Surrendering, I read, is a one-way door. It has a window but no handle, and when you’re through, you’re through.
I met Karen at a St. Hubert just off the 40. She had requested the meeting spot. It seemed like an odd place for someone like her to request, but people can surprise you. They generally don’t, but they can.
The St. Hubert was one of those franchises that looks like a barn, with a slanted burgundy roof. Inside it smelled like fried chicken, naturally, and bubblegum. The second smell was incongruous; it must have been a cleaning product or the collective odour of the teenagers that worked there. I ordered potato wedges and a diet Coke.
I recognized Karen right away, from her picture on the website. She looked like she had just eaten something that didn’t agree with her. She looked refluxy. Her glasses were the size of Texas. I sat down across from her.
“Where’s Captain,” she said immediately, not even pretending to be friendly.
“In the car,” I said. She looked like she had been slapped. “I left the windows open a crack,” I added quickly. “Besides, it’s ten degrees. He’s not going to get heatstroke.”
“What about his medication?”
“Bubble-wrapped and in a cooler.”
“And his chart?”
“I’ll email the link when I get home.”
“Here are the papers, Beth,” she said, pushing a clipboard at me. “Make sure you read them carefully.”
I had already read them online, but I nodded. I put a damp clump of potato into my mouth. It felt cool to the touch but as soon as I bit down it seared my soft palate. I tried to arrange my mouth around the potato so the least amount of it would come into contact with my body, but it was impossible. I spat it into a napkin. “Sorry,” I said.
“Yeah. I guess that’s why they say hot potato.” Karen stared at me like she thought I might be a sociopath. I looked over the papers. I was in the doorway. I knew I would step through it but I wanted to wait just a bit longer, to get used to the view from the other side.
Diabetes, I read once, is Latin for “honeyed siphon.” The urine of a diabetic is sweet because of all the sugar the body can’t convert to energy. It’s just pissed away, wasted. The siphon is the body itself, through which the honey pours.
In the Diabetic Pet Online Message Board they call the animals “sugarpets.” As in, “how’s your sugarpet today?” The message board itself is known as Sugartown. Insulin is “the sauce.” When a cat’s diabetes goes into remission, as can happen in some cases, it’s called “going OTS”.
“Off the sauce?” Jo said when I told her.
“How did you know that?”
She shrugged. “I’ve been on the internet before. I understand how acronyms work.”
OTS is also known as “the Garden,” “Paradise”, and, more ominously, “the Honeymoon.” Honeymoons by definition are finite.
If your cat goes OTS, the other residents of Sugartown throw you an OTS party. The party is mostly a video that one of the users makes: a slideshow of your cat mixed with pictures of waterfalls, fireworks, and basketball players hi-fiving each other. I watched one for a cat called Trixie.
After 5 YEARS Trixie is OTS!!!11!!!1
Congrats Trixie and Marjorie!
[sounds of wild applause]
[image of hula dancers]
[pic of Trixie sprawled on a turquoise futon]
“Are you crying?” Jo said.
She put her arm around me. “It’ll happen for Captain too. I promise.”
“How can you make that kind of promise?” I said.
She kissed the side of my head. “Okay, then I promise I’ll be here for you, no matter what.” It was nice of her, but it was just one of those things people say to each other, the filler material of human relations. In the movie business, Jo told me, they call it shoe leather. Cut it out, the editor would say. Cut to the chase.
Many of the cats in Sugartown were roly-poly; they looked like parade balloons or loaves of bread. Others were thin and listless. Captain was one of these. His pancreas just up and quit one day, and no one could tell us why. The vet sent us home with a prescription for insulin and a handful of syringes. Her name was Dr. Katadakis and she called Captain “this pussy,” which made me and Jo choke back snickers. “Good luck,” she said. “You might want to check out this website.” She handed me a slip of paper.
When we got home Jo went into the basement to practice for a commercial she was shooting the next day. I lined up the new gear in front of me–insulin, syringe, glucometer, test strips– and thought about our new lives as owners of a sugarpet. I could hear Jo saying the same phrase over and over, with different intonations. “Protecting you is our priority. Protecting you is our priority.”
Everyone said Jo had a great sense of humour. It’s true that socially she could be very funny, with a dry and self-deprecating wit. But she never laughed at anyone else’s jokes. In my books this meant she had only half a sense of humour. I can only remember one time that she laughed at something I said. It was early on in our courtship, and she was describing an audition for an airline commercial. She said the audition went well, but the company hadn’t made up their mind to hire her yet. She said they were trying to choose between the happy girl and the sad girl.
“Which one are you,” I said.
There must have been other times, times when she laughed at something on TV, something on the internet, a cat meme. But when I listen for her laugh in my mind’s ear I get nothing, a dial tone.
When I had the bad pap she was the one that insisted I see a specialist, and she got me through everything that came after–the surgery that went wrong, the court case, the lawyers and judges. My family loved her and thought she was hilarious, and she was. It was only that I wanted her to laugh at something I said, just once, and just at something that wasn’t about her.
I slid the needle through the rubber stopper on the lid of the insulin cartridge. They were called cartridges, which made me think of loading a gun. I liked this efficient, militaristic language. It was so much unlike the words I used most of the time, vague words that tried to corral feelings that themselves were nebulous and slippery, like using a net of spiderwebs to catch a mist. I slid the needle through the stopper on the cartridge and drew insulin past the 2 cc mark. I pulled out the needle and held it up. I tapped it a few times to release air bubbles, then pushed the plunger till a small sphere of insulin formed at the tip of the needle. I shook the bubble into the toilet. I recapped the syringe and went to find Captain.
He was on the couch in what Jo called the catloaf position, with all his feet tucked under him. I explained to him that I was going to give him his shot. I showed him the syringe and he rubbed his face against the cap. Then I put the cap between my teeth, pulled the needle free, grabbed a pinch of the loose skin between Captain’s shoulder blades, blew on it to part the fur, slid the needle under the skin and depressed the plunger, all in under three seconds. I could feel him tense, but barely, and then it was over.
I pulled the needle out and recapped it.
Captain looked at me, then thumped off the sofa and crept into the next room.
I reset my timer.
Karen was watching me through those glasses that made her eyes look like two lonely goldfish in separate bowls. I scraped the pen wherever she’d put a helpful hot-pink Post-It–SIGN HERE. I handed her back the clipboard and smiled what I hoped was a resigned yet brave smile. My chin felt funny.
“The love of an animal is unconditional.” She sounded like she was quoting a Pinterest board. “We humans aren’t always up for accepting a gift that big. Do you know how many cats are murdered every year in your average shelter?”
“I don’t,” I said, then guessed a number that seemed absurdly high. Karen’s eyes got even wider. She exhaled slowly through her teeth, which made her bangs flutter slightly. No one over twelve looks good in bangs, but try telling that to some people.
“So, Beth, what was the last straw for you?” she asked.
“I guess I just didn’t feel like I could give him what he needed anymore,” I said. “I thought he deserved better. Better than me.” This felt good to say, like banging your head against the wall when you stub your toe. Karen nodded–she seemed like a person who could understand feelings of inadequacy without having to try too hard.
Captain had always been my cat–I’d had him for years before Jo and I met. She was a dog person, it even said so on her Scissr profile, but she understood that we were a package deal.
I didn’t believe in God, so I just spoke to hope itself. Please, I said, please please let Captain go OTS. A month passed, then two. Have you ever tested a cat’s blood sugar? You find the vein in the ear, the big one that runs along the outer edge. You prick it with a needle, though actually it’s not a pinpoint like a needle but more trowel-shaped, so you get a good round drop of blood. Rubbing the ear with Vaseline first makes it pool up nicely; otherwise it just spreads into the fur and you’ll end up with blood on your sofa cushions. Once, early on, Captain shook his head in irritation when I pricked him and a fine spatter of cat blood pearled across the side of the bathtub. A rookie mistake. I learned to give him a smear of Vaseline to lick and he would barely notice I was doing it.
Sugartown became my salvation. These were, surprisingly, my people. They used words like hubby and furbaby and Rainbow Bridge, which was where furbabies went after a long, happy, insulin-regulated life. There was userRudy, whose Mr. Wiz had been on the sauce for eleven years. She ran a B&B outside Durham, North Carolina. userMissy and her furbaby Dakota lived in rural Alberta; Dakota had FIV and seven fur siblings. userHal was always overshooting the insulin (men, am I right), and everyone would sit vigil with him as he stayed up all night working through a low blood sugar crisis, feeding little Bucket honey and high-carb giblets-n-gravy and testing every half hour until he knew she was going to make it. On the whole they were a kind, anxious, judgmental people, and they accepted me as one of their own.
People asked how I did it. How we managed to hold down jobs and care for a cat that required a needle twice a day. “I couldn’t do it–not for love nor money!” The truth is, the settlement after the surgery–when they went in for the tumour and accidentally took it all, the works, the whole nine yards–was enough that I didn’t really have to work, at least for a while. I took some easy freelance writing contracts here and there (“Orgasm Your Way to a Debt Free Life!”), and of course Jo wanted to keep acting–it was about more than money for her. But we were out of the rat race.
And we didn’t have kids. It was ironic–if the surgery had gone as planned I could have had kids, but we would have been too broke. Now I had more money than I knew what to do with, and no uterus to speak of. “Not all babies have to come out of your body,” Jo said. She’d had her tubes tied as soon as she turned twenty-one and never looked back; her body was compact and, to my mind, wholly without organs, just firm freckled Jo-flesh all the way through. I knew she was right, but I also knew I wasn’t that kind of woman, a woman who could wing it. Without a hormonal surge whipping my heart into shape I knew I’d let the baby wither away like the spider plant in our hallway. My heart was completely average, incapable of feats of grandeur.
Captain’s injections became a way of structuring my day, a rhythm, a microscopic game of Battleship I played with glucose and Humulin. And always with the possibility that one day his pancreas would kick back into gear and he’d reach Paradise, the Garden, the Honeymoon.
One day, though, Jo came home after work at 4 AM and found me online, messaging with GarysMom about Captain’s glucose levels.
I think I overshot, I was typing, he looks like he might be low. He’s walking kinda funny
Try gravvy, GarysMom wrote, nd chk bg every 10 mins
And Jo decided enough was enough.
“And you understand this is final,” Karen said. Her face softened a bit. “You can’t get him back after this. He will no longer be your cat, and, having declared yourself unfit, you’ll have no claim to him ever again.”
“I understand,” I said.
We found the 49AngelsRescue online. Amid pictures of cats and dogs and the odd guinea pig they had pulled out of squalid homes and death-camp shelters–now happily placed in their forever-homes with loving families–was a link called simply Surrendering. This was what I’d heard about–the last-ditch effort you made before you went down Pentobarbital Ave. You signed away your ownership of your pet in the hopes that the rescue would do what you couldn’t, or wouldn’t.
There were no cute pictures on this page, no tap-dancing pig gifs or inspiring testimonials. It was pure clinical information in ten-point type.
Surrendering, it said, is a one-way door.
“I don’t think I can do this,” I said to Jo. “Everyone in Sugartown will hate me. They’ll think I’m a quitter.”
“Those nutters?” Jo said. “You don’t owe them anything. Why do you care what they think?”
“They’re my family,” I said. Jo laughed, for once, but I wasn’t joking. She saw that I was serious and put her arm around me, her eyes big and soppy like a Disney princess.
“I’m your family,” she said, “and I think it’s time you took back your life. Captain will be okay. They’ll know how to take care of him.”
Jo squeezed my shoulders and left the room. “I believe in you,” she said.
I went onto the 49AngelsRescue Surrendering page and opened a chat box.
I thought about the sky-writing in The Wizard of Oz. Surrender Dorothy! The cursor blinked at me, a vertical pulse. I could hear Jo moving around the kitchen, making spaghetti and listening to the Beatles like she was in a Murakami novel.
I typed in Hello, I surrender
After thirty seconds, Karen1973 responded.
cat or dog
We made an appointment to meet at the St. Hubert in a few weeks.
The backseat of the car was empty now. Captain had barely reacted when Karen took him, like he was a baton we were passing in a relay race. Goodbye, Captain my Captain, I had whispered, while Karen tried not to listen and even looked a bit teary-eyed. I decided she was a kind person in a difficult position.
Jo would be getting home about now. I imagined her opening the door to the sound of no cat. She’d change out of her work clothes into some kind of cozy onesie, open the fridge to rummage for some carrot sticks, cheese, something carbless. I would get on the freeway, weightless as the car accelerated, my skin sparking with newfound freedom.
I noticed a loose syringe on the floor of the car, still pre-loaded with insulin, that must have fallen out of the cooler. I put it in my coat pocket; I’d chuck it in the sharps container when I got home. Or maybe I’d bury it in the backyard, a memorial to the pancreas I didn’t save. Or I could hang it over the mantelpiece like a gentleman hunter’s rifle. We’d have to get a mantelpiece.
One unusually hot late-summer morning, not long after I’d made the appointment to meet Karen, I tested Captain’s blood sugar, as I did every day before his insulin shot. I dabbed the test strip into the bubble of blood and it sucked it up hungrily. I waited. The meter beeped and the reading appeared on the screen. I looked at the number displayed there. I blinked. I took out the batteries and put in a fresh pair. “Sorry pal,” I said to Captain, grabbing his unpricked ear. I pricked, dabbed, waited. The same number appeared. Normal, nondiabetic range. Maybe the test strips had expired. Captain was humped up against the bathroom door so I let him out. He went to his bowl and yowled. I pricked my own finger and tested my thin, unsweet blood. The green number said I was within the healthy range of a non-diabetic human. It wasn’t the meter.
Captain yowled again and wandered out of the kitchen, his food untouched. I peered into his bowl. There was a series of beige flecks like tiny clumps of rice, or some fibrous material, tucked into the rucks and folds of glistening meat-paste. A fly had laid her eggs there, and they were waiting to hatch in the humid September air and feast on premium-grade diabetic cat food. I scooped the tainted food into a paper bag. It was thirty degrees and five days ‘til garbage day; if I put it in the bin it would be maggotville in no time. I opened the freezer door and shoved it behind some puff pastry I’d been meaning to do something with.
I logged into Sugartown.
I think Captain might be OTS? I posted. I opened another window and clicked around a bit, checking on everyone’s daily blood glucose reports.
Wow!!! userMissy posted. Me and Dakota are so happy for you!
Partytime for Captain!
You go, lil Pancreas!
he’s not officially OTS until his BG stays within normal levels for two weeks, userRobin, that old buzzkill, warned.
I know, I wrote. I’m just excited.
Enjoy the Garden! wrote userJamieandPeanut. Don’t forget to come visit us!
I won’t, I typed. You guys are the best. I wouldn’t have made it without you. I logged out and stared at the screen for I don’t know how long. Twenty minutes, an hour. Jo was shooting a sprinkler commercial and wouldn’t be back til evening.
This was not a possibility I had allowed for.
I poured some gin into a glass and opened the freezer for some ice. At first I didn’t understand what was happening, what the moving black specks were. Then I realized: the eggs had hatched, and few dozen infant flies were limping along the various surfaces of the freezer, too cold-drunk to fly. A couple fell out when I opened the door and sat, stunned, on the kitchen floor. I squished them with the toe of my sandals, politely. Two weeks later I met Karen at the St. Hubert.
Some gifts are too big to accept.
On the way home from surrendering I stopped at a Couche-Tard for gas. I went inside to pay and decided to treat myself to a Sloche. It was stop-sign red; the flavour was called Sangfroid. It tasted like if someone had described “strawberries” to a robot. The door chimed as I left.
I put the Sloche on top of the car as I reached into my pocket for the car keys. There was a pinch in the soft webbing between my middle and ring finger; I pulled my hand out and saw the syringe dangling there like an extra digit—the cap must have come off in my pocket. I plucked it out gingerly. I couldn’t tell how much insulin had gone into my hand–there was still some left in the syringe, but how much had there been to begin with? What could five ccs of Humulin do to an adult human? I knew the symptoms of insulin shock, but only for cats.
I went back into the Couche-Tard. I grabbed a bag of gummy worms, then some sour peach rings. They had that gum that comes in a roll like a tape dispenser, so I grabbed that too. Then candy lips, Mike and Ikes, cinnamon hearts, and one of those plastic containers of pre-fab barbe à papa. By that point my arms were full, so I dumped my stash on the counter. “Almost done,” I told the cashier, who had hair the same colour as the peach rings. I went back for a pack of jujubes, caramels, the licorice with the pus-white cream in the middle, Skittles, sour keys, wine gums, Sweetarts, that powdered sugar you eat with a paddle, and some honey-roasted peanuts. They had hosties in their blue and red bags–I wasn’t sure how much sugar they actually contained, but I grabbed a couple just to be on the safe side.
In the car I sat surrounded by bright plastic bags, like Smaug atop his horde. I started with the gummy worms. They went down easily, and I ate them efficiently, like I worked in a factory and it was my job to consume gummy worms. Then I moved onto the Skittles, the wine gums, the sour peaches. My teeth started to ache, and my saliva became thick and ropy. The roof of my mouth felt raw and abraded, my tongue swollen to twice its size. By the time I cracked open the hosties my mouth was completely numb, and my jaw pulsed with pain from the effort of chewing.
I listened for the sound of my heart. It was thundering beautifully, like a mounted army riding into battle. After a minute or two I pulled out of the parking lot, and red liquid sluiced down the driver’s side window. Sangfroid. I’d forgotten about the Sloche.
When I got back, Jo was in the basement on the rowing machine–it sounded like someone was getting murdered down there. I lay down on the sofa and pulled the blanket up to my neck. Eventually Jo came upstairs, glistening like a baked ham. She came over and gathered me into her arms. I think she expected me to sob, so I did, into her armpit, which smelled of onions and baby powder. “You did the right thing,” she said. “I know,” I told her. For a second I felt the enormity of what I’d done, and it felt good, like when your car goes over a bump and you stomach drops into your genitals. I’d taken back my life, just like Jo wanted. I know how this sounds, but I have to say this relinquishing was a delight, the depths of which few people experience.
“Your mouth is purple,” Jo said.
I never check the message board these days.
It’s like this: you’re waiting for the bus, it’s winter, it’s minus forty, you’ve never been more miserable in your life. Salty ice crusts have formed in the corners of your eyes and your fingers have ceased to obey your brain’s demands, and you peer down the snowy street through your hood’s tunnel, finally registering the three small lights atop the city bus, a flat constellation of hope. You get on, barely able to feel relief. Eventually, you stagger in the door of your house. You extrude yourself from your boots, your hat, your parka, try to flex feeling back into your fingers. Slowly, you thaw. Things look a little brighter. You get a glass of scotch, turn on the CBC. Your hands start to feel like yours again.
The door bangs open, and in comes your dear one, muffled and howling. Goddammit it’s cold! they say. I waited for the bus for seventeen minutes! I thought I was going to die!
You regard them from the depths of your armchair, scotch in hand. They seem a sad and desperate thing.
Yeah, you say. I guess it’s pretty cold.