The Legend of Gustavo

Two years ago today my brother and I made a trip to Hikes Point Feeders Supply. We met two kittens named Chocolate & Vanilla (their mothers name was Blue Bell). We wanted to adopt both the kittens and keep them together. Turns out Chocolate had already been adopted just minutes before we got there. However there was a third litter mate “Swirl” who had been separated from his brothers earlier that morning. He was out at the Fern Creek Feeders Supply so we made the trip across town to check him out. Our original plan was to get him and reunite him with his brother Vanilla. By the time we got out there, Vanilla had already been adopted. Swirl was the Lone Ranger left and we couldn’t leave without him. I brought him home to my apartment and immediately had to leave for work. I locked him in the bathroom, left for work & called my ex girlfriend (who I shared the apartment with at the time) on my way in, and told her “just wanted to let you know I got a kitten to give mom for Christmas today, he’s in the bathroom at the apartment” (she wasn’t thrilled) she also had to work that night as well, so I called my brother to go check on him while we were gone. Turns out he was really locked in the bathroom. The door was stuck and mitch had to take it off the hinges to get to him. Later that night when we both returned from our respective serving gigs we fell in love with that little guy. Over the course of the next 9 days we grew more and more attached to “Swirl” who eventually became “Gustavo” (because we were watching Narcos at the time). So when the time came around to give him to my mom on Christmas morning (which was our original intention all along) we didn’t want to let him go. We brought him over to her house for presents but when she opened him up (though she loved the thought) she thought a little kitten was maybe a bit more of a commitment than she was willing to take on at the time. She saw how much we love him and said “if you feel like you’ve found a forever friend I don’t want to take that away from you” and we said “perfect, we didn’t really want to give him to you anymore anyway” (as we had grown fairly attached to the little guy over the previous week & a half). We took him home and he was ours forever. A few months later we moved into a new apartment together a few blocks over. While living there we transitioned him to be an indoor outdoor cat, trained him to go outside to use the bathroom, come on command, play fetch, and adapt many other colorful aspects of his vibrant personality. I got him to ride on my shoulder while riding my bike. Testing to see if I could take him with me. At one point when he first started going in and out I had to rescue/coax him down from a tree nearly every other day. After having to get a near by AT&T cherry picker to get him down after getting stuck really high up he eventually learned to quit climbing trees. A few months after that my girlfriend and my forever friendship faded out. She kept the apartment, & I kept my Duder. It was a really rough time for me. I moved back home with my dad and took my KitTen with me. He transitioned into that new living environment very well. I however did not. Holding on to the past, dwelling on what once was, wishing things could go back to the way they used to be (wishing my parents were still married in that house, wishing my ex and I were still as in love with each other as we once were). Over time eventually coming to the realization that they never would. Learning to accept reality was tough. I sunk into a lethargic depression. I fell into a loop, a perpetual cycle of work & sleep. I didn’t really interact with my friends, & almost quit riding my bike entirely as I had no motivation to do anything other than sleep (and watch The Office) the only thing that got me off the couch or out of bed was having to work. Gustavo was my once constant in the world. His bright and colorful personality could light up any room and was the only thing in my life that really brought me any sense of true joy. I showed him the lay of the land and even taught him to follow me & Echo (our family dog) on walks around the block. There was no greater feeling in the world than stepping out the back door yelling “Gustavo, KitTen, Duder” & seeing him come running. I researched traveling with him, and really wanted to take him with me when I left. To be 100% honest leaving him was the headrest part of leaving in general. I really wanted to bring him with me but the logistics of it all just wouldn’t work. He wouldn’t understand riding into the night, being passed by logging trucks, riding in the freezing cold, blistering heat, or pouring rain. What if he jumped out on a mountain pass, what if he popped my sleeping pad or ripped my tent, what if his scent attracted predators, what if he wandered off from the campsite. I thought it would be selfish and abusive of me to take him along. As hard as it was I knew it just work. He stayed home and I left. He continued living at the Meadow house with my dad until he got married in September. He had a great living environment and I didn’t want to disturb that. I flew home for the wedding stayed back at my dads house for the week and spent as much quality time with Gustavo as possible. When I left and flew back out to Montana to pick up where I left off I knew I was saying goodbye to that house for the last time (knowing my dad had plans to sell the house). My dad moved in with Cheryl & took Echo with him. Gustavo remained living back at the meadow house all alone. My mom, my dad, & my brother all took turns, feeding him, changing his littler, & letting him in & out. After a while my mom eventually took her Christmas kitty home with her. He stayed indoors for a while, after about a week or so he started going in and out. One night he went out and didn’t come back. This was the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. She didn’t tell me until the Friday after because she didn’t want to ruin my holiday, knowing it was my first one away from home alone. I was already homesick as is. When I got the news that he was missing, knowing there was nothing I could do but share stuff on social media I worked round the clock reporting it to all the databases and social networks I possibly could. My heart was broken. Y’all know how much I love that little guy. The days went by and days turned to weeks. There was nothing I could do. During this time I got a message from my dad saying “call me whenever you get a chance” I knew what that meant, he had sold the house and I didn’t want to hear it. I didn’t talk to him for days knowing that was the news of the reality I wasn’t yet willing to accept. While in the Float tank in Astoria I imagined Gustavo coming running to the back door just like he used to. I thought if I could picture that hard enough I could make it happen and manifest my fantasy into reality. Lonely, homesick, sad, & tired. I went back to my happy place. Laying on my dads couch petting Gustavo watching The Office. When all of a sudden it hit me like ton of bricks that none of those things will ever happen again. I’m not good with change, never have been, especially drastic change like that. I was overcome with so much anxiety I started hyper ventilating and damn near had a full blow panic attack like noting I’d ever experienced. I almost had to get out of the tank, but it was at that exact moment that I realized that would do me no good, I’ve already suppressed and run away from my problems as much as I possibly could. In a sensory deprivation tank all the way across the country, I said to myself “nobody else can fight your battles but you”. I accepted that if I couldn’t face my problems head on in there then I would never be able to move on. That space was my chamber to grieve and mourn the loss of not only my childhood home but my sense of comfort I once found in Gustavo. It was probably one of the most difficult moments of my life to come to terms with, made even more difficult by the fact that I was so far away during this transitional period. I accepted this reality calmed myself down and learned how to process my circumstances. Again finding myself not wanting to let go of the past and move into the future. Reminiscing on the way things once were and wishing they could go back to that simpler time and place, all the while knowing that they never would, and just not wanting to accept it. Time went on & I distracted myself from my own personal grief with the feeling of accomplished to have reached Lewis & Clark’s winter fort knowing they had come all the way from Louisville KY as had I. Over the next week I found myself staying with multiple people that made me feel very at home, like they were long lost family. I had multiple dreams about Gustavo and woke up one morning with multiple missed calls from a 502 number I didn’t recognize I called them back several times with no answer. I hadn’t given up hope but I had accepted that I may never see him again. I went back to sleep. I woke up with a missed call from my mom and text with a picture of a skinny famished Gustavo that read “do you believe in miracles!?” I immediately FaceTimed her and couldn’t believe it. Tears of joy. After 22 days cold and alone out on the streets He had somehow managed to make it all the way back across town on his own big adventure to the old house . I’m assuming he was looking for me and waiting for me to come home wishing things could go back to the way they once were. Thankfully my mom had gone by to clear some of the last few possessions out of the house, when she heard his faint cry coming from on top of the shed behind the garage he used to love to hang out on. She called him and said “Duder” and he came running to the back door just like he used to; exactly as I had envisioned in the sensory deprivation tank a week earlier all the way on the other side of the country. The Christmas kitty had become a Christmas Miracle. You can’t make this shit up. As I sit here teary eyed typing this at a small hole in the wall bar looking at the Pacific Ocean my dad is literally handing the keys of my childhood home over to the new owners, a young family from saint Matthews with four children. I hope that that corner house is as much of a home for them as is was for me and my family over the years. As hard as this is, I don’t think the universe could have provided me any more of a sense of closure than it already has. As the sun sets on this chapter of my life The Meadow and Woodbourne house will forever be in my heart for all the memories we shared there throughout the years. I’m so glad Gustavo is back reunited with my mom. I couldn’t possibly ask for anything else for Christmas. I love y’all! I miss y’all! Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays. Keep your loved ones close and hold em tight, two legs or four. They’re what this life is all about. Live in the moment and soak in every experience for what it’s worth now while you still got it. As Andy Bernard once said “I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days, before you’ve actually left them”. Don’t forget, those days are now, drink em up, every last drop. Your sense of home may change over the years, people in your life may come and go, and where you lay your head may not always be the same, but no matter where you are, or who you’re with just know that is exactly where you need to be right now. Hope reading this has helped you as much as it has helped me to write it. Cheers!

Drew Echelberger