Tuesday, April 11, 2017
I don't want to be literal. This is the last picture I'll post of my cat, I reckon. In my mind, I'm still just saying goodbye.
I have/had a vet who makes house calls. That is all she does. She is the same one who came to this house to take care of my dog, mostly just to check her out and to give her her vaccines. Over eighteen years ago, we put her to rest on my kitchen floor. My dog was seventeen and had been diabetic for five years. For five years, I gave her insulin shots twice a day at eight a.m. and p.m. She ate twenty minutes later. She went blind from cataracts, but I had an operation to have her lenses removed. I was told that the lens in a dog did not function as much as it does in a human, and that they can see fairly well after the surgery. I asked that vet specialists about making goggles with lenses in them for my dog. He acted like I was nuts. In the end, he was only able to remove one lens. The other, he said, had become too hard. My dog and I had run every day from the time I got her. For those five diabetic years, we still did two walks a day, usually over two miles. She trusted me to keep her safe, and she looked forward to going very much.
After she died, the little cat showed up in my yard. She was about six months old, I think. I had gotten my dog at about the same age. She had followed me home at the end of one of my runs, starved, looking like death. So when the cat showed up, I figured it was a bodhisattva, a spirit form of some kind, maybe my dog reincarnate. But she wouldn't come to me. She would sit and stare at me, but when I tried to approach her, she would move away.
A few days later, my tenant told me she got a new cat. It was Bella.
My tenant moved a while later and left the cat. Somehow, she became mine. The tenant was never able to house train the cat, so she was fairly feral when I got her. She lived outdoors and would only stand for me to pet her for a minute before she would turn on me and try to bite and scratch my hand. She succeeded in getting me a few times. But over the weeks and months, she wanted to be around me more and more and would jump up to my windowsill to look in and meow to me.
One day, I came home and she was lying on the deck near death. She had been in a cat fight, apparently, which couldn't have been fair as she was a tiny little thing, skinny and nervous. I lay down on the deck with her and petted her for a long time and talked to her softly. She could barely move, but her eyes locked onto mine. So I called the vet who came over and put in an i.v. and hydrated her and gave her something for the high fever she had. The cat bite had given her a bad infection, and so she got antibiotics. I was to give her a pill twice a day. The kicker was that she needed to stay inside. Something would get her, the vet said, if I left her out. I wasn't about to try opening the cats mouth and shoving an pill onto the back of her tongue and then hold her mouth shut until she swallowed it. I could do that with my dog, but I wasn't going to try that with this feral cat. So I crushed the pills up mortar and pestle style and mixed it with a can of wet food. She had never had wet food before.
That was it. She was now in love. She became an indoor/outdoor cat, but her feral ways were slow to leave. At first, I was allowed to pet her on the head, but if I went to far down her back or anywhere near her belly, I would get bitten.
One day, she came and bumped my leg with her head. She wanted me to pet her. I was terribly allergic to her and she was not a lap cat, so she took to lying on my feet. She did this wherever I went. In the mornings as I sat on the toilet, she would push the door open and come in and lie on them.
She was a loving, irritating shit.
As she got older, she got more dependent and would let me pet her belly. She would jump up on the couch when I was watching television and lie against my legs. She would purr and look at me the way cats do, but she wasn't like other cats I'd known. She was a little strange.
For a very long time, I lived in my house alone. There was no one to help me care for her, and I have never been the kind to put out food and water and leave the cat. I was with her, and she with me, every morning, every night. It was just the two of us for a very, very long time.
When Ili showed up two years ago, Bella took right to her. They had a strange relationship, I think. She fed the cat wet food and treats and gave her the water out of the cans of tuna. I had always given her some of the tuna, but she liked the water a thousand times more. Crazy, I thought. And so the two of them were a team against me and also rivals for my attention. The cat loved her but was jealous, too. Funny how things work.
This past weekend was just macabre, Bella leaving to die, then more than a day later changing her mind, coming back like something that had dug its way out of a grave. She decided she didn't want to die alone. And so. We cleaned her and loved her, and she purred weakly at out touch. She had suffered enough, though, and so yesterday morning, I called the vet.
The cat was weak and sleeping on a towel in the kitchen by the door, and then she cried out and tried to get up. For the next couple of hours, Ili and I sat on the floor and held her and talked to her. We opened the door so that she could hear the birds and smell the fresh air right where she always lived. That deck was her deck, her home and territory. We put on the jazz we alway listen to and let it play softly for her. Everything was as it always was and she snuggled against me. It is silly and stupid to say, but she would move her head against me and I could feel how much she loved me. She didn't want to go.
When the vet came, she looked Bella over and said she was terribly dehydrated. I described what had been going on and she said that her kidneys had shut down. She talked about how fiesta Bella had always been and talked about what a beautiful life she had had.
She pulled out her records and said Bella was eighteen years old. She had lived a good long while.
She shot her with a valium and ketamine concoction, and Bella began to relax and fall asleep. It took awhile, but all the pain was gone, I think.
And then the vet shaved her legs, put on a tourniquet, and put Bella to rest. There were no cages, no car trip to the vet's office, no stress and anxiety about what would happen. We just lay on the floor just where she had always lived, lived an entire lifetime. Just before the end, with incredible effort, she reached up and grabbed me with her paw. She wanted to live so badly, wanted to get well and keep breathing, but there was nothing to do. And so I held her head and whispered to her in her sleep.
And then she was gone.
My vet is a woman I met socially. She has been a friend, though I don't see her any more. But she is a kind woman, a woman who has never married, a person with troubles like all of us who has suffered like all of us, too. She has put down a cat and a dog for me on my kitchen floor. It is strange to think about.
After it was over, Ili and I took a long walk. The day was beautiful, but each of us felt as if we were walking in a weird dream. We decided to have lunch at a pretty little Thai restaurant on the Boulevard. We sat at a sidewalk table and drank beer and shared plates of food. Afterwards, we went to my friend's little hippie store across the street and bought some incense and smudge sticks, then rode the scooter home.
There was a smell I couldn't get out of my nostrils, the smell of my suffering, dying cat. And so we took up the rug where she had gotten sick and took up her bowls and the big jar that had always held her five pound bag of food as it had my dog's food before, and we took it all out. Then we mopped the kitchen floor and lit the smudge stick, and though I am not that sort, I walked through the house waving it about to clear out the smell but also to give some spiritual peace as well. And when that was done, I poured a glass of whiskey and Ili came over and I said that we had to make an offering to the earth and to Bella, and I dipped my fingers in the glass and sprinkled whiskey over the kitchen. We each took a sip and left to buy new rugs.
Last night we cooked spaghetti, and Ili said things felt empty. We both kept looking for Bella, of course, and when we were finished eating, it was strange not to share what was left. The cat was strange and was crazy for spaghetti sauce.
In bed, we were sad, of course, and I slept fitfully for what seemed most of the night. When I looked at the clock, I had been in bed for less than an hour. I got up and got a Xanax and went back to bed. I managed to sleep until five.
I kissed Ili and got up in the dark and went to the kitchen to make coffee. Reflexively, I looked out the windows of the kitchen door to see my little cat. Something moved. I jumped a bit. It was a possum. When I turned on the outside light, it scurried away in slow motion the way that possums do.
I am surprised to think that for thirty-five years, I have been a pet owner. I have been a most dedicated and conscientious and loving of pet owners. I never thought to have a pet, never said I wanted one, never went to get one. My pets have found and needed me.
Thirty-five years is a long time. I guess it might take me a minute or two to come to grips with not having to come home every night to feed and love an animal. I am free to not come home now. I can stay overnight at Ili's or I can leave town without making arrangements. But I have many, many habits to break, and it will take some time.
I was never a fawning pet owner. I never talked about my animals to others. Probably many who know me never have thought of me as having pets. But I have. And now I feel a little hollow, a little empty. We never know ourselves I realize. We are not who we think we are at all. We try, but it is impossible. I knew without knowing what that cat and I were to one another. This morning, though, there is no doubting it. Now I can do nothing about it. Now. . . I know.