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P. S. My Cat is Dead — a year in which life, and death, imitated art

“That looks like a good book you’re reading” — Nikki 2001-2020

BY TERESA MALLAM

Mallam Unmuzzled

I have just thrown out my wall calendar for 2020. I replaced it with a 9X10 photo of my cat, Nikki.  For me, the year 2020 will go down in my own life as the worst one yet, by far.

Years ago, my brother, Christopher, interested me in the work of author, playwright, James Kirkwood Jr. and his books including: PS. Your Cat is Dead! The Good Reads website provides a summary of his 1972 novel adapted from his play:

“It’s New Year’s Eve in New York City. Your best friend died in September. You’ve been robbed twice, your girlfriend is leaving you, you’ve lost your job..” etc. etc. The story’s main character, goes from one life-altering upset to another.

That would be me.

Kirkwood’s genre, black humour, has what Good Reads calls an “escalating disaster” format. Copy that. Or should I say, “copycat that” because that really was the kind of year I had.

My private life has always centred around the world of arts and entertainment. My professional life, too, covering and photographing live events as beat reporter and community editor.

That’s why I use the arts as a reference point —  and why, now, I often retreat quietly into movies, music and books. But lately, my real life has played out like a sad movie, or soppy Victorian novel.

Thomas Hardy’s novels, as I recall from English Literature studies, followed his hero or heroine (eg. Tess of the d’Urbervilles) from one gut-wrenching, heart-aching event to another.

Misery heaped upon misery.

My year from hell began in January when I was advised that my personal info had been part of a nation-wide data security breach. Bummer. But I was offered a five-year free monitoring service. From there, it got worse.

On March 18, 2020, my best friend’s husband, Paul — a retired school teacher, and one of my favourite people — died with Alzheimer’s disease. On our last visit, shortly before he passed away, he no longer knew me.

At the time, updates of a novel coronavirus stemming from Wuhan, China, were making headlines in Canada. But by mid-April, I was having my own health crisis which landed me, luckily, in UHNBC, cared for by a top surgeon.

I usually don’t name names — but Dr. Wankling and his medical team took me on, despite the pandemic and its problems, to perform a tricky procedure that may have saved my life. Thanks also to ambulance “escorts” Rich and Derek.

Next, while still recovering, I was told my close friend from our time at university had died very suddenly. Victor was witty and smart, a gifted artist and pianist who went on to instruct and inspire hundreds of piano students.  

Ironically, just days after his death on Sept. 15, while sorting out contents in my desk, I came across a draft copy of Victor’s story, “Cloud 10.” Turning the pages of hand-drawn illustrations, penned-in edits and blots of white-out, I was moved to tears.

He died at age 59. Many of his piano students and their parents left on-line memoriams — but, of course, there could be no farewell funeral.

Finally, even the last days of 2020 did not spare me more anguish. This time, a blow to my heart. My darling cat, Nikki, who had kept a vigil on my bed so many times, died on Dec. 30. She was 19 years old.

Now, I hear uplifting news, babies being born: a first grandchild for MP Todd Doherty who blurted out the news in the House, and a 2021 New Year’s baby from Quesnel. Still, it’s way too soon for me to be humming happy lyrics like: “And I think to myself…what a wonderful world.”

Because it isn’t right now.

It’s more like how Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood has described the aftermath of divorce: “Divorce is like an amputation. You survive, but there’s less of you.”

That’s how I see this past year. The COVID19 crisis is way worse than any divorce, and yes, I did survive 2020. But the year took its toll — something 60s rocker Janis Joplin used to belt out was  “another little piece of my heart.”


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