At first I thought they were playing too rough.
Boy-cat was in an unusual corner, between a wall and a chair, and girl-cat was looking on from a very short distance away, looking unsettled and making low growling noises. I thought maybe he had pounced on her and she wasn’t happy about it.
I checked on him. I said “what are you doing down there, silly?” Moments earlier, he had been curled up happily with us as we watched TV. Then he went for a snack. Coughed up a little vomit pile on the floor. I thought he’d eaten too fast. Now he looked up at me from behind the chair and began to meow in the way that told me he was confused and concerned. I know his meows. I know that probably sounds crazy, but I really do. I can tell when he’s asking a question, and when he wants something, and when he’s asking if I want to shift over so that he can come snuggle beside me. This meow was scared.
And as I came over, I noticed that his legs were stretched out behind him. Flat. But his upper body came crawling towards me. It was wrong. And he started panting. Panting, panting, panting. Very wrong. My husband responds to whatever it was I said and comes over to look. Something is very wrong, I say. I’m really scared, I say. But somehow I say it calmly.
I go into Efficiency Mode. I begin to direct Operation Immediate Departure. I know instantly that this is something serious. We need to leave for the 24 hour vet clinic NOW. We don’t hesitate. I send my husband to my laptop to get directions. I know there is one about a half hour away. I am prepared like that. I used to leave the number for people who fed our cats while we were away. He calls to ask if there’s anything we can do to help before we come. I put on socks. I calm my boy-cat. I get out his carrier. I grab a whole armful of purple towels. I’m not sure why.
In the entry way, while I’m putting on my coat, I lay my baby boy, my boy-cat, on the floor. I need faster shoes, I say, as I rush to the closet to find some slip on canvas ones (snow be damned). Boots will take too long. When I turn back, he has dragged his body into the carrier. He hates the carrier. Maybe he knows.
The ride passes quickly. I sit in the back seat with his carrier bag on my lap, while my husband drives, rigid and white-knuckled. I murmur to my sweet little guy. I tell my husband over and over that we’ve done well. That we’re doing everything we could for him. I tell myself. I’m not sure whether it’s better to pet my little one or leave him alone. I don’t like to be touched sometimes when I’m nauseous. He hates the car. He gets nauseous. He doesn’t seem to want my hand in his bag, but he tells me nicely. I cover the bag with a towel in case he wants to hide. Sometimes the bag jerks a little, like he’s trying to butt his way out. It’s too dark to see. I wish I could see what’s going on. He’s grabbing the mesh with his claws. He never uses his claws. There are more streetlights now. We’re getting closer. I can see his eyes flashing in the darkness, looking up at me. He is lying on his back. Why is he lying on his back? He is chewing at the part of the bag he can reach. I tell him he can eat the whole bag if he needs to.
The vet people are nice when we arrive at the clinic. My husband fills out part of the form. He has his work phone number wrong. We correct it. I take over with the name of the vet. I can’t seem to write legibly. My hand is shaking. I am writing too fast. Someone comes out to ask permission to give him pain medication. We say of course. They ask his name. I think it is good that they asked his name.
It is a short wait. It seems so short. My husband and I hold on to each other. The vet comes back so soon. She tells us that we should sit back down. She asks us when the last time he went to a vet was. I tell her last summer. They go for their check-up every year. She asks us if he has ever been diagnosed with heart problems, and I tell her that he has not. She tells us that he has developed a heart murmur, and that his heart is enlarged. She says that sometimes it can come on surprisingly quickly. She says it’s so sad that it’s happened when he is so young. He is only not quite five. It is sad that it’s happened when he is so young. She tells us that he is forming clots that have affected his heart and are now shooting out various places in his body. One has blocked off his feeling to the lower half of his body. I am not surprised. I knew his hind legs weren’t working anymore. That is okay. We can work with that. We will love him, and care for him, and he’ll be the happiest paralyzed kitty around.
Then she keeps talking. It takes me a minute to realize that she is saying he needs to be put down. I have to clarify. I make sure she knows that money wouldn’t be an issue when it comes to our boy, and ask her if there’s anything that could be done. She tells us that even with unlimited money, there are heroics that people sometimes try, but that it will just buy him a tiny amount of time, and probably put him through a lot more suffering. She tells us there are a lot more clots coming. She tells us again that the humane option is to euthanize him. We don’t want him to suffer. She tells us we don’t have to be there if we don’t want to. We tell her that of course we’ll be there. We tell her we want to have some time with him before he goes.
And we wait, for them to bring him to a room for us. I am crying. And then I am completely detached and have zen perspective. And then I am crying again. I think the perspective is defense. I think it is probably bullshit. I think I am likely to lose it sometime soon. I fumble with my cell phone. I suddenly want to take pictures of him when they let us see him. I know that it isn’t the right kind of event to commemorate, but I want to remember him. I am trying to remember the most recent picture I took. My cell phone won’t work. Why won’t it work? The battery is dead, it seems.
I ask my husband if it’s a strange statement that I wish I had internet access so that I could reach out to all of you. I have learned something. Apparently you are the people I trust to support me in crisis. We continue to wait.
When we see him, he is wrapped in a blanket. His pupils are dilated from the pain medication. They’re so black. He is frightened and confused. We pet him, and hold him, and tell him all the ways that he has been such a wonderful, special boy. We’re agnostic, but we tell him that he’s going somewhere good. If there is an afterlife for anybody, it would be for him. Surely such a beautiful spirit wouldn’t be wasted. He calms a little, and is happy that we’re rubbing and scratching him. I am crying, getting tears and runny nose all over him, nuzzling the top of his head and the back of his neck. I tell him that I hope he doesn’t mind. I don’t think he would like that very much normally. My husband is crying too, eyes red, tears pouring down onto the vet’s examination table. I have seen my husband cry only once in the ten years we’ve been together. We tell our boy how dearly much we love him, and how much he will be missed. We would like to have more time with him, but he is still frightened. We don’t want him to suffer so that we can feel better. I leave the room to get the vet, like she asked us to.
It happens so fast when she gives him the needle. I expected it to take longer. My husband and I are both petting his head, and telling him over and over what a good boy he is. He was a very good boy. Such a good boy. After she has confirmed that his heart has stopped, we have more time in the room alone with him. It looks so strange to see him like that, not moving. Something is off about the way he’s positioned. He wouldn’t lie quite like that naturally. We keep petting him, and telling him good things. I cuddle him one last time like I would when we’re sleeping, and bury my face in the fur on the back of his neck. I know that I will never get the chance again. It feels just like we’re just settling into bed for the night; like nothing is wrong. I breathe in as much as I can of the smell of his fur through my stuffy nose. I wish my nose wasn’t so stuffy so that I could smell him better. I love that warm smell of his fur. It occurs to me that I could finally check how his gum health is doing now. He hated having his lips pulled back to check. I want to laugh at how completely pointless that thought is. I feel guilty a little for wanting to laugh.
And we pay. And we leave. We decide to check of the box to get his ashes back and sprinkle them in the back yard or something. We’re not sure we really want them, but we’re both too messed up to make the decision and we figure it can’t hurt. We are content to be crazy cat people. This cat was special beyond words. My husband drives home with my hand clenched in his. Sometimes we talk about how glad we are that if he had to go, that he went this way. How at least it wasn’t a couple hours later when we were asleep and might not have noticed him. How he didn’t suffer any drawn-out illness. How we were there for him right away, and he didn’t have to be alone at all. Sometimes we talk about what a special little guy he was. Sometimes we talk about how surreal things are. Sometimes we cry.
It is difficult at home. Any calm I had breaks, and I wander around the house sobbing and cleaning, with my husband behind me, holding on to me. I put the carrier in the basement so we will not have to look at it later. I put back the chair we moved when we first noticed him in distress. I realize that I will have to clean up the vomit from earlier, and it breaks my heart. I realize that I will have to pick up all his toys. I cry over the fur on our sheets, beside my pillow. We don’t know what to do with ourselves. It’s really late, but we cannot yet go to sleep. We decide to have a drink. I also make some tea in an effort to calm me down. Tea is a fitting send off for our little boy. He loved making tea. We commiserate together. We talk about how next to each other, he is probably the hardest person for us to lose. Except not a person. But still an integral part of our lives. We watch a tv show to distract us, and our remaining cat sits in our laps for the first time in more than a month, and there are moments it seems like maybe everything will be okay. And there are moments it seems like my heart will break at the thought of never seeing him again. We get into bed, and I toss, and turn, and we hold each other close, and I try not to cry too much at the emptiness beside me. At the lonely third of the bed where our boy-cat normally sleeps. After far too long, oblivion claims us.
And now it is a new day. And things seem darker than they were before. And I don’t know how to explain to someone who has never been that close to an animal how terrible a loss this is. I have had cats before. And I was sad when they passed. We love our remaining cat very much. But he was different. He was my buddy. My helper. My companion. He was so smart, and so much a distinct and beautiful personality. He was so very much a part of our lives. So special, and so irreplaceable.
I am so sorry that you had to go, Morning. We loved you so very dearly. I am so very glad that you had a good life in the time you were with us, and I am so glad that you had to have known every day how dearly loved you were. But I will miss you. I will miss you so much it breaks my heart.