Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Absence is the inverse of presence

"When the changes come, hallelujah! When the changes come, there's nothing you can do."
- from a song by Matt Weidemann
Kisu.  Helsinki, 2010

Kisu, my buddy of 14 years, the "Itty-bitty-kitty" passed away Monday morning at the age of 15. I think the sense of loss and absence has only just begun.

We had planned for a veterinary visit already on Thursday, but the week went on as I became more focused on my new job.

So we changed our plans to Monday. I had some idea in the back of my mind that she wouldn't make it that far. She started failing already on Saturday; that was the last time she could make it to my lap; by Sunday, she could no longer get up on her own.  I moved her from the window (it was the last beautiful day of the rainy California autumn), which was open, to the bed. I played her a little dulcimer for a few minutes and also sang her a few old songs she may remember from her earlier years. During the dulcimer part, she rallied around and with much shaky effort and managed to give me that loving look I've been blessed with so many times. During the night, she reached out with her paws to me a couple of times. By Monday morning, she had slipped away.  I wonder, what, if anything, she's experiencing now?

We all have our legacies and journeys to tell about, but somehow the years with Kisu were extraordinary.  She came into my life when a younger, more worried me was living with a girlfriend, anxiously unemployed in a tiny Soviet-looking apartment in Helsinki. Although the situation eventually resolved itself by the end of summer, having the one-year old Kisu around  (who was left to us by a recent divorcee) was, in a pattern set for the rest of her life, an incredible reassurance. Her playful antics were the perfect (or as good as could be expected) distraction from the anxiety of a 27 year old, who doesn't know any better how things usually work out for the better; literally thousands of CVs later and I had found myself some pretty lucrative work, and had reached an island in the storm.

Over the years, Kisu was with me during the meteoric rise and riches accompanying the IPO of the company which gave me my first real job; she moved with me from the heights of Kallio, Helsinki, up to the forests of Espoo, and eventually across the Gulf of Finland to Tallinn, Estonia, where I set out on my own and eventually connected with another company that encountered even more meteoric success than the first one had. She patiently waited with friends during my jet-setting years, when I always seemed to be catching a flight to some remote corner of the world (sometimes she caught the flight with me!). Then she eventually reunited with me when we moved together to a huge house in the Swedish countryside. Eventually, she even moved with me back to my original homeland of Ohio, U.S.A.; enduring my irritating months with one not-too-happening nor well-advised startup, and finally made one last great journey of her amazing feline life: a trip, by car, from Cleveland, Ohio to Silicon Valley, California. Again, enduring the stresses of a dysfunctional contract (but one where I learned oodles), taking me, through another contract hunt, finally to my present job, one where I feel secure and appreciated for the first time in years.

Kisu lived in Finland, Estonia, Sweden, and the United States (including traveling across it) and visited Chile and Russia. She's been to homebrew robotics and programming nights, with gaggles of caffeinated pals, living room jam sessions, real commercial recording sessions, Christmases and Thanksgivings, hosted more guests than I can imagine and been the guest of at least five families that I can remember. She's been through the most excessive of good times and the leanest of lean times and everything in between. She's sat by the side of my computer as I've worked, in my lap when I've cried and across from me, watching eagerly, when I've sang. And we met in that tiny apartment on Alppikatu; she died in a motel. In some ways, it seems, we've taken a step back together.  Just her and me.

I live alone, and have for some time now. Sometimes I have thought that cat is the only thing keeping me from going crazy.

On the Monday evening following hear death, I removed all traces of her from the apartment (well, not exactly all, but the unused litterbox, food). I knew that I couldn't stand to have that stuff around, and that it would be difficult to deal with, the more time passed.

I still sense her in the ways that she's not there: expectations of a soft padding up to the bed, of her watching me from the bed or chair when I came in the door everyday; of her sniffing the breeze out the window, and watching the activities, the seasons change, the rain, the sunshine. And then there are the intangibles of absence: the absolute dead quiet of the room, the sense that someone else is right out of earshot or just around the corner. Kisu is present in her absence.

Like a boat making its way through a calm stream, our legacy is as much about the ripples that remain after us. That which is present, and of us, in our absence. In this way, we persist. Although I have to give myself some credit, I feel that Kisu, in her lifetime, took me (well, she took the journey with me) from a place of anxiety, through some incredible moments and backdrops, to a much more hopeful place. If I make the best of this, now, will she, as she persists now, be ever intertwined with this new future?

Kisu and me. Denver Colorado, Summer 2011


  1. John, this is a beautiful and heart-rending post -- a fitting tribute to a splendid companion. I am so terribly sorry for your loss.

  2. I hope that others can find this a useful excercise in understanding and dealing in loss. In a way, those that leave us assume an imprint of what their life was like as they were with us. That imprint makes ripples, which continue very subtle but also sometimes very profound ways.

  3. I can only say: good writing and that I miss Kisu so much!

    - Päivi