The blanket’s still there on the ledge that overlooks the backyard. It was important to have it there, a vital final resting place.
In 1997, on the advice from a friend to replace a bad memory with a good one, my wife got two cats. Initially she wanted just one but due to her hectic schedule working for a TV station the idea was for the cats to have companionship. She got a brother and sister, Sting and Trudie. When I met the three of them, Trudie was near her end, a liver disease. It was then that I decided that I wanted “our” cat.
We went to a local shelter and made an easy choice. That little grey kitten attached itself to me almost immediately. When we got back to the house he climbed on top of my Titans hat, and as a bit of an introduction, he pooped on me.
We named him Chewie, code named Chewbastank, Chewcifer, Chewbisque and other variants. Due to his brother’s dominant ways he mainly hid under the nightstand while we lived at the tiny condo. On the first night at the new house, he walked into each new room and meowed loudly, a sign that a quiet personality had transformed in a new location. He loved the ledge where he could look into the backyard, and the screened-in porch in which he could have showdowns with the yard cats.
In December we had to put his brother to sleep. It was painful but we had someone waiting for us at home. Chewie, the kitten with the big paws, had grown to 17 pounds at his maximum. He was going on 12 years old and we assumed we had many years left. I felt his spine and tail bone while petting, a sure sign that he was shrinking. He loved harassing his poor brother at meal times and I think it wasn’t the same when he was alone. We started taking him to the vet for various maladies, and each time he seemed less enthusiastic. He’d have loud conversations with Alison, but over time his voice grew quieter. Chewie still would continue with his daily duties, including waking me up for breakfast, usually coming back immediately after I poured the food either because he forgot or it was fun.
We knew it was going to be bad. On Wednesday, he fell down the stairs we installed for him to get into our bed. When he walked, he wobbled. There was a growth on his back left leg. That night we locked him in the guest bedroom to limit his movements and of course when I got up to go to the bathroom he made his escape, rushing upstairs and hiding under a bed. It was his last great rush of energy.
On Thursday night, I slept next to him on the downstairs couch. On Friday, the three of us were on the couch and by the morning it was Alison and Chewie on the floor, cuddling together. He could barely meow but his purr, that deep, loud purr that’s quite possibly the greatest sound of them all, continued. Lymphoma was the word we heard from the vet who took a blood sample from the growth.
We had to make a hard choice. Our regular vets weren’t available so we got a housecall from one who was on the road.
I’ve been present for three cats being put to sleep. When it was Trudie, the vet ushered us out of the room, did the business and when we came back in she was gone. It was just a lump of fur. With Sting, Alison held him in her arms as the vet injected the sedative and then the medicine. The transition was instantaneous, and the vet’s assistant moved the body out of the room before we had much time to process.
Yesterday, we witnessed the saddest transformation of them all. There was one injection, a wait, then another, and then nothing at all. She left us alone with him, or the shell of what he used to be until we asked her to come back.
For the first time since 2003 for me and 1997 for Alison, we’re without a cat. We’re going to hear and see ghosts for a while. At any moment we’re going to hear him rush into the bed clutching a toy in his mouth, or he’s going to climb aboard and start kneading on Alison while she sleeps, or somehow glues his body to my backside while I’m sleeping.
12 years together feels like a rip off. When you feel the love of anyone, be it furry or human, there’s never going to be enough time. Make the most of it.