A few years ago, our cat died. She was one of those unfortunate pets caught in that nation-wide cat-food poisoning. Her old-age probably had something to do with her being stricken so quickly, and please don’t think me unfeeling, but once I’d “Googled” the prognosis, I decided to let nature (or criminal neglect) take its course.
Her name was Jet. That was her real name, but I’m not sure that’s the one we used the most. CAT! or Devil! or Scram! @?#$@! were some of the kinder names. Little Itty Bitty Kitty was my affectionate name for her, but a whole myriad of epithets would accompany her naughty deeds. She wasn’t a chosen pet, like Arlo, our dog. We didn’t rescue her from the pound or even find her on our porch. She was the product of a Madison County sibling barn-cat union (nuf said?) that my brother foisted upon us under the guise of gift for my younger son’s birthday. This is the son who’d recently moved out and left his cat behind.
When Jet was a baby, she’d play fetch and chase and was nearly puppy-like in her behavior, so much so that it made us want to get a puppy, so we did, and she quit fetching and chasing since it was obviously a dog’s job. She wasn’t wild about Arlo from the start, and from the moment he arrived, she didn’t set foot on the floor again – ever. She’d jump from cupboard to countertop to refrigerator to dining table with nary a paw to pavement. When no one was looking, every now and then, we’d find her sprawled – ala Marilyn Monroe - basking in a sunspot on a window sill or table, but never again the floor. At night it was easy to love her, because she’d come sit on my lap and knead my belly till she tucked in, and we’d both fall asleep. Otherwise, she’d spend her days thinking up ways to show years’ worth of displeasure at being displaced by a dog.
She’d figured out how to open the cabinet and shred the cat food bag when she was hungry or for spite, it was never clear. She’d sit beside the water tap and meow until someone would turn it on, and she’d drink till she was done, or just sit till she was done watching it. When Arlo passed by, she’d swipe at his nose or ear and he’d whine, but never dare reciprocate.
As she got older, meaner, crazier, she’d find things to be mad about (we never knew what they were) but late into an evening she’d go Kamikaze and slap stemware and glasses on table and counter tops to their shattered demise below. A full-laundry basket, open gym-bag, or even a jacket left rumpled on a chair was an invitation to pee.
Once, my son, a nurse, opened a dryer full of clean scrubs and before he knew what was happening, she’d jumped in – pissed on everything – and jumped back out. After such antics she could be found, boldly, right out in public, grooming, quite pleased with herself. I tried not to cross her. Prepared her favorite meals, turned on the tap as soon as she landed at the sink, gave up my spot on the couch.
But then, the worst offense, its provocation we’ll never know, perhaps the litter box wasn’t clean enough, no matter, when she’d started scratching the side of the leather couch I’d purchased with my first royalties’ check from the publication of my first book, I went bonkers. I sprayed Bitter Apple, squirted her with a water-gun, shook pennies in a tin when catching her in the act– to no avail. If the scarred leather wasn’t enough, one morning as I watched her watching me, she squatted and pissed right on the center cushion.
I began fantasizing about the farm where I’d dreamed of dropping her off…
But she was old, and then my son moved away, as sons will, tricking me into keeping his cat, “until he got settled.” Yeah, right.
One Sunday morning, rather than greeting me for her usual slurp at the water tap, Jet was meowing downstairs. She didn’t come when I called, so I went after her. When I picked her up, I was startled because she felt suddenly and strangely lighter – as if she’d dropped twenty pounds overnight (if only this could happen!). Her fur appeared ruffled and damp, her nose was runny, and she couldn’t walk. Arlo became obviously distraught; sniff ing and pawing her, whining to me, then repeat it all over again.
She made it through the day, but without food or water or relieving herself. The next morning, she lay panting, barely alive, on the pillow. Since it was warm, I brought her outside where she basked (or languished) in the sun. I watched and followed as she crawled up the side yard and tried to creep under the back porch.
I knew what was happening, I’d witnessed it with another (beloved) cat years before, who’d made his way to the woods to die. Animals like to die alone in nature - I understand this – so would I. But, I didn’t have the heart, couldn’t bear it myself ,to leave my Little Itty Bitty Kitty under the dark deck in the wet leaves, to die alone, and so I carried her back to her pillow inside, instead.
I called her boy, my son, who’d abandoned us – me and the cat – to each other. I told him I thought she was dying, and so he left his busy life, and came home to say goodbye: to her, to me, to his childhood and home, to all that mattered, and not, somehow, in the significance of the moment. We cried together, me and my boy, over a cat we had not chosen, nor liked very much, but with whom we’d shared a life.
Before bedtime, I visited Jet one last time on her pillow. She was barely breathing, but she did open her eyes when I stroked her stiff fur. I whispered “It’s okay to let go,” and soon she did, and then so could I.
I didn’t think I’d feel as sad as I do. I didn’t think I’d miss her at all – to be honest. But sometimes a missing cat is more noticeable than one who pisses on everything; you wouldn’t think so, but it’s true.
I buried her in the garden under the jungle-gym of the boy who would sit on the top of the monkey bars, face turned to the pink-ribboned sky, scabby knees hunched to his chin, bright eyes gazing past mountains and mist, birds and clouds, above and beyond the sinking sun itself, imagining his world orbiting through stars and moons, a comet high-tailing it to other galaxies where I only imagine his imagining goes, and who, like the cat, is more noticeable missing than here.
Causes Cynn Chadwick Supports
Human Rights Campaign, PFLAG, American Cancer Society, NPR, Humane Society.