Road: The Ballad of Billy Ghost and Where February ‘21 Went

Art Journal, The Road

I’ve held onto this belief about cats since I was a kid and it’s helped me let go of them in grief. I believe that cats are “angels” (for lack of a better word in the king’s English) that come into our lives when we need them and leave our lives when that period is up. I never shook this belief. It came to me after I lost my Babe, a grey and white tuxedo who was literally my best friend from 8-16 years old. I spent more time with this cat than friends. No matter how awful my peers were or how chaotic my home life was I had my cat (and art).
Then life changed fast at 16 and at the same time I lost my Babe. After Babe there was Buddy. Then there was Mister.
There were other cats, but these were the ones that bonded to me, and I to them. They spent years sleeping on my head, purring me to sleep. They’d follow me on walks. Dance around in excitement when I got home. And generally annoy me with their affection.
There’s two things that make the world right for me no matter where I am or what I’m doing: the ability to create art and sharing my space with a cat.

Thursday, February 11, 2021:

We left Joshua Tree National Park and had set up near the trilobites. While Kurt was off doing his thing I was perusing ads and even started looking at shelters. An ad caught my eye because it looked well thought out and it said they wanted good homes. I’m surmising a bit. And I used my burner number (I used an app to make a fake number. Craigslist is full of scammers). I would not have answered this ad without it.
They replied, like normal people. And a conversation ensued. My husband absolutely used to my impulses was fine with breaking down camp to drive two hours away to look at kittens. There were, I was told, three boys. A grey, orange and black/white. I immediately said it was the orange one I was interested in.

2021. Just what I needed to see from the universe after the the Beelzebub and Grunt tragedy.

The neighborhood gave me vibes and they weren’t beach ones. Even in the early dark of the California streets I could make out the signs of a neighborhood on the cusp. Some of the houses had decorative bars on the windows. Metal fencing. A house on the corner gutted and graffitied. Many of the houses were cute and maintained. Like I said, on the cusp. Could be good, could be shady.
Kurt opted to stay in the truck. He trusted me he said.
I donned my mask. Hoped they’d bring the kittens out. They did not. The skinny twenty something kid invited me in. I was greeted by three beautiful friendly healthy young cats under the age of one year. And a home with vibes. Stuff. Smoke. Pitt bulls (not that they are a bad breed, just that they often go with certain elements). The kid pulled out a timid young cat. Ragged looking.
How old?
Eight weeks.
He handed me the kitten, at least double that age. A sack of bones and fluff. Not healthy.
An older looking woman pops in. Short, thin, hard to guess her age in the way that the hard living are. She insists it’s eight weeks. Says it was returned once for crying. His ears bother him sometimes.
I look at the sad thing in my arms. I look around. I don’t know if I want this pale ghost cat, but I cannot leave him. I give them the rehoming fee.
I leave. He doesn’t struggle in my arms. I get in the truck. Turn to my husband and expletive crack heads! You know the windows were down too.
Later he doesn’t fight when I give him a bath. I have to coax him to eat, force bits of food into his mouth, but he does eat. His belly is bloated. He does not groom himself after the bath.
The ghost cat purrs and makes air biscuits on my chest. If I hadn’t said “the orange one” I would of looked at the others and never seen him. If there was no painted rock would I have asked about the orange one?

Friday, February 12, 2021:
Morning came at 6:30 am, I started calling around for a veterinarian appointment opening. We camped outside of Joshua Tree National Park. I tried several around Coachella, then towards 29 Palms before finally getting squeezed in for an afternoon appointment.

We drove through the National Park. Wasted time doing laundry. Made lunch and waited. And waited.
If you have pets, you know, in this Covid era everything is done over the phone now. They take your pet at the door then call to discuss the findings. At home with your veterinarian, the one you know and trust, this is a difficult set up. I’m doing this in a strange town, in a strange state, with a random clinic that could fit us into their schedule.
Prognoses. Negative for FIV. Negative for FeLV. No symptoms of wet FIP. With two impressive rounds in the kitty box his bloating went down significantly.
By Monday other tests should come back and the ghost cat will have a few good meals in.

Saturday, February 13, 2021:

I woke up at 4:00am and checked on Ghostman in the bathroom. I had a mess to clean up. Another large present in the litterbox and a splat on the floor probably a side effect from the medication. I let him out. And he took his place up on the head of the bed, getting up a few times to self serve at the food dish.
Later in the day I cleaned debris from his big pink ears. Ghostman decided to play a little and groomed himself. Then he hid under blankets when the windstorm hit.
Windstorm? This story has an afternoon dust storm in it. 30mph winds hit at 11:30 am, dust obscuring the mountains. Making the skin of the camper cringe.

2021. Dust Storm, Mojave Trails National Monument Marble Mountains Fossil Bed, CA.
Not Feeling Well During Wind Storm, Billy Ghost Takes Shelter Under Wool Clothing.

Sunday, February 14, 2021:
He’s gained weight. There’s a heft to him now. His limbs aren’t unpadded sticks. Ghostman is talking to us. Having opinions about life.
I sent a text to the people for more information. I think they were oblivious to the state he was in.
Late, just before bed, Ghostman played with a laser light. A good sign.

Monday, February 15, 2021:

Billy Ghostman had his best day yet. Played with the laser. Alert. Paying attention to his surroundings. Not the worst news from the vet, but not the best. He has elevated liver enzymes at 160 (where normal is 100). The vet who managed to remain monotone up until now, let his surprise show in the Ghostman’s improvement over the weekend.
Now. Two weeks before we recheck. Two weeks wait.
I hate waiting. I am infamously terrible at it.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Mojave Trails National Monument Marble Mountains Fossil Bed

That was a pass on the Turkey and Chicken flavor from Nulo. Billy Ghost made his best effort to bury the pile of offensive food. I had noticed he cleaned the plate sometimes and others, food was being left behind to crustify. Now I know… Billy has opinions on food.
He found the same cubby hiding hole in the bathroom as Beelzebub the Orange. I took all the things out of it. Let him have the hiding spot.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Today we traveled. Between moving to a new location (Hole in the Wall Campground) and gathering supplies it took most of the day. Billy Ghost… napped. Napped in the carrier. Napped on the backseat. Made squinty eyes at us.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

We had a day where Billy didn’t want to eat. Then he perked up. Noticed signs of a cat cold. Tonight he got a bath again. Dirty bottom. This time he had some fight, had mass to his body and cleaned himself after. Nine days together. I thought he was going to die that first night.
Had to take the dog food out of the camper because Freddie was guarding it. Having flashbacks of violence even though Fred wasn’t the guilty dog.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

View Overlooking Mojave Desert

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Billy Ghost attacks toes in night.

Saturday, February 28, 2021

Mojave Desert Preserve

We left Hole in the Wall and started traversing the Mojave for 29 Palms. Spent a night in the desert, but then BGW’s new tires came in so we backtracked for Bullhead city. Tire mission completed we headed back west. Spent the night in the Step Ladder Mountain Wilderness Area.

Mojave Desert Preserve

Sunday, February 28, 2021

March 1, 2021

Billy Ghost has made his second official round in a row tonight around the camper scratching at the window screen by the stove, the bed frame, the other window, and the couch. He’s bounced around demanding nearly a full can of food, play and general cat curiosity. He’s spit at the dog a few times for moving too fast. I’d think he was a healthy feline.
The retest numbers on his liver and kidneys say otherwise. The vet also stated he went from 4.3 lb to 4.5 lb, only a 2oz gain. I don’t know what to think. At this point in time I have reservations about trusting this particular veterinarian’s practice. This story is unfinished.

The difference a couple weeks makes.

Road: Dying of the Light

Art Journal, The Road, Thoughts

Stop here sensitive souls. You’ve been warned.

Kurt and I needed a new quest after the Salt River Wild Horses to keep our spirits up in this Covid Era. We settled on Sedona. The weather looked nice, we’d never been and plenty of opportunities to explore while socially distancing.
And then it took an entire day to get away from Phoenix. First one orange kitten demanded play at 5:00am. Then the day went from there. Chores. Groceries. Filling water tank and jugs. Water misadventure. Water all over the camper. Water clean up. Fix the hose. Finish filling the water tank. A lunch break. Get to the location.

Me: This doesn’t look like Sedona?

Kurt: Oh, I received an email about the tire replacement, I’m picking it up in Phoenix.

Me: So… we aren’t going to Sedona?

Kurt: Not yet.

Then we drove along dirt road looking for dispersed camping spot in Agua Fria National Monument. Hear a POP. Determined that the rear window safety glass had shattered. The road dead ended. Nearly got stuck. Ran over a bush after 1,000 attempts at turning around. Declared it wasn’t a saguaro, we’re good. Decide we don’t care where we sleep . Park for the night just in time to hear the safety glass start cascading out of the frame.

2021. Agua Fria National Monument.

Dispersed camping it is, at least until we take care of business. The next morning we found a ohv staging area outside of Phoenix to install ourselves. The plan: remove all the gear from under the truck capper. Find a place to get the glass fixed. Fill truck back up. Pick up replacement tire. Nothing to it. A few days in the desert and we’d be on our way.

Life still happens. Good or bad on the road. We expected car problems. What came next was never on the menu. All experiences have value though. One launches you to the next wether you enjoyed it or not.

I promised to tell the tale of how we were blessed with Beelzebub the Orange after losing Mr. Gato last October. This isn’t going to be that.
Do I start with Freddie, the four-parts mutt, who cannot help herself when it comes to the chase and the kill? Or Grunt. My fearful brindle beasty. The canine of soulful slime and anxiety. Mr. Gato’s sad, but peaceful death after a long summer of illness. Or did it begin with our newest edition Beelzebub the Orange. The perfect fluffy orange tiger kitten to fill the grief hole with purrs and magic. Dancing his way across our hearts.

Yes. Let’s begin there.
Somewhere in Texas I gave up finding a kitten. Once over the Arizona border I tried again and came across the littlest orange fuzz. And he was perfect. Willful. Energetic. Snuggles. Talkative. My Orange. The bond was immediate. He was adjusting to travel nicely. And camper life.
He insisted on the snuggle with Freddie. And tried with Grunt. With some success. The Orange saved his kitty biscuits for me, but shared his warm little body love with us equally.
Grief is price for love.
And as I loved Mister fiercely for fourteen years, I was just getting started with this little monster.
Life was good again.
There is an ugly beauty when you hold a being you love in its last moments. And there is absolutely nothing you can do.
On a Tuesday. The same Tuesday that congress would convene to Impeach our president for the second time I woke up to the sound of a kitten screaming. At first all that came into focus was Kurt making coffee. Then I hazily asked if he was ok. And I was handed a furry dying ember.
And I held him fiercely.
We don’t know why it happened.
Neither of us saw it happen. For some unknown reason Grunt bit the kitten. And that was all it took. I had no reason to believe my dogs wouldn’t accept a kitten. Both were raised among many cats of all ages including kittens. Up until that moment I would have told you everyone was getting on famously.
It became clear though, that an attack from Grunt on Freddie a couple weeks earlier, was no fluke. And we had been blind to the increasing violence he was doing to her. At home or on the road who wants to have to choose between their furry companions? Grunt wasn’t tolerating kitten or dog. Grunt had new needs we couldn’t give him.

2021. Beelzebub the Orange’s Grave.

The day after.

I needed to find a spark of joy.
We had this telescope taking up valuable room. And my neurons made some connections. Parked near us was a bus with their instagram handle on the side. I checked them out earlier in our stay. They were homeschooling five kids. Go Neurons.
Selfishly I marched that telescope across the sand in the bright dry desert day… I needed there to be goodness in the world. I needed to feel good outside of our small bitter animal kingdom tragedy.
And? It worked out splendidly. They were also having a tough week, for other reasons. Their kids already had an interest in the stars. Serendipity.
We left Phoenix, Arizona. Again camping at the Agua Fria National Monument. This time just us and one dog. A fixed window. Hard lessons. Less one bouncy orange kitten.

2021. Agua Fria National Monument

I found AZ Mastiff Rescue, a large breed rescue group. Freddie isn’t sorry. We hadn’t noticed how withdrawn she was. Suddenly we had a happy dog in front of us. I feel confident Grunt will be happier in the end too. We will be judged. Some will judge us for getting the breed in the first place. Some will judge us for keeping him so long. Others will find fault in us surrendering him to a rescue.

All I can say is I’ve always believed my home would be forever for every pet I brought in. And now I’ve learned again that life brings unforeseen challenges. The right and responsible act doesn’t always feel well done in the moment.

We left Grunt at the Rescue with everything I could give him for his best transition. I wrote out his history. His quirks. Sent his veterinary records. His harness, head collar, kong toy, his leash and the quilt they laid on in the truck. I did a photo shoot with him and emailed those to the Rescue. I said goodbye to my big chicken dog who was afraid of the dark and didn’t like the rain. I said goodbye to memories and to a future that didn’t come to pass. I was so mad at him. I loved him.
It was time to spoil Freddie. Since she could now enjoy a bone and toy of her own. I made my husband stop at the pet isle while we were getting supplies. Over the days since the surrender she has relaxed. Freddie is playing with her toys again. She doesn’t act like she’s on high alert 24/7. Listens to commands better. I can’t put into words all the changes we’ve noticed. It is clear she is a happier companion.

2021. Freddie enjoying new adventures.