as much as possible before we close. But first, I decide that it’s time to rub some lotion on the dry skin of my knuckles, which feel more like scales than skin. Copious hand-washing has taken its toll. I rub in the lotion and marvel at the cool, soothing feeling it has upon my hands.
Jane comes in a while later and says, “Hey, you got something white on your shirt and the fly of your jeans.”
“Where?” I ask. She directs my finger along the seam of my fly until I touch a moist drop. Then I take my fingertip away and sniff the moisture. I’m glad MeMe isn’t here right now, because if she were to walk in and witness me fingering my fly and then sniffing it… She might have some serious questions.
“Damnit! It’s lotion. I’ll go clean it off.”
“I’m sorry I had to tell you that,” Jane says. “I know you need to know, but I feel so bad telling you.” I long ago had to explain to Jane that blind people need to be aware when their clothes are stained so they don’t look like jackasses walking around with drops of white stuff on the fly of their jeans, even though it might make for good speculative gossip in the break room throughout the work day.
I run to the bathroom, wet a paper towel, wipe down my crotch, wipe it dry with another towel, feel a momentary flash of guilt for using two towels instead of one during this time of peril, then walk quickly over to Jane’s office.
“Hey, Chief,” I say as I walk in. “How’s my junk look?”
“Your junk looks good,” she says.
“Glad to hear it,” I say.
“Hey, Bekr,” I say. “When you wanna come back and help me with my computer?”
“I can’t,” she retorts. “I’m gonna be too busy getting’ all up in your junk.”
“You know what… As long as your husband is all good with it, I’m all good,” I say.
And that’s how things stand at 9:45 on the last day of office hours at Radio Talking Book before a semi-mandatory two-week hiatus; a killer virus all around, the economy slowly tanking and no chocolate or coffee to be had anywhere in our office. I guess all of us figure that the sexual harassment policy that was implemented several months ago was only good as long as the volunteers were within earshot.
Bekah does indeed try to help me reinstall NVDA on my computer in hopes that we can get it to update properly, thereby granting me remote access. Unfortunately, the computer is about as slow and sluggish as I was after my 45th birthday party. After an hour of more F-bombs than an episode of Deadwood, she finally gets in installed.
The rest of the afternoon is spent programming as far ahead as possible. Even though both Bekah and I can gain access remotely, I want to have as much done as we can. The mood at work is not somber. In fact, all three of us seem as if we’re in a pretty good mood. Even MeMe sounds a bit more chipper than usual during our daily conference call.
At approximately 4 PM, the following message is posted to our Facebook page:
“As you may know, RTBS ceased in-person volunteering out of an abundance of caution in light of the COVID-19 concerns on March 17. Our staff and volunteers
are working hard to provide uninterrupted programming for our listeners. We have over 50 volunteers reading remotely, providing the vital, local programming
our listeners rely on now more than ever.
RTBS has made the decision to close our office for at least two weeks. Team RTBS is set up for successful remote work and the show will continue to go
on! Today will be our last day in the office. Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions! Stay Safe and Be Well!!
gif description: Homer Simpson, in a flowered mumu and white shower cap, sits on his couch, extending a broom across the room to a desk, randomly hitting
computer keys with it while staring the opposite direction.”
I bum a ride home from Jane. She’s ready to go at 5:15. I get my stuff together including that pesky lotion, my favorite thermos that Katy gave me for Christmas two years ago, several cans of Diet Dr. Pepper and lots of hot dogs. Jane almost forgets her raincoat. Bekah calls her husband Bart to come pick her up. I head toward the door… And start to fight back tears.
Why am I fighting back tears? Most people would be crying tears of joy at the prospect of working from home, especially if they don’t have kids. Working all day in a ratty robe and blown-out slippers. Conference calls from the bath tub. The return of the three o’clock siesta. What’s not to love?
I guess I’m going all emo because it’s dawning on me that my coworkers at Radio Talking Book really are like my family. I have a real family, of course, but these guys have worked with me and had my back for the last two-and-a-half years. Sure, they cover my shift when I’m gone and laugh at my boorish jokes, but it’s more than that. Bekah helps me fill out my check every month so I don’t end up sleeping with the raccoons. MeMe tells me about her grandkids, her favorite books and her former work as a librarian. Jane runs me to the store every month so I can get a bus pass. We all talk to each other about our families, our worries, our goals, and even our junk. We attend each other’s birthday parties, support each other in theater projects and provide council when one of our staff mulls over a senatorial bid. Sometimes, we butt heads a little, but we handle it. All of our volunteers are like my extended family. I don’t see them every day, but I’m always delighted when they drop in.
I’m going to miss them. What deepens my sadness is the fact that I truly don’t know if this two weeks will mark the end of our temporary situation. When will I see any of these wonderful people again? What will our lives look like in two weeks?
So here I sit in my living room. The weather alert on my phone is burring at me. “Winter weather advisory tomorrow until 1PM for your current location.” Yesterday, it was 73 and sunny. I guess Mother Nature hasn’t figured out that April Fool’s Day ended 24 hours ago.
At any rate, gentle readers, this diary is about to get a whole lot more dull.
Friday, April 3
285 confirmed cases in Nebraska. Employers cut 701,000 jobs, snapping a 10-year job growth streak that was a bragging point of our current and immediate past presidents. Uncle Sam recommends that Americans wear masks in public, but Trump says he won’t join the latest fashion trend. States are beginning to squabble over medical supplies such as ventilators. Governor Ricketts places the entire state under directed health measures. Omaha Public Schools announces that there will be no graduation ceremonies in May. Kids will have to hold Prom via Zoom. Not sure what those after prom parties will look like.
I wake up a little past 5 AM. Damn, I think. Over an hour to go till… Wait.
At 8 AM, I am jarred out of a restless sleep by the voice of Gary Sadlemyer. “Alexa,” I mumble through a dry mouth, “Set the thermostat to 76.” I get up, wipe away the weird dream I was having from my mind, put on my robe and slippers and head out to make coffee. I hear the sound of wind and sleet pelting my balcony door as the Keurig heats up. Even though I hate the circumstances, I’m glad I can stay home today in my comfortably warm apartment. The spring weather of two days ago is a wistful memory.
I text my coworkers good morning and answer one from Bekah that says, “Weather’s in our Dropbox.” After I start the coffee, I sit down at the computer to access work remotely.
Over 20 minutes later, I finally get Bekah’s weather downloaded from the Dropbox website and locked into the morning playlist. It should have only taken a minute or two.
Let me pause to explain to the uninitiated about digital accessibility for the blind. When a screen reader doesn’t play nicely with a website, whether due to flash, graphics or improperly tagged links or labeled buttons, it is a real pain in the bum for those of us who cannot navigate visually. Add to that the fact that I am using a free screen reading software package in conjunction with a dinosaur of an internet browser (Internet Explorer), and a cumbersome website, and you have a really stress-making experience.
Let me try to draw a broad comparison to better enlighten you. Reflect back to a time when you went into a Runza, ordered a nice meal complete with a milkshake, then sat down. After a few bites of a salty burger and/or crinkly fries, you pick up the shake and suck on the straw. Your tongue and palate eagerly anticipate the feeling of that sweet, cool, creamy, cold flood of empty calories as it bathes your throat and fills your gut.
Only, nothing comes through the straw. You can taste the flavor of the shake (chocolate or vanilla for me) and you might even get a tease on your tongue, but the ice cream is too thick to make it through the tiny aperture afforded by that whale-killing plastic. So, you either return to your deliciously salty Runza and fries, or you go grab a glass of water.
Except, instead of empty calories, we’re talking about information. It may be as important as an update on the COVID-19 virus in your area, or as frivolous as SugarDaddy.com, but either way, it is information that we as blind people do not have equal access to. And there’s no cup of water for temporary relief. Our relief only comes if a company decides to play nice, or if a person or organization files a lawsuit, or if the government decides to step in and get tough. Any of those options can take years.
Note: If you live outside of Nebraska, just substitute Burger King or Arby’s for Runza in your mind.
That is why I called a Lyft and got dressed. There were no Lyft rides available, but Chuck, an Uber driver, is there in 10 minutes. Chuck is a friendly guy who knows about Radio Talking Book. Apparently, he used to volunteer there long before my time.
I make it to the building with 10 minutes to spare. I download Ralph’s file, plug it in the playlist and make a mad dash to the bathroom. God, getting old sucks!
I spend six hours at the office. I discover that Firefox plays much nicer with the Dropbox website and NVDA than does Internet Explorer. I call two of our favorite listeners and check in on them. They both have a friend from church who brings them weekly grocery deliveries. They pay us the ultimate compliment when they say, “You guys are still sounding good. We’d never know the difference if you hadn’t told us that people are reading from home.” I also call two volunteers who are not able to read remotely and let them know that they are missed and that they will have a place with us when things go back to normal. I rattle around the office like a lonely specter. There is no life blood there without MeMe, Bekr and The Chief.
At four o’clock, I head out to the bus stop and grab my usual ride home. The driver is a guy who used to drive me in the mornings when I first moved to Omaha.
“Where were you yesterday, man? I waited for ya for a couple of minutes but you never showed.”
I apologize profusely, explaining to him that he probably won’t be seeing me for at least two weeks because we are shut down.
I get off at Walgreen’s and pick up a couple of items so I won’t have to brave the Hy-Vee jungle tomorrow; Diet A&W, Blue Diamond almonds and hot sauce. The clerk is a coquettish girl who calls me “honey,” a lot and brushes my hand when she hands me back my debit card. Somehow, it doesn’t bother me nearly as much as when Colton did it.
When I get home, a care package from Mom and Dad is in front of my door. In it are a bunch of my old cassette tapes with old-time radio shows, a canister of Clorox Wipes, two rolls of toilet paper, a box of Caribou Coffee K-Cups and a box of Munchies Peanut Butter Sandwich Crackers. Too bad I can’t take them to work to share with everyone.
For the third week in a row, I offer my Doordash delivery driver a ‘no contact’ option and for the third time, she declines.
Browsing Facebook, I see a post from an acquaintance who is currently compelled to home school her kid. It says, “Not even 2 PM yet and I’m already considering a drink.”
Puts it all in perspective.
Saturday, Apr 4
Once again, I try to unplug from the news. Michael’s first morning working from home goes well. Both volunteers get their files in on time. Jane and MeMe both read segments for our Catholic program, which is three weeks out of date.
One of the items enclosed in the care package from my folks is an old braille thank-you letter I sent to my grandparents after Christmas. Mom always drilled the importance of thank-you letters into us when we were kids. Read this 34-year-old text and see if you can envision the figure of my mother hovering over my shoulder as I write:
“January 5 1986
Dear Grandma and Grandpa,
Thank-you for Preceptor and Ramjet. I always wanted Preceptor and I have a use for my Ramjet I liked the Red, White and Blue shirt. I wear it all the time.
Skiing was fun and thank-you for paying for our Condow. I liked skiing also. Tell Christopher that I hope to see him and his Mom and Dad again soon. My favorite part of skiing was skiing.
I can’t think of any else to say. See you soon.
Friends, with raw ability like that, is it any wonder that I was a member of the Talented and Gifted program for two years?
Notes: Preceptor (Perceptor) and Ramjet were Transformers, the hottest commodity for pre-pubescents of the mid-1980’s. Cousin Chris and I played with them a lot when we were on said skiing vacation at Copper Mountain, Colorado. I’m sure it would have broken Grandma and Grandpa’s hearts to know that I really didn’t care about any clothing in comparison. I would always braille out the letters, then read them to Mom so she could transcribe them. None of my family members ever learned how to read or write braille, which never seemed unusual to me.
Sunday, April 5
Aside from one hiccup with Dropbox, all goes well with Michael. I hold another afternoon virtual Farkle game, which has triple the number of players over last week’s. Even Mike from Lincoln was there. Who knew he had the time? The weather is warming up again, which allows me to enjoy my weekly cigar on the balcony. Bekah stops by and brings me a bag of apples, along with a surprise dinner from Runza. God bless her and Bart. Katy and I watch another episode of Better Call Saul via Facetime. Saul says he is a god in human clothing. Sure, but can he swipe away a virus? John de Lancie was able to cause two airplanes to collide over Albuquerque and then survive to torment Captain Picard 300 years later, so I think he has the better claim. Sundays do indeed appear to be a day of rest.
The all-day down time makes me think about Mags. I’m missing her acutely today. I remember how I felt during the last week of her life, just three months ago. I remember lying next to her at the back of my large bedroom closet as she lay curled in her kitty bed. Her breathing was shallow. She refused to take food or water. At first, she would purr softly when I would stroke her fur, but eventually, she just lay there with her face to the back wall. She wouldn’t even raise her head when I talked to her.
My friend Dana once said, “Cats know things.”
The Friday before she died, I became angry with her when I woke up to discover that she had yet again peed outside of her litterbox. As I went to work, I thought, Goddamn you, Mags! I’m getting sick of this. I’m busting my ass to take care of you and you’re rewarding me by pissing outside of your box. I’m fed up!
The flair-up lasted until I got to work. It was quickly replaced by guilt for feeling anger in the first place. That afternoon, I bought her a second litterbox, wondering if she just needed a change of scenery. It still sits on the top shelf of the hall closet. I never did get around to taking it back to PetSmart within the two-month return period.
Dana used another expression that now comes to mind. “Caregiver burn-out.” Is that what drove my momentary frustration that Friday morning? I always knew Mags was going to leave me sooner than later. Her kidney disease was progressing and the two years of regular trips to and from the vet for shots and examinations had taken their toll on both of us. But why did she have to pee outside of her litterbox? Was she mad, or in pain, or getting back at me for something? And why was I getting angry? Was I growing weary of a daily struggle that was destined to prove futile?
Friday night, I sat in my hot bath, Mags resting in her customary place beside me on a folded towel. I stroked her gently, so happy that she was there. “I’m sorry for getting mad, baby,” I whispered softly.
Saturday morning, I awoke to find her at the back of the closet. That is where we spent our final four days together.
Is Dana right? Do cats know things? Did Mags sense my irrational anger that morning? I always thought that my decision to put her to sleep was the ultimate act of mercy. Did she know what was coming? Was Mags actually showing mercy to me? Do cats really know things?
If Mags did perform an act of self-sacrifice, it was hollow. I still wake up every morning with her kitty bed next to my arm, wishing it was her. I would give anything to hear her soft purr, her mournful “Meow,” or the jingling of her collar as she jumped on the bed. I am very much looking forward to seeing her again after I leave this world. I hope she knows now how much I deeply love her.
Every cat is a control freak. Like humans, they need to dominate their space and their interactions with humans and other animals as much as they can. For me, watching Mags die that early morning in the back room of the vet’s office wasn’t the hardest part. The hardest part were the four days prior to her passing, as I kept a tearful vigil beside her bed, knowing that the end was near, but not quite knowing when. Droplets of hope kept evaporating in the gale of her growing suffering.
For those of us who are in desperate need of control, the prelude of the ticking clock is the ultimate agony.
My apartment is silent now, filled only by the ghost of a cat who once lived and filled my heart with love. A cherry wood box with her name printed on top is all that remains of my beloved girl. Mags is gone. Now, I only hear distant thunder.
… And it’s getting louder.
Mags Marie Osentowski
Came to live with me: Saturday, May 28, 2016
Passed away: December 18, 2019
She wasn’t my pet. She was my family.
337,620 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States. 9,643 dead.