Wednesday, June 21, 2006
The end of an era
I feel somewhat ridiculous using that phrase, being only in my mid-30s, but it is certainly fitting. This week Bubba and I lost the last pet we had that pre-dated the births of our children. I don't know why, but I feel as though I need to justify the grief I feel at our cat's death, as though she couldn't possibly rate this cavern of sadness that I'm sitting with right now. I don't expect a cascade of sympathy from family and friends, and there is a part of me that feels silly even notifying others of her passing, but at my core, I feel her loss sharply and I intend to honor her as an important part of our lives.
This scrummy-looking little waif came to us as the result of me imploring Bubba to find a friend for my lonely adult cat. I am sure he saw through my manipulations, but he humored me and let me believe I had convinced him that our depressed cat needed a companion. Somehow, we heard about a litter of kittens in someone's barn who were being given away and went one Saturday morning to check them out. The only one who didn't scatter as soon as we entered the broken-down building was the littlest of the bunch. She sat up, looked in our direction with perky ears and her head held high and yowled. She was the runt, a bony, ear-mite infested little thing, but she pushed her head into my boyfriend's palm and started purring like a Formula One car. To say we were sold is an understatement.
Our adult cat took to her instantly, using her rough tongue to thoroughly cleanse the little thing. Within hours, she was ferrying her back and forth across our shoebox apartment in her mouth, and the little one was so unimpressed that she would sleep while being held by the scruff of her neck. The two of them were quickly inseparable.
When we were finally able to afford a house, the outdoors proved to be very enticing to the little one. She, who had been an inside cat for her entire life, took to scratching the door as if she were possessed. Because of coyote sightings in the area, I refused to let her out, but after a year of her repeated begging, in the form of sharpening her claws on the oriental rug, shrieking her claws down the sliding glass door until I thought my teeth would crumble to dust, and leaving hairballs strategically placed by the back door, I relented and threw her out for a day. I truly believed she would be back within a few hours, running for her life and pleading to be let in. Instead, she refused to come in even to eat. She began hunting and leaving her serial killer trophies for us in the driveway and on the back porch. Even after eight years of domestication, she was instinctually capable of capturing voles, shrews, mice, birds, and one at least one occasion, a mole. She slimmed down and became even more friendly with me when I was gardening and approached the children at a dead run when they ventured outside to play.
Three years ago, we returned from Christmas vacation to find her frantically clawing at the back door. I flung it open, expecting to find some wild animal hot on her tail, but she refused to come inside. She just sat down and wailed. I examined her all over, trying to discern what was wrong, but couldn't find a scratch on her. It was then that Bubba called to me from upstairs. Our older cat was ill. She was 17 years old and would die later that evening of sudden kidney failure. The little one knew. Even after two years separated by a sliding glass door and an entire world, she knew when there was something wrong with her surrogate mother. I cried for both of them.
We have since been adopted by another outdoor cat. She is a sleek, black feline who appeared out of nowhere six months ago and bonded with our little one. There has never been any squabbling over the food dish or the couch on the deck. They share as if they have known each other their entire lives, and I am so happy to have another companion for our adventurous tabby that I don't mind the extra trophies that appear now and again. Truth be told, our little one had slowed down quite a bit with regards to hunting, anyway, so the volume hasn't increased all that much.
Two days ago, I took the little one to the vet to see why she hadn't been eating for several days. She had moved from her normal perch on the patio to the window box nearest our kitchen table a few days before and I had noticed her losing weight rapidly. My girls, who had grown up with her, insisted on joining us at the kitty doctor and watched without blinking while the vet performed her examination. I had a feeling that our kitty wouldn't be coming home again, but I still felt that vacuum in my gut when I heard the phrase, "stomach cancer". The mass was three times the size of her stomach and completely inoperable. I am glad that I didn't have to make the decision to let her go; there was no other option.
I spent the remainder of the day by turns consoling my girls and explaining the mysteries of death to them. We have decided to mingle the ashes of the two kitties (I still have the ashes from three years ago in a box in my laundry room) under a newly planted hydrangea near the girls' playhouse in the backyard. I will miss her terribly, but I am so glad she graced our lives with her quirky kitty self and I am grateful that she was able to make a new friend before she left us. As for my husband and myself, we will now enter the era of only having things that came after our children. I wish I could find some profound message in that, but for now all I have is sadness.