Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The Story of a Cat and Her Girl

I know that it sounds foolish or naive when I say, “I never thought about life without her.” But it's true. I was lucky enough to find mutual, unconditional love at age nine. She was small, black and perfect for me.  

It was September, and I remember my mom picking me up from school so that we could go search the local shelters. We went three days in a row and I still couldn't find the right kitten for me. I am a cat person, crazy cat lady through to my core. I stop and talk to them when I see them on the street. I adore other people’s cats the way some adore other’s children. However, as I searched I knew that I couldn’t take just any one of them home, I needed to find my kitten. At the end of the third day, I found her. She was sitting in the drop box outside of the pound. I always thought it was special that she never actually had to go in the pound; she was waiting for me.

On the way home, I named her Babybelle, so that I could call her “baby”. Whatever my intentions, she was destined for another name. From the beginning we called her Kitty. Whenever she would talk to us, asking us to fill up her food, pet her or maybe just bossing us around, we always responded, “Yes, Kitty, I know.” Or “Not right now Kitty, I’m busy.”

She never took “no” for an answer though. She had spunk, she was bossy. When she was younger, if we stopped petting her too soon or walked past without acknowledging her, she would swat our ankles and bite them if she could catch up to us quick enough.

She was vivacious but clumsy as a kitten. Whenever I came up the stairs, she would hide and try to pounce on me, but often only succeeded in launching herself straight up, she would then bounce on her hind legs for a split second before darting off to the corner. Eventually she honed her skills and over the years, we dealt with many headless mice on the front porch and birds let loose in the house.

Once, I “invented” a game. I was annoying her and got her riled up; then I decided it would be fun to have my little brother pet her, I knew she would probably bite him, but the plan was that I would jump in and save him from disaster in the nick of time. I could see it in my mind, it was perfect, it was fun.

Unfortunately, I’m very slow. I yelled, “Nick! Come pet Kitty!” And before I could ride in and save the day, she lashed out. “She bit me!!!” He screamed and started to cry. I didn’t know how to begin to explain myself and my stupid idea. I got in trouble, she didn’t.

She knew what she wanted and what she didn’t want. She hated kids and had an unending power struggle with my dad, which climaxed when she pooped on him one night while he slept. She was a very brave cat.

She loved shrimp and yogurt, whenever she heard the soft pop of a yogurt lid she would run into the kitchen, demanding, in no uncertain terms, that it be given to her. She loved soft scratches on her head, but not her tummy. You received a sharp bite if you ever tried to touch her soft paws. I always tried to touch her paws.

Of all the things she loved, she loved me best of all. I was hers and she was mine. We grew up together. If she was out playing in my parents’ field, all I had to do was yell, “Babybeeeeeeelle” out the back door and she would come leaping through the grasses.

In all our years, all she ever wanted from me was food, to be pet, talked to and loved. She always had a place to curl up on the edge of my bed at night and a ray of sunshine to sprawl in, in the morning.

When I left my husband and moved back home, she was waiting for me, and I didn’t feel lost anymore. We snuggled, we talked. Every once in awhile, I caught myself when we were talking and realized, that yes, I was having a back and forth conversation with a cat. Whenever this happened it felt surreal because I knew we could understand each other. She knew me in my heart, which is where it actually matters.

When I started dating Zach and eventually moved in with him, he knew Kitty and I were a package deal. The way he loved her, made me love him more. Whenever he made something with meat, he always set aside pieces for her, neither one of them wanted anything to do with my vegetarian ways. It was common to see him at the stove with her right at his feet waiting for little morsels. He quickly learned that any unattended water glass would have a little paw dipped in it and that his ice cream wasn’t really all his. The best days were the three of us in that apartment. It didn’t matter what we were doing, though usually we were snuggling on the couch, watching reruns of The Office.

I don’t believe in heaven or any sort of afterlife. I know Kitty isn’t in a better place. The best place for her and for me was together. It was the best place until the vet told us she was suffering and that any fight that modern medicine could make would prolong that suffering. Her kidneys were failing and failing fast. She had gone from playing, running up and down the hall with us, to barely moving. He told me, “If you want more time with her, you can take her home for one more night -- but she won’t have a good night.” He told us that she was miserable and that her body was shutting down.

I knew the choice was not a choice. There were no other options, because those options were about me, and this was about her. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye, but I’m never going to be ready.

We called my parents who came up as quickly as they could, I’m so lucky to have great parents. The vet tech brought Kitty into us and we all held her and talked for awhile about all the ways she was the best; there were too many count. Even Zach said, “My favorite memories with her are all of them.”

I held her and kissed her ears when the time came. Zach offered to hold her so that I could go outside. Not being with her was never an option though. For her, things would be as they had always been, the two of us together.

Now, it’s just me. I have people around me who love me and support me, but I don’t have Kitty. My life wasn’t the same after we met and it won’t be the same now that she’s gone. Everytime I wake up, for a split second I forget; I don’t move, so my feet don’t disturb her sleeping at the end of the bed, but then I remember. I haven’t picked up the last glass of water that started as mine but quickly became hers.

I know there is a light at the end of this tunnel and a time where the grief will not feel so heavy. But, I cannot see that light.