Sad Mubarak, RIP Turkey Lin 2009 – June 14, 2018

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Dear Friends,

Many of you who know me may have heard a story or two about my family’s plucky, fierce, wild, sharp-clawed, gorgeous, smart, handsome, sweet, toothsome, somewhat vicious, attention-loving, purr-full, endearing, and always beloved cat: Turkey Lin.

Right before Thankstaking 2009, Turkey came to us as a stray found in a Southland gas station by my roommate and dear friend Saimo’s then-boyfriend. He wasn’t a kitten, but he also wasn’t fully grown. He had just enough of the feral settle in him to never quite lose it. His childhood. A little squirt of a kitty who grew up to be a shiny jaguar beast. Who loved to chill on the rafters of our garage, perched like a bird, watching us for the first sign of cat food. Who emerged from the bushes the instant any of us came home because he couldn’t wait to nap on the still-warm engine of a car.

We named him Turkey for several reasons: because I brought him home from LA during that holiday, because I thought it was funny to confuse my young nephew who was just learning words like “cat” and “turkey,” but most of all because my dad’s affectionate nickname for anybody he thought was acting a fool was “That Turkey!” My brother and I can’t agree as to who wanted to name Turkey for what reason, but I think we both agreed honoring the reference to my father was fitting. Maybe it’s also fitting that we will hold a service for our beloved friend and family member on Father’s day, a totally shitty day, where we also plan to visit our father’s grave.

Turkey was always an indestructible cat. Fearless, a survivor in our eyes, despite this outcome. He was nearly ten years old and had survived longer than any of our other cats, except for my first cat who grew old in a different neighborhood. He hated being stuck in the house and loved to prowl the streets at night. He had a bit of a biting and scratching problem, and he broke the skin of everybody in the family (except me – which was largely luck, though I like to think of it as some instinctive loyalty for my part in his rescue). Or, it could’ve just been that I was away from home more than my siblings. We’d all be hanging, and out of nowhere Turkey’s tail would start swishing, and he’d narrow his eyes at us as if he couldn’t wait for the scientists to invent a miniaturization device. But we all have our shortcomings.

A voracious hunter, not a day went by that Turkey didn’t kill an animal and bring it to us as a token of his affection: bird, lizard, mouse, rat, bunnies, snakes, one day, even a bat. Usually, several in one day. There’s very little birdsong in the vicinity of our house because of Turkey. My brother found a mole in his shoe once. My mom had to drive four times to the humane society trying to save creatures, but more often, she complained that her house was a slaughter factory. These were his gifts. I know this is hard to hear for folks who are used to more indoor/domesticated cats, but Turkey was really happy being a murder machine. As my cousin once commented, “No I’m not bringing my kittens to play with Turkey. Have you seen your cat? See how shiny his coat is, and how he looks at you? You only look like that when you’ve eaten a lot of protein.”

One consolation is that Turkey was probably tracking or hunting on the night of his demise and was likely enjoying his night out on the town. I think, if he had to go, this is how Turkey’d want to do it, as part of the untamed yet humanized world that birthed him and eventually claimed him.

Our area has had a coyote problem for a while. The coyotes have even attacked and almost carried away the neighbor’s dog in daylight. Two nights ago (when we think he was killed), my brother and I saw a rare sight about .5 miles from home. Four coyotes trailing each other single file down the sidewalk, hunting in a pack. It was like something out of a cartoon: one would turn the corner and about 15 feet behind it would follow another. Coyotes aren’t pack hunters, but they’ve been coming down from the hills, forced away from their diminishing habitat and starving, and dangerous. When we’d tried to lock Turkey in the garage for the night, he’d run away and not come home for days. We were all annoyed at first because we thought he was pulling another one of his stunts, giving us the cold shoulder because he was mad. (Though usually he’d make sure to sneak in and clean out his bowl even if he wasn’t sleeping at home at night).

My mom, especially, hated to make him unhappy. Part of that was her desire to take care of him. The other part was that he would take it out on her if she didn’t let him have his way — or if she ignored him too often — with swats and bites, much to our dismay. Several family members complained sometimes that they were afraid of Turkey. He was also our constant companion and so beloved that my mom made sure to overfeed him daily (just like her kids). His bowl overfilled to the point where he shared. Her stories for the past decade have frequently been about Turkey and what cute or terrible thing he’s done.

I used to joke to my friends about Turkey, what a savage panther cat he was. I always held him with such affection. It seemed natural to respect his personality. I remember my friend Pele, would joke with me that when she went over someday to meet Turkey, she was pretty sure there’d be a panther sitting there, and I’d be like, “That’s our cat Turkey.”

We didn’t believe it when my mom said that Turkey’s new bestie was a raccoon. She’s been saying it all the time for the past few months, which we thought was silly. “Turkey has a new friend. It’s a raccoon.” But, eventually Justin and I did encounter the raccoon, fat, lazy, and sluggish, and we noted that Turkey had been “eating” enough for two the past couple months. Turkey would hiss at his new friend, but the two seemed to have some sort of bizarre domestic partnership. Turkey would eat what he could, and the raccoon would come in and eat the rest.

Today, even though we were certain of his death, my mom left out food for Turkey and clean water, and per usual, his raccoon frenemy came and finished it off. There was even wet cat food available — which I’d put in the bowl in the hopes of attracting him back. Cats LOVE wet cat food. I guess raccoons do too. When the food was done, and the water bowl was dirty (which was always a sign of that handsy Raccoon putting its damn paws where it didn’t belong), my mom said, “I changed the water bowl, just in case maybe Turkey comes back. He likes his water to be clean.”

It kinda’ broke my heart. I want him to come back, even though I know it’s not going to happen.

Anyway, I was going to write a longer post about different stuff for Ramadan. But I’m exhausted emotionally and physically. Turkey was missing since late Tuesday night, and my mom and I searched the neighborhood Wednesday night. I searched the grounds and the street this morning, called all the shelters and started to make a flyer. I guess I didn’t really think he’d been hurt. Turkey was a hearty survivor.

Justin drove back from SF this afternoon, and he started asking all the neighbors if they’d seen our cat. The black one? They all knew and loved Turkey. He spent so much time in their yards and took care of their mice problem too. A couple years ago, a rattlesnake appeared and scooted down the long driveway we share with two other houses. It disappeared, never to be seen again. A week later, the neighbor’s gardener said he’d disposed of the rattlesnake’s body. He confided to my mom in hushed tones, “Your cat killed that rattlesnake. I saw him waiting for it.” It was the next door neighbors who let us know they’d found a battle site on their front lawn yesterday (Wednesday) morning around 10am.

Gary, the neighbor, said, “your cat loved to sit on our lawn where we fenced in our dogs. He’d drive them crazy. But they couldn’t get out, and so he’d sit there and taunt them all day while they howled and scratched at the fence. He was just being a cat.” His wife told my mom, “I’ve never seen a cat watch me the way your cat does. His eyes are even different. He’s not really tame.” It’s good to know that Turkey’s personality was apparent to the community that cared about him.

So…even though my heart isn’t in a place to celebrate tomorrow, I do still want to say Eid Mubarak. Or rather, Sad Mubarak. I am, despite this hurt, grateful that I had the health and opportunity to fast this year. I’m reminded that life is short, and I know not to take it for granted. I’m most grateful to have known Turkey and had his love during this lifetime and to have been able to love this cat back, so much so, despite my allergies. In some ways I feel that my love of animals transcends what other people take for granted.

The last time I saw Turkey, he was on this beat up old picnic bench my dad had built in our backyard. He was writhing around, belly up, swimming around, deliriously happy because my brother had brought his laptop outside. Turkey loved it when my brother would spend the afternoon working at home. My brother’s also allergic, but he would still pet Turkey the most of all of us. Whenever my brother sat outside to work, it meant that Turkey could put his butt between my brother and the keyboard. He was thrilled he was going to get attention. It was hot, and I was fasting, so I wanted to go work in the library and invited my brother to join, and he agreed, but I remember that Turkey looked up, reproachful. “Are you sure you want to go, Justin? Turkey’s already so excited, and I hate to disappoint him.”

He was, by all accounts, an incredibly loyal cat with a bit of an abandonment complex. Our family walks in the neighborhood a few times a week. Turkey would never fail to walk with us. He followed at least ten feet behind and never got in front of us. He’d slink through the bushes and dart in and out of the territory and driveways of his enemy cats. Cat-walking is a specific joy. Once in a while, he’d get too scared if we went too far, and wherever he stopped, he’d end up waiting for us to walk him back home, meowing like a siren, obnoxious and true. We live on a steep hilly street, so sometimes we’d drive down to save my mom (or me) the uphill climb. If we drove up, though, we’d have to walk back down to get Turkey because he’d be waiting at the bottom of the hill for us to return. If we forgot, he waited most of the night. All of us walked with Turkey countless times up and down that hill.

I also want to thank all of you for joining me during the fast by reading my Ramadan journals. I don’t know if I will be up for writing an Eid post. I’ll have to play it by ear.

I know I’m not alone. Many people have suffered loss during Ramadan, or are in a grieving process. I didn’t think I’d be here, in this place of such sadness and frustration, in a time when I most thought or hoped Allah would hear my prayers. I didn’t think I’d feel all the guilt that comes with loss. And devastation. I didn’t think it’d make my heart lurch and my faith muddy. It was so hard to finish my fast today, and I feel hollow.

It’s hard to feel like you have no clue ever as to why anything happens. It’s hard. I spoke to the Doctor, who reminded me that Allah sends hardship and ease together, so I should keep my eye open for the joy in life too. That was a nice thought, and it does provide solace. Which I need.

Another wonderful thought was Courtru’s text upon hearing that Turkey was gone:

“Oh no. I’m so sorry. I thought he would beat the odds forever because he’s such a badass.”

But right now, I’m grieving, and I’m glad we had a mini-wake for Turkey. My brother, mom, and I traded tales of Turkey for much of the afternoon/evening — mostly about all the wild and crazy things he’d done. And how much we loved him. My mom said, “He was so good at killing things, and he was so smart. He should be a hero to all other cats.” Unlike my brother and I, my mom didn’t cry over Turkey’s passing. Instead, she’s a praise song for the little hunter that used to litter her bedside with bodies and attack her legs at night.

My sister didn’t join the wake because she couldn’t stand Turkey. Once, Ernie went to feed him when my mom was traveling, and he took a huge chunk out of her ankle. We think he was hurt he’d been left alone by my mom. “I still respect him though,” my sister said as she called-in over speaker phone to commiserate.

Both my nephews were afraid of Turkey ever since he scratched them too. As 5 year old Fern said, after he cried at the news of Turkey’s death, “I’m going to build a trap to catch the coyotes.” We’ll see about that. Justin and I want in on the plan. Turkey was one of us. We’ll do a memorial ceremony together this Sunday. Ritual helps (which is, I suppose, why I wrote this blog post).

I hope you will keep Turkey and our family in your prayers.

As dear Brass put it, “Sad Mubarak” could mean sad celebration or a blessed sadness.

Farewell my bad-ass friend, family member, and all-around best pet. I love you. RIP Turkey Lin.

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