This afternoon, when you laid in my lap purring and sighing one last time, I tried to tell you that everything that I felt about you, all the love and hope and anguish I felt for you. I doubt you understood me. We never really understood each other. Part of that’s because you’re a cat, I’m a man, and we’re both dimwitted and uncommunicative in degrees. In the five years I knew you, I could never quite interpret what your long, high meows meant. Did you want food? Fresh water, with ice cubes? Brine from the tunafish cans? A backscratch? (Okay, you always wanted a backscratch.) To be rubbed on your ears? To be picked up?
Unlike your old frenemy Eliza, with whom I hope you’re playing in kitty heaven, you almost never wanted to be picked up. You preferred to grab my forearm with your front paws and, holding it tightly, lick the skin near that scar I got when I was 14 and walked through a glass door at Brian Winter’s house. I wish you had known me then, when I was younger and dumber, perhaps, but less cynical and less easily irritated. I wish I had known you as a kitten. By the time I met you, you had been my ex-wife’s cat for eight or nine years. The chronology’s unclear. (When I took you to the vet two weeks ago, I was embarrassed by how much I didn’t know about your medical history, your early years.) When my ex-wife left, she left you with me, because she “can’t deal with it at this stage of my life, with all the changes I’m going through.” I was changing, too, and I suppose so were you. We can’t plan our changes that well, and they rarely take us where they want us to go, or they do and it turns out that we didn’t want to be there after all.
After the divorce, you rolled with the punches. At least, that’s what it looked like, though losing your first (and longest-lasting) owner must have been a shock. Again, we didn’t talk together very well. Still, you seemed happy with me, though occasionally bewildered by my moodiness, my rash anger, my waves of depression, my yelling at you to shut up and shoving you aside and ignoring your constant neediness. Part of this, of course, was misdirected anger at your previous owner, and for the unceremonious way in which she dumped you (and the responsibility of caring for you) onto me. I realize that now, and I apologize for that. Some of that seething temper, though, was always in me, and it took this wrenching change to get me to address it. That rage radiated onto Eliza, whom I had owned from the beginning. It’s said that pets take on the personalities of their owners; I believe it, to a degree. So she was an ornery, adorable, maddening cuss of a cat. You tried to love her, crowding into her personal space long after I’d warned you about that. She swatted you and hissed at you. You kept on loving her, trying to sleep next to her, and lick her head until she ultimately gave in. So, thankfully, it was too late for me to infect you with my bitterness. You were sweet, docile, affectionate, an attention hog, and none too bright. And so, through loving you and caring for you, I became sweeter, (a little) milder, (a little) more touchy-feely, a lot more in tune with my needs, and a lot more willing to admit to the universe of things I don’t know. You changed me for the better, and for that I’ll always be grateful.
In my lap, at the vet, I tried to tell you all this. You were racked by the agonies of late-stage kidney failure, a urinary tract infection, and the anemia that siphoned the energy out of your muscles. Dr. Howard said you had a seizure early that afternoon. And she had just given you a sedative, in advance of injecting the poison that would euthanize you. So. as always, I’m not sure how much you understood. I hope that my caresses, my singing to you, and my voice conveyed everything that my actual words could not.
Language is a bitch. It has been since the Tower of Babel. I hope that, now that you have passed beyond your pain and the vet’s office (as warm and inviting as that place is to me, it must have been nightmarish to you), you can understand my language. It’s the only one I know. Here’s what I tried to tell you of cat heaven, there at the end, as you were fading away.
It’s your version of the hobo’s Big Rock Candy Mountain. In Cat Heaven, there’s fresh canned tuna marinating in rivers of fresh, salty brine. There’s salmon, swordfish, sturgeon, caviar, roe, trout, and bass in piles everywhere, but there’s no foul smell and it’s all cut in bite-sized chunks. Your teeth will be restored, even the front fangs you lost as a teenager. Your breath will (finally) smell sweet. Under every tree is a wire brush for backscratches; in every home is a warm lap and a soft hand. There are strings, with ceiling-fan bells attached, made especially with the bounce and clatter you love in your playthings. Every fountain bubbles over with fresh, sweet, warm cream. There’s even buttermilk. There are ponds upon ponds of chilled water, complete with ice cubes that you can nudge and bump together with your nose. All the cats there love you and want you to sleep on them. The grass has the perfect springiness for high jumps and the moist soil allows you to knead it like dough to your heart’s content. Quiet, dry hideyholes lie beckoning for you to enter them, and they all have perfumed linens and cotton t-shirts to sleep on. Every day, your excess white fur and dandruff gets brushed away lovingly, and you’ll never have to shampoo again. Fleas do not exist in Cat Heaven. Neither does pain, nor mean vets, nor negligent owners, nor death. Eliza is already there, as is Henry. They’re waiting for you, and they long for you, just as I now do.
Welcome to the next step. You deserve it. You are loved. You will always be loved.
With all best wishes,