Llami in 2005
Llami and I came together at a time when both of us were struggling to get by. In a stormy and verbally abusive relationship I was feeling isolated and miserable.
My best friend Christy called and informed me that she had the cat that I needed. My protests went unheeded as Christy appeared at my door with a skinny gray Manx she had found wandering her neighborhood. When Christy sets her mind to something there is no use arguing; and her mind was set upon this cat and me having each other. The cat was spayed and de-clawed and Christy suspected she had been abandoned by a family who had recently moved away. Both of us were in fragile states of transition. The cat spent two weeks under a table and I passed the hours drinking wine and writing in my journal in-between bouts of yelling from my boyfriend. I named her “Llama Butt” because with her long hind legs and tuft of fur for a tail she resembled a llama. My boyfriend, despite his hostile outbursts, had a soft spot for animals and insisted that “Llama Butt” was not a fitting name for such a graceful creature. Thus, her name was shortened to “Llami”.
The vet estimated Llami to be approximately six years old. Eight years later she is still agile and playful at fourteen plus years of age. She weathered every move and disruption with her trademark steadfast poise, and soon we found ourselves in much happier circumstances when AJ entered the scene. Llami was fond of dogs, and when AJ and I lived in St. Augustine, many neighbors walked their dogs past our house just to visit her. She especially liked large dogs and would rub up against their legs and then roll over as though to be tousled by them. More recently she was nipped by a neighbor’s husky, here in the trailer park, and seems to have lost her penchant for pooches.
She is a cat with an eating disorder, which I imagine comes either from growing up with dogs and having to eat fast, and/or from being abandoned and having to scavenge on the streets. As a result of her food obsession, Llami has ballooned up to fourteen pounds. She no longer resembles a Llama so much as a furry gray lemon.
I didn’t mean to write so much about this cat, but damn I adore her! And so does AJ. When I met him he had no interest in cats. AJ is a true man’s man: masculine, technically minded, outdoorsy and short on sensitivity. Yet, Llami instantly wedged her way into his heart with her gentle affection and comical demeanor. He caters to the old gray cat as though she is a queen, struggling with his allergies to let her knead his belly, and making sure she has a comfy pillow for her throne and fresh water in her dish. It’s clear that she prefers his company over mine and I am fine with that. The gentle side she brings out in him always melts my heart.
She has traveled with us everywhere and looks after her adopted son Jorgi (the gray tuxedo cat); since he is as frantic as she is mellow. When we bring Llami to a strange place she does a cursory inspection and then finds the softest place to take a nap. Just like her human parents, she is unfazed by change and settles in comfortably wherever she happens to land. She also likes to go “visiting” and has let herself into all of our neighbors’ homes. The couple directly behind us are what I can best describe as mature hippies. They have an enclosed compound with scores of tropical plants and a fish pond/stream encircling their trailer. They have done their best to fence off the sanctuary, as it appeals to the numerous cats in the park. I know they have a super-soaker and I have heard them use it right before a cat bolts from beneath the lattice enclosure of their refuge. Yet, Llami seems to have scored an all-seasons pass to the kitty wonderland, and frequently returns home smelling of patchouli incense and hounding us for a snack. Picture a cat with a food obsession getting “the munchies”. They tell me that they enjoy her company and that she loves to sit by their stream and observe the goldfish. If I had to use only one word to describe her it would be “Observant”. She is always watching with her enormous golden eyes. You can almost hear the gears turning in her little brain as she examines your every move, waiting for you to create a warm, soft lap or to open the magic door to the cold world where the cheese treats are stored. I sometimes wonder if she is an alien spy fitted with a surveillance device in one of her eyes.
This makes the recent tragedy all the more disturbing. On December 11th I came home and fed the cats (our two and a neighborhood interloper). They eat outside and spend the majority of their time out there. Llami never misses a meal, but I was so exhausted and distracted from the hard workday, that I failed to realize that she had missed breakfast and dinner. It wasn’t until I was in bed at 9:00pm that AJ mentioned her absence. We traced our steps through the past 24 hours and realized that neither of us had seen her since the previous evening. I panicked, threw on some clothes and flip-flops and (with an LED headlight) raced out to search for her. I knew something was wrong when I got no response to my increasingly frantic calls. Both cats come when called, and neither responded. I was certain that she was either locked inside someone’s place, dead, or seriously injured. Her voice is very small and squeaky so I listened carefully as I searched.
My calls escalated as I grew more desperate. Jorgi is a very vocal cat, yet he too remained silent. I was drawn to one trailer, in particular and returned to it for a closer look. As I approached I looked underneath and saw three glowing orbs reflecting my light. As I drew closer they silently remained in place. I crawled beneath the trailer where I got a shocking view of my two cats. Jorgi (AKA “Scaredycat”) was steadfastly holding his post as protector, although I could sense that his heart was racing and he wanted to bolt. Llami looked up in a daze, but made no attempt to rise. This is when I realized why I only saw three glowing eyes. Where her right eye should have been was a mangled, bloody mess. Horrific scenarios raced through my mind as I grabbed her up and stumbled back home. With an eye this bad, she must be bleeding internally, have broken bones and be on the verge of death. Was she hit by a car, attacked by a dog, injured by a human? By the time I reached the door I was a wreck. I wasn’t ready to lose my precious Llami, especially not like this.
AJ quickly grabbed a towel and we placed her on the couch to assess her injuries. Unresponsive and clearly in shock she made no attempt to move. As the smell of necrotic flesh reached my nose I was flooded with guilt over having not looked for her sooner. Her eyeball was not visible and folds of bloody raw flesh protruded from the socket. I feared that she may not survive, much less keep her eye. Dollar signs spun through my mind as I anticipated the emergency vet and ensuing expenses.
The next thirty minutes passed in a blur as I got online, found a 24 hour animal clinic and rode with her in my lap as AJ raced us there, seemingly hitting every bump and pothole in the road. The vet was just about to go home when I called. He stayed and was waiting for us when we arrived. Never had he seen an eye injury like this, and was clearly disturbed. They gave her anaesthesia and kept her overnight. Although she seemed swollen and wheezed a bit with breathing, the eye appeared to be the only serious injury. The vet worked to save us money by avoiding expensive tests. She appeared to have no broken bones, and internal injuries can only be resolved with time, so we did not order X-Rays. Her eyeball was intact, but there was a chance that she would have permanent blindness and that it may have to be removed. Even in her pathetic state Llami managed to endear herself to the staff at the clinic. When we picked her up the next morning the technician described her as the sweetest cat she had ever cared for.
Here she is a day or two after coming home. She really hated that collar.
With drops and creams applied every two hours, her protruding eyelids began to recede. Within a few days her eyeball was visible. Over the next two months it changed from black to raspberry red. In February we started to notice a bit of gold as the red began to clear. It has been heartbreaking to accept that she will never again be as beautiful as she was with her expressive golden eyes. She clearly struggles with the new blind spot created by losing her vision on one side.
Two months after the injury. I called her “Devil Eye” because the eye looked so disturbing.
Despite her obvious pain and discomfort, Llami has taken this injury in stride. In this photo taken in early February her eye is bright red, but still full-sized. Over the past few weeks I have been dismayed to notice that the eyeball appears to be shrinking. I had found a website describing this condition, but can no longer locate that link. I continue to use the steroid and antibiotic eye drops, but am fairly certain that the damage is irreparable. We keep a close watch on her and insist that she stays inside at night.
Her eye is now a mix of colors including black, greenish-brown, smoky gray and a touch of the original gold. The vet says the optical nerve is detached and that all we can hope for at this point is that the eyeball does not have to be removed. She wheezes when she sleeps, but otherwise has returned to normal. Llami is now more spoiled than ever and each moment spent with her is a treasured moment reminding us of the fragility of life.
Fortunately this injury was not life-ending. When this special cat does pass we will be heartbroken beyond description.