Episode Fifty Eight: 2017 or What To Do With Dumpster Fires

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Virtute pawed at my shoulder, “Hey! Hey!” he exclaimed, adamant to get my attention.  “I know you said you wanted to retire the blog for a while, but we can’t let it die in 2016. It feels like that’s what’s been happening all around us.” Virtute isn’t much for sentimentality so I relented.

“Quick, get your machine! I want to broadcast a message to the world!” He quickly assembled Gumption onto his chair and before I could explain that this wasn’t exactly how it worked, he had already begun his manifesto.

 

“Dear people of 2017, it is I, Virtute the Cat, with an important message,” he adjusted one last time to ensure he was looking directly in the camera just as it was explained to him in his favourite book How to Make Your Cat into an Internet Celebrity, and restarted.

“Dear people of 2017, it is I, Virtute the Cat, with an important message.  Gumption and I have also gone through a tough 2016, there was the operation to make Gummy bionic, there were the hours I spent fretting about the future, and there was the need to come to the hard realities of taking a knee. We lost many of our heroes and mentors this year.  We saw the election of a fascist tyrant, the rise of fascism and white supremacy globally, the team with the most racist logo in baseball in the World Series, the continued attempt to build oil pipelines in violation of the desires of Indigenous nations, and the ongoing atrocities backed by the West in Syria, Afghanistan, Palestine, and many other places.  2016 was indeed a dumpster fire.  But the good thing about dumpster fires is that if you turn them on their side, they become very effective means of resisting police brutality, as our friends in Montreal have taught us for ages!

So let’s turn this dumpster fire of a year onto its side in 2017! Let’s invoke the spirit of Ali, Castro, and Afeni Shakur, to mobilize our people and fight for justice! Let’s inhabit the personas of Bowie, Prince, and George Michael and disrupt all gender binaries! Let’s draw on the inspiration of Carrie Fisher and fix the script of the next four years by building the largest anti-fascist/anti-racist/anti-capitalist/anti-colonialist movement the world has ever known! We will draw from the genius of Vera Rubin to delve into the dark matter and reconnect to our oldest ancestors (the stars).  We will be like a blazing José Fernández fastball and not be beaten down. We will be like the ageless Gordie Howe and will commit ourselves for decades to the task at hand. We will be like the formidable George Martin and will do all of this with beauty and grace and impeccable style. Like the steadfast Ralph Branca, we will continue to build our support for Black liberation struggles and continue to take a knee like Colin Catnip.

This is my 2017 resolution!”

And with a flourish it was over.  I turned to Gummy who had been sitting quietly as Virtute expounded his manifesto, “anything to add Gumption?” Surprised by the question, Gumption turned slowly, “Oh…uh…uh…be nice to each other in 2017,” she said quietly. She paused, looked specifically at Virtute and then continued, “And let’s not just talk about things. Let’s do them.”

True to her name, Gumption added the missing ingredient to all manifestos – the will and action to make them into reality. Happy 2017!

Episode Fifty Seven: Taking a Knee

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It was early morning and I was shocked not to be greeted by Gummy clamouring about the house expressing her hunger pangs to everyone within a 40km radius.  Instead, I found her sitting in a dignified upright position on the coffee table yelling, “Catnip! Catnip!”  I definitely have a drug-positive philosophy with the cats, but it was a little early for the proverbial “wake-and-bake”.

I approached her asking whether she’d prefer kibble and she said, “No! I’m breaking my morning ritual in solidarity with catnip.”  I was utterly confused until Virtute passed by and slyly explained, “She’s talking about Colin Catnip, the football player.” Ohhhh, a light flipped in my mind, “You mean Kaepernick, Colin Kaepernick.”  “Yes,” explained Gumption maintaining her pose.  “We all have to stop our usual routines. We need to disrupt and stop pretending like everything is ok.  Catnip is taking a knee because he wants to open a discussion about how to stop the careless and senseless and targeted murder of Black people.”  I told Gumption I was aware of his action and we talked about how many people, young children, other athletes, fans, cheerleaders were following suit.

I asked Gumption why she decided to start her intervention into our morning routine.  Virtute is normally the “activisty” cat and Gummy is usually a bit more anxious and skittish to wade into serious conversations.  She finally broke her stance, puttered about, and approached me. In a quieter voice than I’m accustomed to hearing she explained, “It’s time for everyone to have these conversations and for those conversations to move towards action.  This history and current context of anti-Black racism that arrives in the form of prisons, police murders, appropriation, dismissal, and even backlash against Catnip is all of our responsibility.  We need to talk as families, as non-Black families about our responsibility to these struggles. About taking leadership from Black folks and in particular the queer/trans*/femme-led movements arising around Black Lives Matter. We need to spread interventions like the one that Colin Catnip popularized.”

Virtute, normally the know-it-all in the household, moved closer and listened.  We all sat listening for a long time.  And finally, Virtute piped up, “She’s right. I can wait for breakfast too. Let’s talk about it. Let’s make a plan for what we can do.” We sat in the kitchen thinking and decided a first step would be to make a financial contribution to Black Lives Matter-Toronto and to continue this conversation inside the house and with others.

Gumption, began to eat her kibble, finally letting out a sigh and saying, “Thank you Catnip.”

 

Episode Fifty Six: Summer Sixteen

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Virtute scurried his way through the slightly open crack of the screen door as it rocked itself shut.  The weather was getting cooler and he knew that the long winter time would soon be approaching.  Gumption, as she is known to do, was passing the afternoon lazing around in their cat condo.  Whenever anyone asks her why she isn’t up and about like Virtute, she likes to respond, “I’m keeping his spot warm for him!”  Such is the life of a cat.

But with such a busy summer time coming to an end, today seemed just a bit more overwhelming and they both took a deep breath as the crisp air that had enveloped Virtute’s coat mixed with the radiating warmth of Gummy’s sedentary heating technique.

As I caught the cats in the process of their ritual kinetic transfer, I asked them what stood out the most about this particular summer.  Virtute, always eager to chat, curled in a bit and then began, “What perhaps began as an unfreezing of the cold winds of change that had been blowing over the winter, has now erupted into the beginnings of some powerful storms of justice.  From Black Lives Matter to the Standing Rock Sioux resistance to the Dakota Pipeline, from the refusals to stand for the US national anthem to the assertions of Black and Indigenous ways of being in mainstream music and arts, this year has shown us glimpses of the worlds beyond these oppressive power structures.”  He paused, if only momentarily, to check if Gumption was going to jump in and seeing her slowly fading back to sleep, he continued, “I really thought this year would be the year of Drake – the summer 16 we’d all been waiting for – but the release of such incredible music by Blood Orange, Frank Ocean, Chance the Rapper and so many others really has me re-thinking it all. I feel like Summer 16 was more than Drake could have imagined.”

Virtute, wise beyond his years, stopped and paused. He had found the perfect temperature and was now content.  I was about to go on with my day, when Gumption stirred herself awake. “Is he done?”, she whispered so inaudibly that I could barely catch it.  Yes, I assured her – which is never really a sure thing with Virtue.  “Good.” She said. “He’s definitely not wrong about this summer, but I’m still scared from watching Stranger Things and can’t wait for the winter sixteen to begin so that I get more cuddles at night. I can never look at my laser pointer cat toy the same way ever again.”

 

 

Episode Fifty Five: Future

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“That was a long time ago,” Virtute explained to Gumption while she cybernetically opened her cat feeder to peck at some kibble.  Gumption is still a little anxious about the possibility that Virtute is going to swoop in and eat all her food.  Since becoming bionic, she’s even tried pecking at Virtute’s food to exact a little revenge.  This has really frustrated Virtute since if there’s one thing he dislikes more than anything else, it’s losing.  He’s a competitive little guy.

I happened to walk in at the moment Virtute was confronting Gummy for lapping up some of his delicious canned duck pate.  Gumption had fired-back with an angry retort about Virtute’s past behaviour…and, well, that’s when Virtute left in a huff.  The thing Virtute dislikes second most is being told that he is wrong.

I sat next to Virtute and asked him what was wrong.  He pouted for a moment, to emphasize his displeasure, but then looked off into the distance and pondered.  Finally, he began, “Change is difficult. It requires re-training parts of your brain to accept a new reality, it requires being tender to your heart to assuage your worries about the unknown, it might require relinquishing power and control to other beings who may or may not wield it with humility, it requires surrendering to the future.” Virtute was being a little melodramatic, so I reminded him that the problem he was having was due to a power imbalance that he had been benefitting from for years, rather unjustly and a little maliciously.  “I know, I know,” he responded, frustrated that I would bring it up.  “It’s just hard to trust that future Gumption, with more power and more control, will treat me as nicely as past Gumption.”  Given that Gumption was now bionic, I was pretty sure that there was no going back to past Gumption.  But I wanted him to hear it from Gummy herself.  So I called her over.  I asked her to tell Virtute what “Future Gumption” looked like.

Gumption flopped over on her back and started to purr.  She wriggled her head from side to side and then wryly smiled at Virtute and I.  “In the future,” she said, “they will tell the story of Gummy and Toots.  It will be a beautiful tale of sharing space and being best pals. If I am Future, you are Drake.”

I knew Gumption had won Virtute over with that last comment.  If there’s one thing Virtute likes most in the world it’s being compared to the 6God.

Episode Fifty Four: (re)Views

yqrgcn2gb1z4t07dhanp.jpgEarlier this morning Virtute declared that it was time for the world to receive his analysis of Drake’s latest album.  Ever since he made it his life’s mission to preach Drake’s talent to the known universe, Virtute has been dropping bits of wisdom about Degrassi’s most famous graduate.  Most recently, he praised Jenny and the city of Toronto for their mothering skills in a tribute to Drake’s mixtape, if youre [sic] reading this its [sic] too late.  Even Gumption has gotten in on the act. So it was only a matter of time before he was set to make his views known…on Views. Thus, when we were awoken this morning at the crack of dawn to Virtute’s sulky meows, I knew something was up.  These aren’t your usual “I’m hungry, please feed me” cries for help, but rather the types of cries that say, “All of my let’s just be friends, are friends I don’t have anymore. How do you not check on me when things go wrong? Guess I shoulda tried to keep my family closer…much closer.” You know the type of woe-is-me line that might open up a Drake album.  The type of line that makes you want to take up your responsibility as family. Jenny needed to get to work early so I thought I’d try to stem the cries from waking everyone else up.

“What’s up?” I asked Virtute who skittishly slithered along the hardwood floor to avoid it from creaking.  Distressed, he explained, “Since moving to Ellis Park, I’m too far away from a major street to hear whether people are pumping Drake’s new album from their cars! How can I have my pulse on the city if I’m out here in the wilderness of High Park?  I need to get out of the house, I have to make it to Dundas Street or College or whatever! Just anywhere where there is wall-to-wall traffic so I can gauge whether or not the city is feeling Views!”  I was about to respond, perhaps offer recording my walks down Bloor Street, but he abruptly interrupted me…”I need to get downtown! I made a decision last night that I would die for it…just to show the city what it takes to be alive for it!”

I pulled out his favourite brush and started to calmly brush the angst away…Virtute is a mushball for grooming.  Finally, I explained to him that perhaps the best way to gauge the city’s reaction to the album was to submit a review in his diaries.  “It’s been so long,”
he said. “It feels like I haven’t posted a journal entry since Drizzy was sippin Hpnotic with Glenn Lewis and hanging with Jellestone.” It was clear that he hadn’t lost his touch for melancholy and theoretical reflection, so I told him so.

Ok, he said. Here it goes, “Drake’s Views is not #lemonade, it is not #moonshapedpool, it is not #topimpabutterfly. It exists not to push us to discuss and debate our interpersonal, cultural, political, social, or even spiritual selves – no – it exists as a contribution to this infinite summer of 16 that we are set to embark upon.  We’ll all dance this summer to Controlla and we’ll split a Ting with each other.  We’ll all dance this summer to One Dance as the Raptors go to OT OT OT again, again, and again. We’ll all dance this summer to Feel No Ways and explain that ‘there’s more to sleeping in and getting high with you’ as the dispensaries lose their licences.  But we’ll also share nostalgia about the days when ‘Vince Carter was on some of that through the legs/arm in the hoop shit’. In essence, it is an ephemeral album to share with each other and remember that even though we are a big ole city of screwface specialists, we may – just for this summer – share space/emotions/love with each other…and maybe find redemption”.  Eloquent as usual, I explained to Virtute that folks are always interested in the numeric pitchfork style score he’d give to the album.  He responded, “I’ll turn the 6ix upside down….it’s a 9 now!”

 

 

Episode Fifty Three: Hiatus

 

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It was a tender moment. Gumption sat at my desk ready to have a tough conversation.  I’m protective to a fault and so for the past couple weeks, as I have prepared Gumption for her reunion with Virtute, I have avoided really talking about the underlying implication: that Gumption and I will no longer be living together.  Gumption has a bit of an unfair reputation about being slow to clue into things, perhaps that’s just because Virtute spends so much of his time thinking and scheming and plotting that the slow, holistic, and spatial way that Gumption processes things gets overlooked.  However, this process belies a lingering wisdom that makes Gumption so brilliant at her core.

To say that Gumption and I have a special bond would be an understatement.  For the past two years of her life we’ve been relatively inseparable. I’ve awoken numerous times because my knees have gone numb from propping up the blankets to make a tent for her to sleep under the sheets of my bed.  I’ve had long conversations with her in the morning about baseball and laser pointer technology and the elasticity of her newest bouncy balls.  But today our conversation was of a much more sombre nature.

“I am excited to see Virtute again, but I can’t remember his smell so good,” she said anxiously.  “What if he doesn’t remember me? What if he sees me as a threat? What if he … eats all of my kibbles?”  It’s hard for me to answer these questions since there’s no way to know how it’s going to go.  But her third question, the most important one, we think we’ve solved thanks to the chip implanted in her neck.  We talk about this and I tell her she’ll have to be brave enough to pass through the ring of her cat feeder and endure the mechanical sound of the door opening and closing if she’s going to get her kibble – but I believe in her.

“Why didn’t you talk about this move with me sooner?” she asks with a slight hurt in her voice.  Taking a cue from Drake’s “Controlla”, I respond, “I guess I didn’t want to “Jodeci ‘Cry for You'”.   She smiled. We’ve had a longstanding tradition of dropping Drake lyrics in our mundane conversations and this one felt…poignant.  “Well, I’m going to miss you a lot,” she continues brushing off my attempt at humour.  I try to explain that these are small blips in time/space and that we’d have a chance to spend lots of time together soon, but she stops me. “Hiatus,” she speaks in her most tender of trills.  “A hiatus of time and space: like the small difference in pitch between musical tones or cat trills; like the gaps between scratching post scratches to allow the scents to waft about; like the pigeon-like way I pluck my kibble one-by-one so that I have time to savour each morsel between bites. I work in the realm of hiatus. I’m ok with hiatus.”  Gumption was speaking truth. Underlying this truth, of course, is that I am the one who does not do so well in hiatus – instead I rely heavily on patterns and structures to make sense in the world. I’m the one who needs to be reassured.  She nuzzles her head against my chin, before quipping, “Yeah, I let that last line breathe, it take a second to get it.”

And so began our hiatus.

 

Episode Fifty Two: Bionic

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This afternoon Gumption went into the vet to get microchipped. After a few weeks of discussion, Jenny and I decided that it was of foremost importance that Gummy and Toots be reunited. The problem was, with me starting a new job in Waterloo and Jenny balancing both school and work, trying to prevent Virtute from eating all of Gumption’s food needed to be addressed.  And that’s when we stumbled upon a cat feeder that opens and closes with a microchip.

Gumption and I had a lot of conversations about the dystopian scenario we were embarking on.  On the one hand, it is certainly creepy to have a microchip embedded into your body that can track your identity, whereabouts, and other things. On the other hand, Gumption was especially enthused about the possibilities of getting regular meals and eating at her own pace.  That’s something that she was lacking when she last lived with Virtute and one that had a deleterious effect on both cats’ mental and physical health.

After the insertion, I let Gumption nap in my bed as I tended to her and worked along side her.  At one point, she woke up and so I asked her how she was feeling, “I feel bionic,” she said fairly casually.  She’s a cat of few words, so I probed a little deeper. What makes you feel bionic, I asked curiously. She responded, “It’s not really like Robocop or other kinds of bionic half robots…it’s more like Christian Aguilera bionic.  The kind of feeling you have when you explore collaborating with electronics but really, deep down, you are always going to be better a capella.”  Poor Gummy. I asked her if she regretted that we got her microchipped.  “No,” she replied. “This is going to make Virtute so jealous! He’s always talking about how smart he is, like a computer. And now, I am actually part computer!”

And so began the start of our dystopian future…

 

 

Episode Fifty One: Chronicles of Gumption the Cat

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Gumption paraded around the house announcing her presence like the trilling of a trumpet grandstanding for a monarch.  She couldn’t remember the last time her belly was so full.  Since Virtute had moved an incredible miracle had happened.  If she took a break from eating her kibble, the food wouldn’t disappear.  At first she thought it might have been divine intervention, certainly we all remember the two years worth of Gumption crying to the heavens asking if it was dinner time yet! Then she wondered if she had gained some sort of magic power.  For the moment, this seemed to be the logical answer. She puffed up her already puffed up chest and marched into my hamper of clean laundry to take her seat upon the throne.

In a loud and clear voice she proclaimed, “I am Gumption of House Dublin, mother of socks, khaleesi to the little foam bouncy balls, queen of the seven kingdoms of Westoronto!  I have come to liberate kibble from the clutches of greedy kitties!”  I smiled as I watched this scene develop.  Gumption, more quiet than Virtute, spent most of her afternoons daydreaming. Without the constant chatter between Virtute and I, Gumption finally had the space to let her imagination out into the world.

Within an afternoon, she had uncovered secret treasures (a pom pom that fell off of one of Jenny’s old sweaters), battled the evil laser pointer gnats, knocked over two bowls of water chasing a couple of imaginary air buffaloes, and sorted through my garbage in search of some really textured and crinkly paper.  But as she sat upon her throne, perched high above the ground, she squinted to identify all of her loyal stuffed animal and pillow subjects.

Her mood abruptly changed.  “This is the moment, when Virtute would come to steal my throne.  He would say to me, ‘I am Virtute, of House Goblin, by right of the 6ix God, I seek to reclaim my rightful place as heir to the throne!’ And then we would tussle and tussle and tussle.” She slunk down into her pile of socks.  I walked over to her and put my hand on her head and shouted, “I am Craigy, of House of Gourmet.”  She smiled and clutched my hand within her claws and started to nibble on my skin. I wiggled her around and told her that while I may not be around all the time like Virtute, I also love to imagine and play…

And so went the afternoon. Each of us volleying new ideas and magical fantasy onto the other.  We resolved to commit to creative time together, to prioritize play, to ensure that each moment we spent together was intentional and valuable. And so began, Chronicles of Gumption the Cat.

Episode Fifty: 2015 Year in Review

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Virtute slunk around the house as it was his last day on Dublin street.  He found comfort in an undersized box that could barely contain the size of his frame.  The box had taken on his familiar shape through weeks of use and in this final day of 2015 it had become an important resting place.  When Virtute works to create a perfect resting place, he is better able to be reflective and contemplative.  So it was around three o’clock in the afternoon when he summoned me downstairs. “Do you have a pen and notepad,” he asked in a dignified voice. “I’m ready to speak.”  I had been pestering him for a few weeks about the need to prepare for our 2015 Year in Review because of the immense importance given to this practice in our favourite book, How to Make Your Cat an Internet Celebrity: A Guide to Financial Freedombut we had so much to prepare for and think about that it was tough to get ready for this important time of reflection.  So, I was very responsive when Virtute said that he was finally ready to speak, although I reminded him that since we are bloggers, I would be eschewing analog devices like pens and notepads for the clicking of computer keys – – something that Virtute generally associates with a lack of attentiveness to his needs.

Nonetheless, I sat fingers in the QWERTY position awaiting his pronouncements.  “2015,” he began, “was an extremely tough year. There was, of course, the long and exhausting Gumption food strike that coincided with the CUPE 3903 strike in the dead of winter. We experienced the passing of a number of important people like Grace Lee Boggs and Eduardo Galeano. And most recently there was the big change which has resulted in this big move. So I have to say that I am glad to see the calendar flip to 2016 inasmuch as you follow the imperfect Gregorian time-counting system. I, for one, am more partial to the lunar calendar, even if I’m not always sure what year it is!”

I told Virtute that he was making me sad, that our readers don’t come to our blog to hear us lament about our pains and misfortunes.  Virtute, unimpressed by my interruptions, meowed at me in the snappy way that can only be explained as frustrated and anxious at the same time.  I was going to miss Virtute’s mean streaks. He set his eyes on me with a steely gaze and proceeded, “As I was saying before I was rudely interrupted, it was a difficult year – but it was also one filled with magic, adventure, and joy!”  His tone lightened and he began to speak in a more manic way, “This was the year that I perfected flight! This is the year that Drake reminded me of the importance of Moms! We had so many delicious home-cooked meals and we didn’t just mourn! We also celebrated the 25th year of OCAP‘s vibrant and important movement-building in this city and the Blue Jays‘ first run to the post-season in 22 years! We’ve also pondered the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything – it’s still 42 by the way. All in all it was a year of great personal growth and development. I’m so thankful I shared it with you. You can put your pen and notepad down.” I stopped typing on my computer thinking about how Virtute is a traditionalist until the bitter end.

I pet his head and gently placed him in the only enclosed space he hates (his carrying crate) and we said our goodbyes.  It’s been a couple weeks now and the house is a little quieter, the food lasts longer, and I find myself engaged in fewer philosophical debates. I know that these last couple years living with Virtute changed me in profound ways.  And though we are taking this space apart, I’m excited for the possibilities that 2016 will bring, regardless of it’s spurious foundations in Greco-Roman imperialism.

Just as I was getting all sentimental, Gumption walked into the room, a baseball fan since “day one,” she was quick to point out that if the Blue Jays were going to be world champions this season, they will have to break the magic spell of the San Francisco Giants. The Giants have won the World Series in each of the even numbered years of this decade (2010, 2012, 2014).  She added, “Sometimes it’s okay to break your routines and try something new.  Hopefully, it’s something you can learn from the Giants when they lose to the Blue Jays this season.” And with that we counted 38 days until pitchers and catchers report for spring training and started to dream about the possibilities lying ahead.

Episode Forty Nine: A Beautiful Ride

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It’s Virtute’s last night living here at Dublin Street.  We’ve been having conversations off and on over these last few days of what it will mean to move and how to make the transition easier.  This afternoon we spent about an hour searching around the house for lost 1.5″ mylar crinkle balls, we sorted his cans of food (he obviously told me to place chicken pate at the top so that it will be the first one Jenny opens for him in the new place), and we also spent time chatting with Gumption.

Gumption is the wild card in this whole process. She’s never lived without Virtute and it will be important for us to see how she adapts to living on her own.  I overheard Gumption and Virtute having a conversation earlier today. Gumption seemed nervous about forging ahead on her own – she talked about how much she’s learned from Virtute (how to window hunt birds; how to find the best napping spots to catch maximum rays of sunshine; how to play ball; how to fight for herself).  Gumption worried that without Virtute around, she’d lose her way.

I expected some dramatic and comprehensive list from Virtute on the dos and don’ts of life.  He’s usually always good for lengthy monologues of advice.  But in this instant he stayed quiet.  Extending out his right paw, he gently tapped Gumption’s shoulder in an affectionate way.  Finally, he spoke, “I don’t have any specific advice for you, but I’ve learned a great lesson from John C. Reilly’s character Dewey Cox in the comedy film Walk Hard.”  Now this was something I was going to stick around to hear.  It definitely didn’t seem to be the time to reference a movie where the main character lives with the demons of accidentally cutting his brother in half while sword-fighting, resulting in the oft-spoken lines “You halved me Dewey!”

“At the end of the film, Dewey Cox is reflecting on his life,” Virtute continued, “when he suddenly gets the idea for one last great song. Are you listening Gumption?” Virtute tapped her shoulder again to re-focus her attention from the string she had begun playing with.

“Here’s my advice for you Gummy,” Virtute said with unusual care.

“In the end
It’s family and friends
Loving yourself
But not only yourself
It’s about the good walk
And the hard walk
And the kittens you’ve made cry
It’s about makin’ a little music everyday ‘til you die

It’s a beautiful ride”

And just like that, Virtute slunk off the bed, ran downstairs and returned with a 1.5″ mylar crinkle ball.  He turned to Gumption and said, “I guess this is yours now.  You’re going to have to learn this game on your own.”

I sat to ponder this act of kindness and to reflect upon the two years that we spent living together.  Though I will undoubtedly see Virtute regularly, I couldn’t help but think that he was right: it’s been a beautiful ride.