“Adam” 30″ x 40″ acrylic paint on gallery stretched canvas.
This was inspired by my skating coach Adam Leib who motivates everyone to aspire towards excellence on and off the ice. His knowledge of technical skill, focused communication, genuine dedication and joy he brings to his students under his wing is a rare combination and gift. He will turn any doubt into conviction, breaking down complicated maneuvers into their basic components and most of all, draw the best out of you. I want to convey so much of that into this piece.
‘Forever Oscar” 18″ x 24″ paper on Masonite board
MY STORY AND HIS:
This piece took a while (5 months) up to the day of Christmas. This cat came into my world the night the Sandy Superstorm hit my neighborhood in Brighton Beach. Opening the front door I discovered him sitting on my stoop, of course, soaking wet and marooned from going into the three foot high storm surge that swept through the streets. Somehow I managed to chase him into my hallway, so at least he could stay the night. I already had a brood of cats, so what’s one more?
During that summer, I’d feed him on occasion when my other cats would lounge on my backyard porch. He’d always kept a safe distance. And he would only come to the food I’d lay out for him once I walked a distance away from him.Sometimes he’d disappear for days but occasionally he’d pay a visit in my backyard.
Well back to that what I was talking about:
My downstairs basement was flooding rapidly up to 5 feet with only three steps shy from entering the main floor. Power went out and that was why I went to take a look out front to see if it was the same for everybody else. It was probably the one of the most anxiety-ridden events for me… and probably for my neighbors as well.
So Oscar spent the night in my bedroom , hiding behind my IKEA closet pressed against the window probably terrified of not knowing what I’ll do to him and the next couple of days under my daybed in the living room. I had to quarentine him from the other cats’ so he stayed on the second floor and the other cats stayed on the first floor.
The next day: wouldn’t you know it starts snowing sideway. A blizzard arrived. With no heat, electricity or hot water, this was going to be long, long day. Each day, daylight lasted only from 7 til 4pm. And each day I had to manage cleaning the basement, consolidate what was salvageable and what was not, doing laundry non-stop almost everyday before it got dark again four blocks away in laundrymats cause your own machine along with the boiler and furnace is now scrap metal, sleeping by 5 o’clock cause it got dark by then and there’s only so many batteries for the flashlights and candles are too dangerous and freezing under blankets, no hot showers, no this, no that, no this, no that…. but I had my rescue cat Oscar. He had more reason to complain. More than what I was complaining.
Oscar and I slept in this tiny twin bed just surviving. I was with him in the living room so he could stay away from the other cats. He also had a gash on his head for whatever reason. It appeared that it didn’t quite heal well and he might of scratched the abscess off by accident. So that wasn’t good. So we’re off to the vet now.
Going to the vet he was amazingly calm and docile in the carrier but also had this worried look. That clipped right ear I later found out, was to indicate that he had been neutered already, cause occasion cats are caught and released with this procedure done. So anyway, tests were done and the vet had to give me bad new. He tested positive for FIV. It’s much the equivalent to HIV but for cats. Prognosis was uncertain but at best, the vet said he could live close to a full life barring any opportunistic infections. The only problem was whether he would get along my other cats.
So we were set to move and sell our house by the end of the year. Not good given that we could not look for a new place unti the sale was secured. I remember taking off from work only about three to four weeks. Not a whole lot of time to stabilize a devastating situation on top of acquiring a rescue cat… in the dark. Did I mention that cats still need to use the litter box and eat food? Yeah, I have loads of time to shop… in the next neighborhood where Sandy didn’t do it’s damage! Mother Nature, you really suck!
By Christmas, we finally got heat and electricity back but not without a lot of struggle and frustration with FEMA, contractors, electricians, Roto Rooter (for sewage issues), keeping our buyers motivated to still buy our house. And then, the real work begins; having to do demo work in the basement. Paint and deal with mold issues, inspectors for asbestos, confirmed that there was asbestos, hire asbestos removal, and pay for removal… shit! This was not the time to lose faith, but this was a good time to shout SHIT! All but two friends (who were paid well mind you) and my brother helped me through this awful time. But I had my rescue cat Oscar. At least he needed me more than what I was complaining about.
By January, we were ready to move out. So what do you do when you move… you start packing. To go where? To your new place… Not. Of course you’re going to storage… how convenient. Let’s hire some shady movers whom all the while steal your computer equipment from under your nose why don’t we? Well, I’ve practiced being upset as it is. What more could happen ?
Once you find a new home (after searching til you you almost feel like you’re gonna lose your mind), you have to wait for approval. This is after working with lawyers, signing papers, board interviews. All doing it in the middle of winter.
Oh it gets better! Oscar was originally going to be fostered. And for a short while he was, but only for a month. The new owner found out she was allergic to him. And so it was meant to be. I took him back. So now what do we do?
So only by the kindness of a co-worker, Tish, was I able to find a room to rent til I was approved for the new co-op I was going to move into.
What do I do with the other cats you might ask? Well that was simple. Make calls to all my friends to see if they could help. I get: “I wish I could, but I can’t., Let me see, I’ll let you know. Why don’t you try a Kennel, blah, blah,” My thought was: I think I’m either going to have a stroke or a heart attack!
My friend in Delaware, Yovanny, came to the rescue and even though it’s Delaware, I’d be saving money still, as opposed to paying a kennel. He had a big basement and I knew he was going to treat all of them well. So off to Delaware with 4 cats in two kennels. (Oscar had to stay with me so as to keep him separated from the other cats… FIV remember). And of course all the cats want to be walking into their cages with no hesitation. Right? And to travel in a car from New York City to Delaware? … piece of cake. And course, my friend driving, was going to do it all for free… I’m kidding… it wasn’t for free… what’s $2000 between friends?
So back to New York on the east side of Brooklyn. It’s just me and Oscar in one room for the month. I had to juggle work on the night shift, all the while keeping an eye on him when I could – when I’m not dealing with storage and securing a new place to live. I made another trip to Delaware, this time by Amtrak, just for the weekend to see my other cats. There was no time to remotely relax.
Moving forward it’s early February. Time to get stuff from storage into the new apt. Easy peezy right? Mind you, it’s still cold. So more money to shell out. The hemorrhage doesn’t stop. But at least I had Oscar. He has more to complain about than me.
So move in. Boxes stay as boxes. Cats come back from Delaware (oh, that means I go there once again. And once again they just love going into the carriers right away. And somehow Yau, the poppa cat managed to lose one of fangs). And finally, I move Oscar who has been with me.
I’m still separating Oscar from the rest of the others in my new apartment with only a baby gate in my bedroom. Well it gets to a point that they are going to have to co-habitate, like it or not.
Slowly but surely there were some minor squabbles but it worked out eventually. Oscar was managing. He slept with me under my right arm pit every night when I wasn’t working. If he nudged me to make more room for him, he’d get his way. When he’d lick my hand, face and hair, or nudge under my arm pit, it meant it was feeding time. He gobbled all his food and took more than his share which I gladly welcomed. Almost every day he would receive a zillion kisses and I’d pick him up over my shoulder as soon as he greeted me at the door.
Four more Christmases come and gone until one day in May I noticed something wasn’t right. He looked a little gaunt and was losing some weight. The texture of his fur had changed but not enough to tell me for sure what was the matter. I arranged to have him seen by a vet. Now this neighborhood only has one clinic and only open part-time. Tests were done and the vet was not yet ready to confirm the diagnosis. We guessed Oscar to be about 12 years old but no one really knew. It was looking like kidney failure at this point. My heart obviously sank and my spirit was not in a good place.
Oscar’s health declined so so rapidly. It was three more weeks that he lost so much weight. His eyes looked dilated and he was hiding under somewhere most of the time. He no longer hopped on my bed to sleep with me. He didn’t come out for his feeding times. He barely, barely drank water. He shied away every time I’d try o pet him. All along I kept trying to buy fancy, welł hydrated, very exspensive pet food, specialized kidney diet food (unfortunately he would not bother trying to eat any of it), and trying to schedule another appointment with vet doctors that weren’t around to give a shit.
All the while, holding down a per diem schedule at work and skate in a tops-turvy, upside-down sleeping schedule. Maybe it was too much to try to keep that axel jump. I did have for a brief moment. My coach Adam, worked very hard with me to get it going. But maybe this was very stressful timetable do anything well.
A pet kennel was laid open in the living room for him. The kennel had soft canvas panels on the sides to open and he could be scooted in there when necessary. The kennel was big enough for a medium size dog to fit in. It had cushions ands blanket for hi as well to as comfortable as possible.
Not knowing how he sensed it, he slowly limp, wobble, almost lose his balance but would make it to the kennel and he just lad down inside so quietly. It was as though he was telling me he was ready to say goodbye. I had my head on a pillow inside the kennel from the side panel and laid there with him for hours holding his paw gently with me being pretty upset.
I remember calling a former neighbor who kept in touch in Brighton Beach, that things were bad for Oscar. She knew Oscar when she would feed some of the backyard cats and he was one of them. She named Oscar and I liked the name so I kept calling him that. It was the perfect fit to his personally. And to put things in perspective, without Sandy there might not have a story to tell about Oscar, nor would this piece ever exist.
So my former neighbor/friend gave me a number to a vet that made house calls and could do it for cheap. So that very same day I made the call for to arrive on a Thursday afternoon at 12 that day. Oscar could not wait another day. He couldn’t wait even another minute. I didn’t want him suffering any longer. While Oscar was still lying in the kennel. I made my bed with a towel on top for him. The vet explained what she was going to do. The first shot was to sedate him and she’d inject it on his hind leg and the second shot was to stop his heart.
I picked up Oscar gently from his kennel and laid him on the bed. He was too weak to struggle and didn’t blink much. The vet checked with her stethoscope that his heart was still beating but it was very weak. At this time I had Oscar, and he needed me more now than ever.
Before the first shot, I held his head with both hands, with my face close to his and told him that that he was going to be ok and that I was here with him… that he was such a good boy… that he got this.
Thè vet said she was read for the second shot. This was to stop his heart. The needle needed to go into his chest. It was such a big needle, too big for my boy Oscar.
I held his face next to mine one more time, his heart stopped for good … and mine stopped too. I kissed him one last time. The tears after were for him and for me.
Oscar lives on in my heart and through my work.
This is for you. My best and greatest work is for you.
You’ll always be mine forever.
My boy Oscar.