Thursday, 9 January 2014

I want to tell you about this great girl I knew

I first encountered Cat Moore not long after I was diagnosed with Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis - the same disease that claimed her life at the age of 35, a few days before Christmas, 2013.

In the aftermath of my diagnosis I had searched online for fellow sufferers and support groups. It soon became apparent that sharing an illness with someone doesn't mean that you will find them tolerable, or want to listen to their awful survivors poetry, or endure their incessant prattling about “god's plan.”

In desperation I typed PSC into the search bar of the blogging website Live Journal. Two user accounts came up. One of them belonged to Cat.

Although our respective geographical locations (I live in the south-east of England/Cat lived in Vancouver, Canada) meant that we would have never crossed paths had it not been for our common ailment, our relationship was not defined by it. I like to think that, had we met under different circumstances, we would have been friends anyway.

Cat was a tiny, pale, strange looking girl. Her thick glasses and her fondness for wearing berets gave her the appearance of Buddy Holly reborn as an art-house film director. She was a self-confessed introvert who yearned to come out of herself - somehow this inner conflict made her a larger than life character, in way that was endearingly off-kilter. She often seemed to find herself in bizarre and unusual situations that were tinged with pathos:

One of my favourite Cat Moore stories concerns the time she took part in Team Make-Out – an event in which strangers engage in kissing and light petting on public transport. With no male partner available she ended-up in “an awkward, sloppy, and intensely gum-flavoured” clinch with another girl, which took place under the watchful gaze of a CCTV camera.

Cat loved music: Spiritualized, My Bloody Valentine, Sonic Youth, Stereolab... One of the highlights of her life was travelling to Austin, Texas, in 2010 for the SXSW festival. She later described her experience in a single paragraph of breathless prose:

My time in Austin was a mindblowing blur of movies, rule-breaking, food, IFC happy hours, meeting people, Motorhead, more movies, Broken Social Scene, weirdness, and fun. I got a swag bag, got sick, got better, got drunk, got a few shirts at Mondo Tees, and even got starstruck once or twice. (Bill Murray on the red carpet for Get Low.) I did and saw so much, there's no way I can regret the things I didn't get to do or see. Besides, they're on the list for next time. And there will be a next time.”

However, her main passion was for the cinema. She worked at multiple theatres around her home town, selling tickets, working the concession stand, cleaning the toilets. Few people had a better excuse to succumb to fatigue, but I don't know of anyone who worked harder than Cat did

Common interests and mutual suffering aside, I liked Cat because she was a good person:

Her mother died in 2003. Cat spent the remaining decade of her life in a succession of sub-par, rented apartments with her father (always referred to as 'the Dude') who she looked after and worried about and fretted over. Although she sometimes entertained notions of living elsewhere and wondered whether this might lead to a better job and a better quality of life, she was not a martyr to her circumstances. She maintained that her decision to stay with her father was the right one and the one that she felt most comfortable with.

Cat had an accommodating nature – the kind that people can take advantage of without meaning to. She routinely put the needs of others before her own well-being. I lost count of the number of times she would mention finding her beloved pet, Parker J Cat, asleep on her bed and, instead of waking him up, would squeeze as best she could onto the remainder of the mattress.

Despite her illness, and the fact that part of her bowel had been removed, she continued to indulge an unhealthy lifestyle that included Coca Cola for breakfast, Slurpees, fried chicken and pulled pork – all things that you really shouldn't consume if you have PSC. I admired her for doing it; for leading the life she wanted to live. If you can't give the grim reaper the finger once in a while then what is the point.

We both left Live Journal around 2011. I was disillusioned with the site. Cat, I think, was coming to terms with having less energy. The 140 character limit of Twitter was less draining for her than the prospect of composing lengthy blog entries.

In mid-December of 2013 I noticed that she hadn't posted on Twitter for a couple of weeks. On the 21st of the month I sent her a direct message:

How are you Cat? I worry.”

When there was no reply I assumed that she had been admitted to hospital. Her condition often seemed to deteriorate around this time of year.

On the 5th of January, with a heavy heart, I typed her Twitter handle into the site's search engine and learned of her death through one of the cinemas that she worked for. After getting in touch with one of the staff there I was able to fill in the gaps:

Cat had been admitted to hospital either in late November or early December, where she underwent a number of unsuccessful surgeries that were aimed at saving her liver. Her other organs began to shut down and the consensus among her doctors was that another surgical procedure would be too much for her. She was suffering and her father made the decision to turn off her life support. She died on the 20th December, 2013, the day before I wrote to her.

When I heard the news of her death I felt swamped by a tidal wave of grief that couldn't be expressed in words; it was the kind that builds up inside faster than you can get it out and is physically painful. In the days that have followed I have felt the occasional aftershock. They always seem to catch me off guard. My eyes filled with tears at the mention of a forthcoming new season of Mad Men and the thought that Cat will never know the eventual fate of Don Draper.

I visited her Twitter account. She is still following me. Nothing has changed and it as if she is on a long hiatus.

I read her penultimate tweet from the 24th November:

The good news is, I'm not dead. The bad news? Still living this life.”

Her last written words appeared the following day: 'Thanks!' in response to a comment posted from a protected account.

I felt guilty that we had not communicated more, and in more depth, since we left Live Journal.

I returned to our last flippant exchange on Twitter (which occurred on the 3rd and 4th November, 2013) and wished that I had said something more comforting:

Cat: Haven't got the spoons for much today. Work and disease do not a good combo make.

Me: I'm (sic) intend to re-brand my PSC as 'Liver Away' and market it with the help of investment from the millionaires on 'Dragons Den'.

Cat: I'll look for you if I can get the UK version...

I found a recent tweet – one where she mentioned not being able to imagine a world without Lou Reed in it. In another, that I had overlooked, she described sitting on the couch answering email when something had “popped/snapped” inside of her. X-rays at the hospital revealed nothing. One of the hallmarks of having a chronic, ultimately terminal, illness is how quickly you acclimatize to the horror of your situation. You learn to shrug off things that would appal and disgust a normal, healthy human being.

I visited her lastfm account which had been inactive for many years. The last track she listened to there, way back in 2010, was The Fox In The Snow by Belle and Sebastian. I don't think I will ever be able to hear that song again without being reduced to a sobbing wreck.

I read her old Live Journal entries:

I'm not afraid of dying. No sense in fearing the inevitable, really. What's the worst that could happen? Besides a slow, painful, lingering death that brings out the depression and angst in everyone including yourself, that is.”

The thought that, in her final weeks, she might have been scared, or conscious of the scale of her pain and suffering, is unbearable to me.

I half-watched The Matrix and wished that we lived in a computer simulation, and that somewhere in an alternate reality Cat was still alive.

I bargained pointlessly with an unnamed, benevolent deity for the opportunity to swap places with her. Cat stood up to her illness. She had hopes and dreams and things that she looked forward to. This past year I have felt like it's enough. I am coasting along on my own diminishing momentum. I think if a doctor said to me 'We've done all we can for you' then I would welcome it. Cat had more to live for and she died before she was ready. It wasn't fair.

I never met Cat in person or heard her voice. Our strange relationship unfolded on disparate strands of social media and the occasional email.

She leaves in her wake the faintest of footprints. An iPod Touch (which she would periodically lose) containing her favourite music; a few possessions in a rented apartment.

Those who knew her in person and worked alongside her, remember her fondly.

I remember you too Cat Moore. 

I did and saw so much, there's no way I can regret the things I didn't get to do or see.”

26th June 1978 - 20th December 2013

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