Bamm-Bamm Lamken 1996-2012
He was a sweet boy.
We had a storm the other night. I thought of Bamm-Bamm. A day hasn't gone by since he died that I don't think of him, really; it's just a matter of why I do.
For the past 15 years of my life, excepting the last 6 months, thunder has meant one thing — well, besides the fact that it was probably gonna rain and that I very likely had been or soon would be dealing with a migraine. It meant that Bamm-Bamm was about to run for cover.
He died on the first day of March after a see-saw week's worth of sudden, puzzling sickliness, and I'm still not used to his absence. Not seeing him sprint when thunder booms, not having him rub my legs when I get out of the shower, not feeling him curled up next to me when I roll over in bed... Il me manque, as they say in French. We translate it as "I miss him" but literally it's "He is lacking to me," which is so much more poignantly to the point. My life lacks the Bamm-Bamm.
I had a hard time writing about his death after it happened — right after, yes, understandably, yet every time I've tried to compose a memorial for the blog I've summoned only avoidance instead of the hoped-for catharsis. The fact that there are so many posts dated around that horrible week surprised me just now until I remembered that I wrote while he was lying next to me the week before he died and I wrote in the aftermath, too, wanting to do him justice in words, failing, getting all knotted up inside, then clicking over to another waiting post-in-progress — because there's always another waiting post-in-progress — instead.
Back in May I successfully wrote about adopting Bamm-Bamm and his sister Pebbles, who at the time were named Ashley and Honey, a little over a month after my wife and I got married. Pebbles was the one we noticed first, up on her cat tree. Bamm-Bamm was running free, like most of the other cats and dogs in the shelter, running in fact from most of the other cats and dogs in the shelter. At one point he "hid" behind a thin potted plant, the way characters in cartoons often slip behind a tree and disappear no matter how big they are, but this was real life and the goof wasn't fooling anyone but himself. When I tried to approach him again later, he ran into the coat closet.
That dart into a closet or under a bed for sanctuary, we learned, was a regular habit. He and Pebbles got used to us quickly; in general, however, Bamm-Bamm was literally a scaredy-cat. For several years, even after certain friends and family members became familiar to him, if a stranger entered the apartment he would exit stage left. Once when a handyman came by, Bamm-Bamm — after realizing that the kitchen was a poor escape route since it was a dead end — got stuck between the refrigerator and the cabinets it abutted, crammed in just past his shoulders and kicking like a jackrabbit with his hind legs, going nowhere fast.
We had no idea how appropriate his name would be. Although he and Pebbles were 8 months old when we got them, they apparently hadn't spent long at their first home before shuttling between the shelter and foster families, so we felt free renaming them from Ashley and Honey. The idea of related names appealed to us, but most of our ideas felt too precious. I hit upon Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm, given that she was a petite redhead and he was a big, baby-faced bruiser (about 20 pounds for most of his life); the wife agreed. It turned out that he had a knack for getting underfoot, for bamming into our legs as we walked as if he just needed to be that close to us even when we were moving.
He was the nearest thing I've ever had and I probably will ever have to a dog. I called him my puppycat. He loved just hanging out with me. He was my buddy.
Bamm-Bamm was not only large but bottom-heavy, shaped like an eggplant. While he was one of the least graceful cats you'd ever see, he was also easily one of the sweetest. Once he grew more comfortable with company, he really took to having familiar people around. His face was utterly free of guile and full of fondness, the very opposite of the aloof feline stereotype, with pleading, wide-open eyes. He even put up with his human cousins — small as they were compared to us adults, I suspect they were all the scarier to Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm given their own tentative mix of excitement and fear.
He was also unlike most cats in that he loved playing in water. We found early on that he not only splashed most of the water out of his bowl before he drank it but that he'd often tip his bowl over when doing so. In addition to investing in sturdier water bowls, we took to leaving the tub faucet dripping slightly. Pebbles liked to balance on the lip of the tub and lick from the mouth of the faucet; Bamm-Bamm, on the other hand, would just stand there lapping up the trickling water that landed in the tub itself, as new drops kept hitting his head and streaming down his face, happy as a pig in slop. He developed a fungus on his head that required a medicated cream and he was not pleased that playing in the tub became just an occasional treat.
Other endearingly weird habits of his included tearing off and chewing — but thankfully not really ingesting — newspaper (plus other newsprint items, which of course meant that stray comic books laying around were endangered), sticking his face directly in front of fans and air-conditioning units, and conversely burrowing under the bedcovers no matter how warm it was. Sometimes Pebbles would jump onto the bed, clueless that her brother was one of the lumps under the rumpled blanket, and walk right over him on her way to my lap.
The last night of his life he snuggled up close to me, nuzzling his face into my armpit rather than settling in down next to my leg, which he had never done before.
I'm not a superstitious person but I can't help feeling like I jinxed things. For some reason — probably because his 16th birthday was coming up, and as I mentioned when writing about Pebbles back in May the oldest of my cats growing up didn't quite make it to 17 — shortly before Bamm-Bamm got sick I took to telling him that he was getting to be an old guy.
One day in late February I had come down with a bug and barely left bed. I realized that I hadn't seen Bamm-Bamm since the night before, which was rare; when I was in bed that's usually where he wanted to be too. He was lying on a blanket in another room, someplace I'd never seen him stake out. Even though cats often randomly decide on a new spot, and he looked fine, I had a strange feeling that something was wrong. I spent a mostly sleepless night concerned and took him to the vet the first thing in the morning.
He needed some fluid and his preliminary blood work was a little off but Dr. Erikson couldn't find any masses — cancer being the first and prevailing concern in older animals. The later lab results didn't indicate cancer either; still, I was cautioned that you can never really tell. In the intervening weekend between his office visit and the lab results, Bamm-Bamm kept going back to his new spot, as well as rejecting food and only drinking a bit if I brought the water bowl right to his chin. We visited the vet again, got an X-ray that showed nothing unusual (beyond his enlarged kidney, a known thing), and based on what Dr. Erikson noticed was sensitivity in his stomach area were referred to an ultrasound. I drove Bamm-Bamm, not fond of the car rides, nearly an hour to an animal hospital for a procedure that I couldn't afford but which my mother convinced me I couldn't afford to forego, either, since my instincts had been right about him being unwell and with him not eating we needed answers.
I got the best possible answer. While cautioned again that undetected cancer had to remain a small possibility, I was told that some internal inflammation was pressing on Bamm-Bamm's stomach, making him sore and likely taking away his appetite. If we gave him more intravenous fluids and were aggressive with antibiotics, starting the next day at Dr. Erikson's, he should be fine. "Just so we're clear," I said to the doctor who'd performed the ultrasound, "I know that you can't rule out some kind of little microbial cancer, but from what you see this is a 'get better' kind of a thing." His response lifted most of a week's worth of worry from me: "This is totally a 'get better' kind of a thing."
That night I carried Bamm-Bamm — who no longer had the strength to jump up onto the bed and even fell off of it once trying to jump down, whom I was ferrying from my bed to the floor to the water bowl to the litterbox whenever he cried a pitiful plaintive cry — into bed with me. He snuggled up so close to me it's like he wanted to merge with my body to escape his pain, and I held him close, barely sleeping at all myself. The next morning he went to the vet to start his all-day treatment.
He died there that afternoon.
My mother was on call because I was exhausted well past my usual exhaustion and hoping to finally get some sleep that day. She relayed to me that Dr. Erikson had said Bamm-Bamm wasn't looking good and that we should come in to say goodbye. I was just so stunned — in shock, really. Bamm-Bamm couldn't even hold on until we got there. I'd brought a nubbly chenille blanket that was once quite nice but that Bamm-Bamm had long since loved almost to pieces; I wrapped it around him, held him in it as we drove to my mother's house, and buried him in it in her backyard flower bed alongside his cat aunts and uncles.
I remember those events through a strange haze. For the first time in 7 days I hadn't spent every moment on edge. "So much for that $350 ultrasound," I remember saying ruefully. As terrible as it was spending the rest of that day and that night and the next day without him, a gaudy invisible banner reading Bamm-Bamm's Dead! hanging in front of me at every turn, the worst part was that I'd been so blindsided, after having finally been told to stop bracing myself, that I wrapped him up at the vet's office and laid him to rest with a traumatic detachment. I didn't get to give him the kind of grand, close-to-my-chest hug that made him so content in life, that damned fool dog of a cat. For days, weeks, even months it was all I could do not to dig him back up.
The week after he died, Bamm-Bamm gave me a bit of what I'd missed. I was sitting on the couch watching TV when I noticed him lying next to me. Soon enough I realized that it was a dream, and once I'm aware that I'm dreaming I know it won't be long until I'm yanked harshly back to reality like Christopher Reeve seeing the penny in Somewhere in Time. I did get in a hug, though, and I thanked him, and it helped.
He was a sweet boy. He was such a sweet boy.
Photos © 2011, 2012 Brian Saner Lamken. Cover to Pebbles and
Bamm-Bamm Paper Dolls © 1964 Hanna-Barbera Productions Inc.