The Ghost of Rockschool

I’ve seen God in the sun
I’ve seen God in the street
God before bed and the promise of sleep
God in my dreams
And the free ride of grace
But it all disappears and then I wake up

There’s a story behind these pictures of Karl. They were taken on a rainy Wednesday afternoon. My mom woke me up that morning by telling me that there would be no school that day, so could I please take our dog, Ginger, to the vet to get her bald spots checked. I asked, what about college? And she said she didn’t know if classes were cancelled at the college level.

I got my breakfast ready, and took it back to my room to check online if classes really were cancelled that day. This is where it gets blurry. It seems for the past month, Metro Manila’s been in the middle of a storm, and our house–being built to take natural light and natural air–has become a life-sized experimental arrangement of doors slamming backed by the wind rushing through. We knew this could prove fatal for the kittens, so my mom bought doorstops and hooks to prevent any accidents.

My sister’s room is different though. I’ve been staying here for the past few months, since she left, and sometimes the kittens stay with me. The hallway is elevated, with the door opening inward, gliding on air, so there’s no way to put a doorstop it. It used to be ideal when the kittens were smaller, because the step was too high for them to climb out.

That morning, I opened the door, and what happened next I can’t really remember, but with all the force it took to shut the door, it did not shut. I turned around and saw Friedrich, Karl’s brother, writhing on the floor, mid-seizure. He had been attempting to crawl out when the door slammed shut. I scooped him up and started yelling all kinds of unintelligible things until I just grabbed my car keys and drove out barefoot with Friedrich in my lap, in search of a vet. The nearest one was closed, the next one did not have any oxygen with which to revive him. He died within minutes.

I got home with his tiny body wrapped in newspaper and buried him next to his sister. It was only 8 am, but by the time I got to school I no longer had the energy to teach or anything to tell my students because of the crushing guilt that was weighing so heavily on every fiber of my being. I think of all the tiny moments that cost him his life, the seemingly innocuous little details that could have changed the course of that day (and consequently, this one). Even earlier that morning Friedrich had been running around my room with my headphones strung to his foot by the cord. I got up to untie it so he could play, unencumbered. Less than half an hour later I would be barefoot in my vet’s office, pleading for a way to pull him through.

Everything hums as the blue heart turns
And the blue girl’s dawn
Is when the sun goes down
My story tonight
Is from your solitude heights
I got a window on your constellation

Driving home, I remember congratulating myself for not crying. I thought maybe I was over it; maybe I finally absorbed the practical realities that accompany dealing with very fragile, very small lives. Or that very small lives come with very small deaths. But none of those ideas held water for very long. I cried on my way to school. Cried on the phone with my dad. Cried every chance I got to be alone, and have relished every minute of it, because tomorrow would have to be another day. Tomorrow, I might not get a chance to be as honest with myself about how all this really feels.

The logic of Tomorrow comes with focusing my attention on Friedrich’s brother, Karl, pictured above. I’ve been a foster parent for a little over a year now, and Karl is one of the most unique kittens I’ve ever had the chance to care for. He sings to his food. He literally makes this prolonged high-pitched buzz, similar to a dial tone, while he’s eating. Sometimes he crawls onto my chest then puts his paws on my cheeks and his general nose area against mine, like an Eskimo kiss. On Saturday, Karl and Friedrich were supposed to go to their forever home, but I guess it’s just Karl now.

I spoke to my sister about it this morning. There’s nothing like losing a pet to make you feel indescribably alone in your grief. There’s a very personal bond between pets and their carers, an extended inside joke. My capacity for emotional derailment and full-scale meltdowns are no match for the unforeseen circumstances in which I lost Friedrich. But she also told me to stop blaming myself, to learn to forgive, and to listen to Belle and Sebastian’s “The Ghost of Rock School,” which I’ve been doing all day. She’s right, but it won’t change the fact that there’s no life too small to grieve over.

Master I love from the ground above
As the stars below as my memory flows
Every picture frame is beating
Louder than time
Every clock in the hall is bending slowly

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