It’s been three months since I’ve posted here. My wife Andrea Carney and I have separated; she’s in Minnesota near her son Alex and his family while I remain in Denver, moving next month from Central Park to the neighborhood named after Sloan’s Lake, the city’s largest body of water, at its western border. Like many places here, its working-class roots show while the peroxide of gentrification blandly bleaches.1 Gentrification can be seen as rejuvenation, giving youth to the old. But it’s a kind of death.
I’ve been staying in Arvada with my paternal cousin Suzie, who kindly gave me shelter as our condo was readied for sale, now nearing the end of an endless 45-day escrow that closes December 1. Our cat Sophie remained with me. Andrea had adopted Sophie in March of 2010 as a companion to our Julius who had come with us from Los Angeles. (Our daughter-in-law April was not pleased that the cat had the same name they’d chosen for their daughter who was born that August: Sophia.)
Our tortoise-shell “flat cat” (she was skinny) Alabama had died in 2009 and after our road trip that fall Andrea felt that Julius had been very lonely. In March 2010 she went to PetSmart and saw Sophie, not browsing beyond her cage. Sophie was unresponsive and obviously depressed. “I knew she wouldn’t get a home, being so withdrawn,” Andrea said recently. “I filled out the paperwork to start the adoption process that day.” When the agency called a few days later to check on Sophie, the woman said, “We thought she would never be adopted because she wasn’t selling herself.”
Andrea was told that Sophie had been surrendered at the Denver Dumb Friends League, likely the previous October, according to her intake record. On January 29 she was transferred to Angels With Paws, a long(er)-term shelter that was begun by the late Jean Ausenbaugh in 2003 on the site of an empty restaurant in Lakewood. Sophie then was placed at our local PetSmart in Central Park for adoption. From the notice on Sophie’s cage:
She is a very sweet 7-year-old grey and white spayed female. […]
Sophie is a […] laid back cat. She likes to be petted and loves to curl up. She is a bit older but is an awesome cat. Please consider adopting her today.
Indeed, Sophie could charm. When my parents first visited after her arrival, she crawled onto my father’s lap on the couch (as she tried to do with my brother Richard last July). A few months later, when our neighbor moved out of her condo, Sophie went to visit and was startled and troubled by the empty unit. Andrea thinks Sophie had been abandoned in 2009 and had been confused by the bare condo, thinking it was ours—and that she’d been left behind again.
Andrea adopted Sophie on about March 3, 2010. A visit to the vet two weeks later determined she needed five teeth extracted from her jaw, which set us back $1000. Later she began overgrooming to the point that she had a triangle of stubble down her back and what resembled a rattail. Many, many tests and skin treatments proved fruitless. When Julius died in 2014 Sophie’s overgrooming stopped: it had been a neurotic reaction to Julius’s presence after all. In 2015 we took in our L.A. friend Jon Dearle’s cat (whom we mistakenly called Little Boy; his actual name was Little Cat). Of course Sophie began to overgroom again. When Little Boy was killed in August of 2020, Sophie never really got back to normal. Last year we had her tested and treated again, again without results. This year she began scraping her lips against a window sill and baseboard.
A month ago, the week of October 16, Sophie stopped eating. When I’d moved into Suzie’s nearly three weeks before, Sophie had found a bag of dry food I’d bought last year as a substitute for the usual. She tore it open and spread its contents around. I hid it. Saturday night I began looking for it, thinking she could be tempted to eat again. When I found it Sunday morning she seemed interested in the novelty but not enough to taste it. As I understand it, cats can go without water for some time, but not without food. They get fatty liver syndrome as the organ converts body fat for energy. That night at about 9 I called a local vet, which referred me to Animal Urgent Care here in Arvada. I called them and they said there could be as long as a three-hour wait.
I went there anyway. They took Sophie immediately when I explained that I thought she might “be on her way out.” I was in the exam room less than a minute when Dr. Adam Smith entered telling me that Sophie had cancer of the lower jaw and that they had given her a painkiller so she could be examined. He said that measures might be taken for humans in such a situation, but Sophie’s cancer was aggressively metastatic. He said there are times when the course of care is debatable; this was not one. He said if Sophie was his own he would opt for euthanasia. I told him I actually was relieved, finally to know the cause of her discomfort.
For the last couple of years, Sophie had been deaf. To compensate she let out the loudest yowls. Andrea claimed Sophie could hear her, and I guess she could. When Andrea would call from Minnesota I’d bring Sophie the phone; she’d always answer Andrea. A month later and I still expect to see her on the bed where she’d confined herself those last few days.
The death of a pet. The death of a marriage. Today I cleaned up my shopping list, erasing all of the items I’d buy for Andrea and don’t intend to buy again. I should feel liberated from the strain of the years of conflict, of the estrangement from friends. Instead I feel regret for the years of ignoring Andrea’s displeasure in staying here. I thought we’d both die in this home, years and years hence. Instead it became our relationship’s resting place. Andrea did all she could to sound an alarm that I would not heed, until the stench became unbearable, interment an afterthought.
In 2005, Andrea was invited by Staughton Lynd to appear on a panel at the hundredth convention of the Industrial Workers of the World, to tell the story of how she’d worked to resist the wickedness of both her employer (Kaiser Permanente) and her union (Service Employees International Union), which he and his wife Alice had collected in their The New Rank and File, a 2000 update to the 1973 original subtitled Personal Histories by Working-Class Organizers.2 Staughton died ten days ago.
In her introduction to Noam Chomsky’s tribute to Staughton last week on Democracy Now!, Nermeen Shaikh quoted from the London Review of Books:
Along with Roslyn and Howard Zinn, and Carol and Noam Chomsky, Alice and Staughton Lynd belonged to a generation of radical married couples in the United States who took controversial, unpopular public stands—on Civil Rights at home, on Vietnam and subsequent wars abroad—regardless of the consequences, and held fast to lifelong commitments.
Many more couples could be added to that list, and I don’t presume to suggest, say, Andrea Carney and David Hughes. But Andrea said she was willing to give up her life for her commitment to combat the evil of the institution she so loved.3 My mentor Charles Cameron once challenged Andrea’s stance. “What do I hold dear?” Charles asked. “If someone held a gun to my head and demanded I declare W. B. Yeats to be shit,” he said of his favorite poet, “I would do so to save my life.” This was not an exercise in speculation: at the time, Andrea’s tires were being slashed and she was followed home by a union goon. But what good was she dead?
Today on the return drive from picking up an appliance for my new apartment, The Hidden Brain rebroadcast its 2018 podcast on the changing nature of love and marriage. Just. For. Me.
It includes a discussion of marriage longevity, which is on my mind as we celebrate the 70th wedding anniversary of my parents Phyllis and Robert this coming Wednesday. It also examines marriage as suffocation. And that thorny L-word.
Andrea, I’m very fond of you. – DH
Sloan’s Lake, Denver
- I’m reminded of a lakeside neighborhood on the western edge of Minneapolis—Saint Louis Park in particular—to which Jews had been redlined out of the westernmost Twin City. Just as we renamed our Denver neighborhood that had honored a member of the Klan, Minneapolitans did the same, changing the label of its largest lake from that of an enthusiastic enslaver to the Dakota name Bde Make Ska (Lake White Earth).
- Staughton Lynd and Alice Lynd, eds., The New Rank and File, Ithaca, NY: ILR Press, 2000.
- The Lynds excerpt a letter Andrea wrote in 1995 to express her grievances with SEIU that closes with “I broke down and wept tears for myself and what I could look forward to on staff”—the staff she declined to join—“and tears for my dear union” (Lynd and Lynd, 220).