You can usually tell when I’m making up a name.
Even if it’s not a name for a fantasy novel, I’ll usually sound it out, testing both the sound, the shape, and the feeling of the words. I want them to fit just right. So imagine, if you will, a far younger Ken, sitting at a desk, creating a name for the magical creature made of palm fronds and assorted junk who would show the protagonist something about his humanity in A Hex Upon Rynia.
I couldn’t go with “palm” as a root for the name but “bamboo” right. Bamboo. Bamboo Be… something. No, not Bamboo… Bandoo! Bandoo Le… and the words people write for generic singing entered my head – the phonetics of singing – “la la la”
There hasn’t been a person yet who, upon reading “Hex”, wasn’t taken by the little monkey. Of course, I was.
So, I guess it was inevitable when, in 1996 and only about half a year after we bought our house, I would give that name to someone else, someone not of my imagination.
Rosa and I had gone to the vet for Chloe and were drawn to the kittens in the lobby, for which they were trying to find good homes. The little gold one was my favorite. He was so calm and loving and would come right to my hand. It was like he knew me, that bond we are always seeking that is probably the sole reason why people get pets at all. I wanted him.
But when we came back the next day, he was gone, and I was asked to pick another.
There was this white one who’s legs seemed to big to balance on and who’s tongue couldn’t be kept in his mouth. He was perpetually licking, a strange attribute for a cat. But Rosa loved him so we took him. Which is when they found the little, gold one in the back. To this day, I’m sure it was a scam to get us to take two cats home. But they’d “fix” him for free and his shots would be very cheap. We even got a free cat carrier and some free food and – Okay! Fine! I’ll take them both!
On the way home, I help their carriers on my lap. “What are you going to name them?” Rosa asked. I’d always named the pets. I had a flair. There was William Artemis Winky. Francois Manhattan. My names were appealing for their oddness. And, anyway, Rosa had her dog, little Chloe. She didn’t care much about the cats. To the end, she would refer to them as “Your cats”.
On to the naming. For the white one, I used an old pun: Alacrity Fitzhugh. Alacrity, after all, means “cheerful willingness”, and this guy had so much bounding enthusiasm, I was sure he’d be cheerfully willing to jump off a roof! So, it certainly fit him. The other one, the gold one, was sort of magical, in a way. I could sense that about him. What better name than Bandoo Lelala?
Later, he evolved into Bandooli or Bandoo Lee, the ninja cat, which is less a reflection on him than a statement about my weirdness.
That Bandoo was extraordinary needs no mentioning to those who met him. For those who didn’t, however, here are a few comments. After Jazz, the cat we had when we picked up the kittens, passed away, Bandoo went to Jazz’s favorite spot, the spot where she sat every day, and cried for several days straight. This not only showed a connection and intelligence beyond words but also gave me someone with which to mourn Jazz. After a couple of days, when I was ready to do this, I held Bandoo in my lap and cried with him. Maybe just being held quieted him down but I also like to think that mourning together helped him as well. The downside was that he picked up, very quickly, Jazz’s natural distrust for people. Over the weekend, he went from being very trusting of everyone (just as Alacrity was with his huge tongue) to being exclusive to me and those he trusted. This exclusivity proved to be a necessary part of my life after Rosa and I split up. I would judge people by how Bandoo felt about them; he was a fine judge of character. When Vicky came along, and we walked right up to her, offering his side for her to pet, I knew she’d be okay.
You can’t deny his athletic acumen. I saw him race the entire length of my back yard once, leap 10-12 feet in the air, and fell a large bird in mid-air one summer day while I worked on my garden. His attitude was keenly feline. He was not above stealing food from his fatter brother or sitting on my lap at any time with that “You know you’re going to pet me” look. Bandoo and Alacrity were inseparable from the first day. They’d play very roughly, causing me some concern, but that would always end with one of them (usually Alacrity) dominating the other and then start giving the other a bath… I’d call them my gay boys.
When we moved into this house, however, something happened to him. I can’t explain what it was but he did lose some weight as a result. He was still eating plenty, though, and I tried to chalk it up to his return to outdoor play. (Now that we could let them out, Bandoo and Alacrity would run up trees, fences, and pretty much anything.) And, anyway, he did seem to put a little of the weight back on. After Alacrity got sick a couple of months ago, I used all the credit available to me to get him better. Then, earlier this week, Vicky and I noticed that he’d thinned out again. But I couldn’t bring him to the vet. I had no money.
Then, he stopped eating. Yesterday, he crawled into a space beside a counter. He wouldn’t come out. When he tried to move him, he didn’t cry out. He simply looked at me and moved further into the space. It was obvious he wanted to be left alone.
Vicky was gone. It was just him and me. I knelt beside him and said, “Bandoo, what’s going on?” He was breathing heavy. His eyes were barely open. “You’re dying, aren’t you?” My hand on his side was visibly irritating. I pulled it back. I couldn’t take him to a vet. I couldn’t take care of him at all. I felt so fucking helpless. I felt about as shitty as you can get. “I’m going to let you stay there, Bando. You sleep.” He wasn’t crying; he simply looked like he wanted to sleep. So, I’d let him sleep.
But I’d be damned if I wasn’t going to get drunk. I spent the next five hours having a couple of drinks per hour and, of course, I’d also picked up smokes. When Vicky came back (she’d been at a wedding), his breathing was very shallow.
Eventually, I passed out.
She woke me and said that he sounded like he was in pain. She was bringing him to the emergency vet clinic and maybe they could put an end to his pain. But he went in his own way, on his own schedule, before they could insert the needle.
The Buddha tells us that all life is suffering. From the moment we are born, we are faced with the loss of having that life stripped away from us until, eventually, even that life is taken. It is by acceptance of this loss, by learning to let go, that we can live in this world. I didn’t drink because I couldn’t accept that it was Bandoo’s time. It most obviously was. I drank because I could not ease his suffering and I felt very small as a result. Not only that, I drank to his memory, too… but, in typical Ken fashion, there were a whole lot of memories there…
He was the finest feline I’ve ever known. Though he was only a little over a foot tall, he had a majestic stature. He carried himself with grace and refinement. His capacity for love was without equal.
I was incredibly fortunate to have known him, to have had the opportunity to love him, and to have been loved by him. He lived very well and very comfortably and was truly cherished.
He will be missed.