Friday, October 22, 2010

On Seeing My Reflection, I'm Looking Slightly Rough

By Kevin Guilfoile

Yesterday, for the first time in my life, I watched someone die.

Okay it wasn't someone, it was my cat. Our cat. My family's 18-year-old cat. But it was the first time I had been with a living thing larger than an insect at the moment it passed away. The first time I had held an animal while it died.

And it strikes me today, as I go about the house putting away Sinatra's dishes and her litter box and sweeping up the crumbs of her last meal, how much owning a pet is like inventing a character in a story. You attribute all these human qualities to it. You give it a personality and a life that is a product of your imagination but that seems very real to you. That character becomes a large and important part of your life for a time.

And you have a unique relationship with your pet, the same way a writer has a unique relationship with his creations. Readers will never know a character in your book quite the way the author does. And friends will never know your pet the way you do, because so much of her exists only in your mind.

It's not exactly the same, of course. When an animal suffers it actually feels pain. And I've never cried over the fate of one of my characters. But like we do to fictional characters we ascribe all kinds of irony and meaning and symmetry to the lives of our pets, which fulfills us in some way but is nevertheless created out of nothing. It is a meaningless fact, hardly even a coincidence, that my wife received a kitten as a gift the very week she and I met, and that Sinatra died on our 15th anniversary. But there it is.

I won't post pictures of her here. The internet is already all full up with cats. And to you a picture of my pet is a picture of any pet. You can't see all the great stuff I've made up about her over the years.

You can share a character you invent for a novel, but you can't share the character you invent for your pet.

---
A couple of appearances next week. On Monday, October 25, I'll be at The Royale in St. Louis where designer and author Bill Keaggy and I will be screening a fun, short documentary called The Curators which Bill and I both had a hand in making. We'll also be discussing collecting and collectors and I'm sure I'll talk about The Thousand a little bit and we'll both be signing books. It's going to be much fun and if you're in the St. Louis area I hope you can make it. The event starts at 5:30 and will probably go for an hour and a half or so.

Then on Thursday, October 28, I'll be at The Bookstore in Glen Ellyn, Illinois where author Joelle Charbonneau and I will be talking and signing as part of The Bookstore's celebration of Chicago Authors Month. That event begins at 7 PM and involves complimentary wine and cheese, which should be all I need to say.

23 comments:

Sarah W said...

Delurking to say:

I may not know your Sinatra like you do, but I'm still sorry for your loss.

Libby Hellmann said...

When a pet is a member of the family, it's that much harder to rebound. I still think about Shiloh, and it's been 3 years.

Steerpike said...

My 12-year old cat is sleeping in her basket right next to me as I write this. I understand (or fear?) how it will feel to let her go. For what it's worth, Kevin, I'm sure you and your family gave Sinatra a great life, free from fear or pain and full of love and contentment.

There is no replacing her, so just remember her, and all those quirks you created for her. I'm sorry for what you've lost.

Barbara D'Amato said...

I'm so sorry, Kevin. It sounds like she was lucky to have you.

Pete said...

Sorry for your loss, Kevin. I sure hope my wife doesn't see this - she's convinced that our 17-year-old cat (which she's had since it was a kitten, long before I came around) is going to live forever. It will be very traumatic for all of us when she's proven wrong.

Kevin Guilfoile said...

Thanks everybody.

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