21 March 2014

Stella Luna, My Buffoona

In early 2000 Jerry and I were living in a small community on the northern California coast, and I did some volunteer work for the local humane society. When eight kittens were found abandoned in a cardboard box on the pier, we literally had the pick of the litter. We pulled up to the foster mom's cabin in the woods and a tiny ball of cream-colored fluff came bounding down the stairs and over to the car door to greet us. That was Geisha, soon to be renamed Stella Luna. We adopted her and her more reticent sister Mei, now China Rose.
From the very beginning, Stella Luna was a formidable presence. She was mellow, affectionate, demonstrative, and endearingly cross-eyed. Her voice, for such a large cat, was tiny. At her peak, she weighed almost 25 pounds. She was down to half that, partly due to conscious dietary changes on our part and eventually because of illness, at the end of her life.

For several years she was so hefty that she couldn't reach to groom her nether regions. Periodically, I did the deed with baby wipes. We had a song for the occasion: “Stella buttbath; Stella butt bath, Stell-el -la butt-a-bath,” to the tune of the Hallelujah Chorus.
Stella Balloona

Stella and I had conversations that went on for several minutes. She'd do a quiet meow; I'd respond in kind. I had no idea what I was saying; undoubtedly my accent was flawed.
Laziest hunter in the world
Stella was an avid windowside hunter. She'd lie on her back, a bird outside having caught her attention, and do that rapid-fire chirpy sound. One evening at Sea Ranch, where the skies were dark and a meteor shower was in progress, she and I settled down on the window seat to watch the show. Amazingly, she started chittering every time a meteorite flashed by. It was like a birdstorm in negative exposure; white against black. She reacted to every flash as if it were a bird flitting by.
She and China Rose, though sisters, weren't that fond of each other. Stella was passive aggressive to China's pure overt hissitude. 
Who, me? Passive aggressive?
A power vacuum materialized after our alpha male, Abbie, died in 2008, and the downstairs carpet and litter box area turned into a territory-marking pissing-match battlefield, with Ms. Luna the main transgressor. Not pretty.  

The dark side of Stella Luna: Peeing outside the box, including on our bedroom carpet, which resulted in permanent banishment and the necessity, on our part, of remembering to keep the damn door closed. Just about every cable, wire and connector in the house bears her teethmarks. She also loved to chew on Crocs, houseplants, and­ library books. Of course she preferred the dog's food, and would also finish China Rose's bowl before returning to her own. It's weird that I no longer have to concern myself with putting my shoes out of her reach. This afternoon I cleaned and stowed the huge litterbox she favored.

Stella would never be so crude as to directly knock objects from a shelf or table to the carpet. Instead, she'd casually stretch until she occupied the entire surface, nudging, say, a pile of books that would in turn -- if she was at the top of her game -- move a vase as well, eventually sending everything to the floor.

The most remarkable manifestations of Stella Luna's creative life were her nocturnal art installations. I documented her early efforts at http://www.jereva.com/lookwhat.htm and http://www.jereva.com/lookwhat2.htm, and her middle period at
http://revalani.blogspot.com/2011/01/look-what-cat-dragged-in-phase-iii.html. For the last few years, she explored the rag medium, dragging worn kitchen towels upstairs from a box in the basement. This would usually happen shortly after we'd gone to bed, and was always accompanied by a yowl that sounded as if she had a towel stuffed in her mouth, which of course she did.  
Except for a couple of perfunctory efforts – a rag or two out of the bin, downstairs, or a singleton on the floor – Stella pretty much abandoned her artistic expressions during the last two or three months. That, along with her diminished appetite, was a major red flag for us. There was more going on than a series of stubborn UTIs; something was seriously not right.
Last weekend she stopped eating entirely, and her legs could barely support her when she tried to walk. We took her to the vet on St. Patrick's day. An ultrasound showed tumors on both kidneys. Lab work confirmed acute renal failure. We said goodbye to Stella Luna the following afternoon.

Sophie seemed puzzled at first, but not upset; for the first couple of days she'd occasionally march over to spots that Stella had favored and look at me quizzically, as if asking "the entity that left this scent; where is she?" By now I think she's processed the mystery to her doggie satisfaction. I wish I knew what China Rose was thinking. It could very well be "Yay, that bitch is GONE." But 14 years, womb-mates... I wonder.

As for the humans, there'll be that low-level sadness for a while, with occasional tearbursts. We've been through this before. Knowing what to expect makes it a little easier, but doesn't shrink that Stella Luna-shaped hole in our hearts. Time will do that, I know.
Stella Luna and Abbie, circa 2008


Gerrie said...

A beautiful tribute to a beautiful animal. I have tears.

Toni Mayer said...

This was a lovely tribute to Stella Luna, introducing her in all her glory to those of us who didn't know her well. She left much too soon.

Jutta said...

I enjoyed reading this. Brought back memories of cats in our lives. Thank you!

Libbi said...

Oh, honey... This is a lovely remembrance of sweet Stella Luna. Love to all of you.

Terry Grant said...

She had such presence, that cat! How lucky she was to have been so loved.

Jeannette said...

She now has a great window seat for the next great meteor shower...

druid said...

She was a beauty. And a character. As your post illustrates. I miss her from afar.

Nancy said...

How beautiful.