When my husband and I began dating in 1991---versus when we met (1988), the time apart (1989-1990), the time of "friendship" (1990), the time of "confusion" (late 1990-early 1991), Mardi Gras (1991), and actual "Love it or leave it dude," (1991)---we were single adults with our own apartments, very independent. I had acquired two cats.
Cat 1, CiCi, adopted me by "Get the eff away from me crazy lady, no seriously do not touch me bitch!" default. She was a scrawny half-dead slightly past kittenhood cat that the vet encouraged me to Do the Humane Thing for. But I believed in fate. I got off the bus that day at that stop at that time, and looked to the right, instead of to the usual left. I saw her chasing a butterfly and something spoke to my soul. I walked over, looked her in the eye, said, "Do you want the Sweet Life? If yes, let me me pick you up." And she did. But not too easily. She had pride.
She also had rickets, bugs and parasites galore, pneumonia (or some such) and a Death Sentence from the vet, who decided to tell the Crazy Idealistic Young Lady a few things to do and prescibe a few medications well beyond my means (that I got anyway) to get me out of his office. I did them and she flourished. I fought her to save her, but I did it, and she was my most loyal and faithful companion in return.
My roomate hated cats. When it came time to renew our lease---with our very animal-friendly landlords who I adored---she said no way, no cat, get rid of that skanky rat-eater. I got rid of her instead. It was a wise choice.
How can you trust an animal hater?
Some might call me dysfunctional for choosing an animal over a human. But you didn't know this cat. People who normally hated cats---my ex-roomate excluded---loved this cat. If you had half a soul, you knew she was of the race who knew Joseph.
I moved into my own apartment---solo---and discovered One is not the loneliest number that you ever knew. I liked being on my own. I liked being alone. Besides which, I had CiCi.
I also had a boyfriend. This one had lasted a year so far, a new record in my serial monogomy list. He loved animals (a requirement) and was seriously dedicated to the future (another requirement). He acquired a cat, a Bombay Black. I named her Amber, for her eyes. She was seriously sweet, and outrageously neurotic.
His roomate couldn't stand her.
So Amber moved in with me and CiCi.
CiCi wasn't sure what to make of this encroacher, but as Amber proved Not a Threat, she subsided her resistance. They became a team, and Amber slowly shed her neuroses and matured into simply sweet. We were a happy family.
That boyfriend and I eventually split. He let me keep Amber, since she had become more mine than his. At first, he wanted to visit her. I know, a custody agreement for a cat. If you don't understand, you don't love animals as much as we do. But then things got complicated---the girl he had cheated on me with introduced him to the Love of his Life and my now husband re-entered my life. I guess we were each other's 4 out of 5. The ex-boyfriend gave up his visitation requests, and ultimately vanished.
Life goes on.
My husband adores animals, maybe more than I do. For me, they are companions. For him, they are a passion. He considered being a vet.
My cats rejected him.
He was beyond distraught. Animals always loved him, gravitated right to him. he'd never had to exert effort, or win (or earn) love.
He even wondered if this was some sort of statement about our relationship.
I thought he was silly.
I knew my girls; they were exclusive, protective. They didn't care if he was Jesus H. Christ on a golden platter. They'd been betrayed by a man once before. Their love didn't come lightly, or easily.
I told him to be patient.
He decided he wanted to succeed, even if it meant getting his own cats.
I have always suspected this was a ruse; I suspected he had always wanted a catalyst to launch him into pet parenthood.
But he dragged me to a place where he heard they had kittens. A guy had found a bag of kittens thrown into the dumpster. He was adopting them out, for a small convenience fee (for the good of animals of course).
I saw the look in my boyfriend's (now husband's) eye, and I knew what it meant. "No more than one female," I told him, "No males. No orange cats."
So what did he do? Found a tabby female and...her orange brother. Even I capitulated. As we left with the girl, the boy hurled himself against the window, screaming, sobbing. You split that up.
Then came the time to introduce his cats---still young, still mostly kittens---to my cats.
That went over like a lead zeppelin.
His two were like Siamese twins, attached at the hip. Francie, the girl, was in charge. No questions. Bubba, the boy, was just happy to be with her and do as she said. Mine were seasoned Cats. Used to their own dynamic: CiCi was in charge, Amber did not give a shit about anything other than food and sunny spots to nap in.
When we decided to get married, it was permanent, and relationships had to be fixed.
A feline truce was declared: CiCi, in charge; Francie, official hunter and bodyguard; Amber and Bubba, ate food last and got sunny spots for napping while pretending to give a shit. Every now and again, Francie fought CiCi for alpha position and always lost, despite easily being twice as big as CiCi.
The Oak Convention of 1994 established terms of peace: CiCi reigned supreme for life, Francie was second in command, and got Queen upon CiCi's demise.
The battles ended.
When Patience was born, Amber had been battling diabetes for years. The day we came home from the hospital with our newborn Patience, Amber collapsed into a coma. It wasn't the first time. Her diabetes were so hard to manage. We were constantly trying new foods and diets, changing insulin doses, frequently trying new types of insulin and new regimens. That time, the day we walked in from the hospital, the day she collapsed, when I was home alone, for the first time, with a newborn---a crying newborn---I called the vet and he said, "Are you sure you want to intervene?" I had to try. I couldn't be the person who gave up just because she had a human child. We revived her, but the next day she collapsed again. Her organs were failing, a side-effect of the diabetes. I cried all the way to the vet, clutched my newborn while the vet gave his prognosis and recommendation, and sobbed when I lost my first baby.
The vet told me, "She waited until you came home from the hospital. She waited until she could say goodbye. She waited to meet your new baby."
It only added to the guilt instead of providing the comfort he intended.
You see, Amber was so high-maintenance; I had been worrying about how I would juggle her complex and expensive health care demands with the needs of a newborn. I had been hoping she could be no problem until I got the mom thing down. And I had been suppressing a Very Bad Feeling. Amber wasn't well, I knew that. But it didn't make her loss any easier, nor did the fact that we didn't have to worry about her or caring for her any longer.
Time marched on. Patience grew into a little girl, the cats grew elderly, and we added in Persistence.
One sunny day when CiCi was 15, she went out for her usual morning walk. She staggered home and collapsed. We rushed to the vet, who said it was finished, beyond him.
She was elderly, for a cat, especially a cat who had been diagnosed as a short timer 15 years previously, a cat who had long-term health issues from her youthful diseases. She had a good life. Better, I think, than she expected, and she never took it for granted, I think.
That didn't make her loss any easier.
The vet gave her painkillers, and sent us home for her to die with her family. I sat by her, under her favorite tree, and stroked her as she passed away. I sang her songs to her. I talked to her of our life together, recalled our many hilarious roadtrip adventures, our time together as single girls, our time together as a bigger family. I talked to her about how much she meant to me, things I liked about her. I told her we would be okay, she'd done all she could for us. I cried, but I told her I understood she needed to go. I said thank you and I released her.
Dying isn't pretty.
Breathing doesn't slowly ease and end.
The body fights on long past the mind and spirit. Her breathing grew labored, agonal breathing it's called. It's horrible to watch. But eventually, it stopped. She was gone.
In the last task I owed her, I failed. I couldn't bring myself to take her body to the vet for cremation. I couldn't stand to touch or be near the lifeless shell. That body, it wasn't my CiCi. My husband did it for me. That's true love: the guy who will tenderly wrap your cat---our cat, for she loved him as much as me by then---in a blanket and take her body away, despite his own grief.
Patience cried, Persistence was too young to know. I held them close and prayed that I would never, ever find out what it felt like to lose either of them. I prayed I'd never know the grief of a parent who loses a child, or the guilt, especially when I felt like a less than perfect parent, and had regrets.
You see, in the end, I had less time and attention for CiCi. I flayed myself inside as a result, and felt angry that I felt a need to be spread so thin. I hated the guilt I felt, hated how torn I felt trying to be there for everyone, keep up the relationship everyone wanted from me. I hated how I didn't give as much as I wanted to, couldn't give.
Losing CiCi meant losing a side of my heart. She was my entire adulthood. She'd been with me through everything. She'd stood by me, sat on my chest, purred when I needed her most.
And then, there were two.
Francie continues on as she always has. I don't think she takes joy in Queen as she once thought she would. She has always had domain over Bubba, her slavishly devoted brother. But his health has been failing for a long time: hyperthyroidism. The hard to manage kind, the sort that the thyroid clicks on and off at random.
A month ago, he quit grooming himself. We've given him a couple of baths, but he's so frail, and he is so traumatized by the baths, we haven't done it enough. His fur has dreadlocked. He seems energetic, but that's just the disease making him hyper. His body is failing. You can see it. His breathing is off, as is his heartrate. He eats and drinks too much and is too thin now, another sign that the disease is winning.
Now we are all just waiting. We haven't involved the vet. We know what he will say. We just want this...among us.
We are grief weary. The last few years have included a lot of loss, more than just pets. We are tired of outsiders telling us what they think of our grief, advising us on what to do, what to think, what to feel.
Aside from Bubba and his impending loss, too many days my husband and I walk around sort of anxious---what will we lose next? What will happen next? What next?
I don't think we've recovered from all of our trauma.
I don't think we're ready for another loss.
I don't think we want to hear a doctor make it official.
I do think, though, that in another sense, we are ready for it to be finished, if it is time.
It's hard to wait, hard wondering.
And, in the last couple of weeks, Bubba has begun voiding inappropriately, begun being a little bit of a pain in the ass.
We've had to close off the dining room, the room where the carpet is beyond repair now. The room that will be costing us money we weren't ready to spend. All because Bubba is old, sick, and pooping on carpet instead of outside or in his litterbox.
We feel annoyed, frustrated, angry. All while grieving.
We've begun preparing Patience. One day, we thought that was it, the end. So we prepared her. But Bubba surprised us, and rallied. Now she's forgotten. Now she thinks he's well, and all is well.
Some days though she says when we lose Bubba and he goes to Heaven we can get a new kitten.
My husband and I think back, recall when CiCi, Amber, Francie, and Bubba were young, when we were young, recall the fun of kittens...how cute they are. Then, we think of now, how busy we are, how pressed for time, how divided our attention is, and we say, "No, sweetheart, sorry, no new cats, no new pets. Let's just love the ones we have."
copyright 2007 Julie Pippert