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Ramón Found and Lost

Once upon a time, in the mid-1990s, there was a cat named Ramón. He had set up camp on the doorstep of an ex-guerilla fighter from El Salvador. The El Salvadoran was running his own pet menagerie and had no room for a witchy black cat, no matter how persistent that cat was.

For three weeks, Ramón sat on that doorstep. The El Salvadoran refused to feed or water him, so the cat took care of his own needs. Still, though, he waited on that step. This cat wanted a family, and he wasn't taking no for an answer. Even when the autumn weather turned decidedly chill, he perched on the tips of his four paws and shivered above the concrete. One of The El Salvadoran's children finally took pity on him and brought out an old sweater for him to sit on.

The El Salvadoran's girlfriend, a mutual friend of ours, couldn't stand to see the cat shivering, and so she drove me over to the house.

"I don't want a cat," I said.

"Just wait until you meet Ramón," she said. "He will change your mind."

The moment I sat down on the doorstep, Ramón looked up at me, murmured, and crawled onto my chest to bury his face in my hair.

"If you take him, you have to keep the name Ramón," she said, "With the accent." The El Salvadoran wanted it that way.

"I suppose you'll have to drive me to the pet store," I said, gathering up the cat and putting him in the car. "This cat has chosen me."

That was the beginning of several years of Ramón's nightly lustful trysts with my then long hair, disgusting vomit on the floor after he went dumpster diving for treats, and alarmingly clumsy falls from the bookshelves. He appeared to listen thoughtfully when spoken to, and when he took the female cat as a lover, he held her face-to-face in a long embrace while staring deeply into her eyes. He loved women with large breasts and would wrap his front paws around them, scooping each one up under his chin. Because of this and his habit of watching intently while we wrote across the paper in our journals, my boyfriend and I postulated that Ramón had been a fiery Spanish writer in his past life.

It did not matter that Ramón had likely been born behind a dumpster on the Canadian prairies. His association with the El Salvadoran made him Spanish.

As most relationships do, mine and the boyfriend's ended with high drama. I made a hasty move into a Ramón-unfriendly apartment, so he stayed on with the ex for the next year or so. I visited regularly until I found a place where we could live together again. When I came to get him, I told him it was time, and he crawled into my arms so that I could carry him to the car.

"There is a dinner party going on," I told him, "So you will have to be nice. Say hello to everyone, and then you can ignore them."

He listened carefully, as was his usual style. When I put him down in the front entry, he walked into the living room, went up to each of the ten or so people present, smelled them, and waited for a pat on the head. The only person he did not greet was the baby, because he didn't like children. Then, he ran up the stairs to explore the rest of the townhouse.

"Did he just politely say hello to each of us?" a guest asked.

"Yes," I said. "I asked him to."

Ramón was a person according to Heidegger's definition, according to the ex-boyfriend. I didn't know what Heidegger was on about, but I knew that he was right about Ramón.

I beamed. Ramón was home with me again. I felt as though I had gathered my family back together, such as it was, the two of us.

Two days later, a friend of mine who was languishing with a horrible flu upstairs yelled out to me.

"Ramón's fallen over!"

"And he can't get up?" I giggled as I climbed the stairs. It was a running joke at the time to say Help, I've fallen, and I can't get up. It was from an ad on television. I stopped laughing, though, when I entered the room. I could only see his back end. He could barely move his legs and had dragged himself into hiding behind a drum set.

"Ramón?" I said.

He growled.

I knew then. Something about his defensiveness told me. He would have to die, and he did not want to yet. I had only seen animals give up appropriately when their time was over, but Ramón was not going to make this easy. He was in pain, and he was angry about it.

One of my roommates and his father drove us to a veterinary clinic. The veterinarian had come in just for us, so the clinic was bright and empty, buzzing with the background hum of idle electric machinery. I laid Ramón on a small table in a small room at the back of the clinic, and the doctor gently looked him over, prodding him and listening with a stethoscope to various parts of his body.

"His heart has thrown a clot," he said. "He's in a lot of pain. It's called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. We could fix it, but it will probably just happen again."

"I know," I said. "I know what it is. It runs in my family." I thought of my uncle who had died and my father's mother long before I was born, my aunt who took blood thinners and looked so ill.

"You have to make a decision," he said.

The room grew smaller at one end, contracting loosely as though it were a weak muscle, and suddenly my head clipped the paper towel dispenser. My knees had disappeared under the weight of my next sentence. My roommate threw his hands under my arms to buoy me up.

"Put him down, then," I said.

I cried so that my tears hit Ramón's fur and rubbed them in at his shoulder. I wanted part of me to go with him when he was taken away. He turned and sunk his teeth into the tender flesh between my thumb and forefinger. He hated me for this. I pulled my hand away and looked at the red holes where his teeth had been.

I did not stay to see him go. I couldn't.

I went outside to the truck and sat in its open back, thinking about how Ramón had looked for a family and found me not just one time but then again only two days before. I cried, because I wanted him to find me yet again, because the universe's justice seems to demand the number three, and yet he would not find me again, not when his body was already growing cold.

Our business felt unfinished.

I huddled down against the flatbed and let late fall's frigid air bite my cheeks and fingers, the steel floor bruising me through my jeans along the potholed roads home.

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My memory of finding and losing Ramón was triggered by the following video, Last Minutes with ODEN, which won Best Video in the 2010 Vimeo Festival + Awards. Grab a box of tissues:

Last Minutes with ODEN from phos pictures on Vimeo.

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