I’m not sure I necessarily ascribe to the stock summary statement that “everything happens for a reason.” I think some people say this when they don’t know what else to say... when, clearly, there’s no apparently evident reason to be found. These are situations where folks are fishing to create meaning out of circumstances that seem otherwise meaningless, or to find appropriate words where there are none. I believe the general notion is to assign some sort of grander purpose, perhaps attributed to the larger picture as seen by some higher power, or that we might find peace and understanding after the fact, through the veil of hindsight. You know, farther along, by and by, and all that sorta stuff.
It might be a bit of a stretch, at best.
To be honest, I think much of what goes on in the world is probably running off the rails on a crazy train, and a fair portion of it could be simply random. But, as sentient beings, we aren’t content to just leave it there... we need everything to make more sense than that. Maybe it just doesn’t. Though, if that’s true, then aren’t we merely ants in some sort of grandiose glass farm, racing about our busy lives, keeping ourselves just over-occupied enough to distract each other from the impending doom of death?
Whoops... didn’t mean to turn into Morrisey there for a moment; sorry about that.
All right, so, that’s an admittedly entirely disturbing and wholly defeatist sentiment. Then again, maybe there is value in finding meaning after all… maybe everything does happen for a reason, and I just don’t get what the reason is right now. (That, and, I’m also not willing to drive myself nuts trying to figure it out. I’ve got enough elements of my life that will take me there already, thankyouverymuch.)
Yet, even so, I will admit, in most any life, there are moments that one can look back upon, forever appreciating an experience entirely as a catalyst to achieve some greater function recognized more accurately on some far flung latter date. Such is the case for me with a job I once held for only 9 days.
Not to say that this is the only epiphany of such clarity I’ve come across, mind you... Oh, I’ve got plenty of areas like that in my life, to be sure, actually. The truth is, while not necessarily putting much weight to the old pat standby, still, in fact I’ve gotten plenty good over the years at seeing the bigger picture of how events in life work together for the greater whole; not only afterwards, but sometimes even during and occasionally before a life changing occurrence. (Though it’s also quite possible I’m just unreasonably well exercised in rationalizing, in which case, you might could just take everything I say from here on out with a grain of salt.)
But, no, this is not a story about any of those other occasions. Perhaps some of them will be told on some other day. This is a story of the short lived burst of miserable employment that got me a car, and an unexpected game of telephone that got me a cat. Two years later, the car, nothing but a lemon from the moment it came off the lot, would very nearly kill me, and change my life forever, in a way that’s resulted in a profound permanent adjustment I won’t bother to give any focus to today. But, the cat, on the other hand, is a different matter entirely. And some things are well worth the price that must be paid.
Two weeks earlier, I’d been working towards finalizing a deal on a used car. It was going to be my first adult vehicle purchased on financed terms. I was only a few months into my cohabitation with Liam, after having accidentally moved in with him, so that was still fresh. (If you’ve been here before, you may remember Liam from previous stories, though the history of our inadvertent living situation has yet to be told... stay tuned to future episodes for its potential appearance.) From my studio apartment in downtown, my job was only 6 blocks away, and I walked there every day. But from his place in Andover (15 miles out from the city), the commute was considerably more substantial, and his antiquated beater started showing signs of not being up to the challenge fairly quickly. We carpooled together daily, but were rapidly moving towards going to be in need of more reliable transportation. His credit made buying another car out of the question, so, since I had neither an ex-wife who’d ruined me financially, nor any wheels of my own, that responsibility fell to me.
Everything was coming together fine, until my company lost a major account, and had to layoff 25% of its workforce. Having only worked there 9 months, I fell victim to the standard corporate downsizing policy: Last in, First out. Hello job hunt, goodbye car deal. I was fortunate, though. I was in a very specialized field of a specialized industry (Broadcast Advertising Auditing). Let go on Tuesday, hired to a competitor’s media buying house on Wednesday, working again on Thursday, driving my new (to me) car by Friday.
Man, I wish things were still that simple. (Did I mention this was 15 years ago?)
Anyway, reminiscence of a more stable economy aside, on my second day at the new job, I was involved in a phone conversation with Liam at my workstation (one of several... Liam worked a very boring and lonely job that kept him constantly jabbering at me throughout the workday) while my nearest cube neighbor was talking to her boyfriend. I don’t remember what he and I were casually chatting about that afternoon... I imagine I might have been only half-listening, as I often was while I was working and he was pretending to. It might have been only as mundane as what we were going to make for dinner, but it’s reasonable to imagine that some discussion of our home life might have come up, and with a household of 2 teenagers, 2 giant dogs, and 5 cats (yes, that’s right, I said FIVE... I had one, he had FOUR), it’s also a fair assumption that something my work neighbor managed to unintentionally eavesdrop might have clued her in to the fact that I shared quarters with feline friends. I can only suspect that it was that suspicion of hers, and not some hopeless random stab in the dark, which prompted her to suddenly put her hand over the speaker on her phone, and say directly to me,
“Say, do you want a cat?”
Naturally, I just burst out laughing.
Liam, not being in on the joke, asked what was going on. I told him the gal next to me had just asked if I wanted a cat. Of course, he was pretty amused, too. Also not being in the joke, though, she had no idea what we both found so funny, and apparently took it as a promising sign, so she continued to give more information about the cat.
“There’s something wrong with him, I don’t remember what, but my dad says we can’t keep him. I think he’s blind or something,” she explained.
“She says she thinks the cat might be blind,” I relayed to Liam, I’ve no idea why.
“A blind cat?” he huffed. “What the hell do you do with a blind cat? How does it find its food? How does it know where to shit?”
My work neighbor continued.
“My dad is worried he’ll be killed out at our place,” she went on. “…that he can’t fend for himself. I kinda like the little guy, and I just want him to have a good home. He’s really sweet, but our cats aren’t indoor cats, and he’s not safe outside, and my dad won’t make an exception, even in this case. He’s really sweet, though.”
“Yes, you mentioned that part," I replied, flatly.
By this point my attention (and thereby the phone receiver) was directed toward her, and she was speaking right at both of us, so that time, Liam had heard everything himself.
“Ask her if the cat is all white,” he said into the phone.
“My boyfriend wants to know if the cat is all white,” I told her.
“Well, yeah, actually,” she responded, a bit surprised.
“And it’s a male?” he queried further.
“She said that already,” I answered back to him. “She referred to it as him, remember?”
“Oh yeah. Does it have blue eyes?” he probed.
“He’s wondering if the cat has blue eyes?” I passed along the grapevine.
“I’m not totally certain,” she frowned, “but, you know, now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure he does.”
“Yes,” I told Liam.
“Tell her she’s an idiot.”
“Yes, because she’s a moron. The cat’s not blind, it’s deaf. All male cats with white fur and blue eyes are deaf. It’s a genetic flaw that runs in American shorthair lines.”
“Is it possible the cat is deaf?” I asked my coworker.
“Oh, THAT’s it!,” she brightened, happy to have stumbled across an accurate description, then frowned, puzzled. “How did you know?”
I explained the genetic abnormality. Liam was still listening on the end of my line, apparently with not nearly enough to do during the day.
“I want that cat,” he broke in.
“What?!!” I stammered. “Again, NO! HELL, no!” I insisted.
“Hey, it’s MY house,” he responded, calmly. Liam was always annoyingly calm. “You going to try to tell me what animals I should or shouldn’t allow to live in my house?”
I turned back to my cube-mate on the phone.
“He says we’ll take the cat,” I smiled, sweetly.
I got details to her place, sorted out logistics, and said goodnight.
After work, we were taking delivery on the car my letter of employment from this job had sealed the deal for, and Liam drove us home in it. He needed a car, and I’d bought us one. On Saturday, we were going down to the girl’s country home to pick up the cat. I’d made a deal with Liam that _I_ was going to drive _MY_ car there. I bought the thing. I’d shopped for it, I’d chosen it, I’d worked the deal, I made it happen.
He made no argument.
I told him he could drive it back on the way home.
He protested that I just wanted to bond with the cat on the way home.
I made no argument, but smiled wryly.
Holy cow, though, she really wasn’t kidding. She lived WAY out in the boondocks. It took us nearly two hours to get there. (How crazy is it to make that kind of commute on a daily basis for that kind of a job???)
When we arrived, after just a little bit of getting turned around, and having to make a couple phone calls to be certain we were in the right place (country roads can be so poorly labeled!), we parked on the circular gravel drive next to a century-old whitewashed wooden farmhouse, apparently plucked right out of a Normal Rockwell painting. They were expecting us, and as we approached, the screen door off a three season wraparound front porch opened, and an older, salt-of-the-earth white-haired gentleman in plaid flannel and denim overalls came out to us with a blinking bundle of white fuzz, followed by the girl I worked with. Wordlessly, he transferred the sleepy ball of fur into my arms.
From the moment I held this tiny creature for the first time, he was purring. Barely awake, I’m fairly certain he’d been scooped up out of a deep sleep, and had probably been purring in his sleep. He was blinking in the bright light, and seemed a little confused, but wholly cozy and secure, completely content in his surroundings, like being passed off to a total stranger was the most natural thing in the world.
The man told us that most of the cats around his farm were barn cats, mousers. He explained they didn’t really have the money to feed them all with regular cat food, and left them to fend for themselves to eat what they could hunt from outside. The barn gave them a safe, warm place to sleep in the winter, a dry space in the summer, and all the water they could ever want to drink all year round. It was a pretty good symbiotic relationship for all parties involved, until this one showed up in the last litter, just about 4 months ago. He was pretty sure the little guy could hold his own catching rodents and other scavenging critters, but he worried that he’d get run over by a car because he couldn’t hear it coming, or get kicked by a mule he didn’t know was there, or be otherwise greviously injured in any number of potentially hazardous conditions. They’d been keeping him in the house since he was born, but, not having any cat food, he’d been eating a combination of dog food and table scraps. The old man just wanted someone who’d love this wee critter to take him home and give him a good, safe, quiet life. My heart went out to the old guy. Clearly, he was a good egg. But, I hardly heard anything else he said over my total distraction by the motorcycle rumbling in my arms.
The ride home was a long one. I held the sleepy, half-purring / half-snoring fuzzbucket on my lap for about the first 15 minutes. I’d have held him the entire way, but, MAN, you’ve never smelled such a stench!!! How could one itty bitty little thing create an odor quite so huge???!! I can’t tell you how grateful I was my new motorized purchase came with an electronic sunroof. We drove the rest of the route with all FIVE windows all the way open, and I passed him onto the back seat, where he happily curled up into a sleeping, sheeping ball of noxious fumes, grinning in his quiet doze as he filled the car with a thick green cloud of rank, rotten vapors. Even with the whiffle ball effect of a wind tunnel whipping around inside the cabin, Liam and I could barely breathe the whole way home.
“That’s it,” he told me, halfway there. “That cat is officially YOURS.”
I don’t know if his plan had really been all along to get me another cat of my own. I already had one, who was trying to adjust to going from a life of just the two of us in my apartment to his 4 bedroom, 2 bath, bi-level house full of 4 OTHER cats, but, she was still something of an outsider there. He said he’d met another deaf cat once before like this one, and thought it was pretty cool. It was his brother’s cat, and for the longest time, his brother had thought it was singularly the dumbest beast on God’s green planet. He’d come home with groceries and the cat would be sleeping underfoot in the middle of the hall, but wouldn’t even bother with any attempt to move, no matter how much he yelled. Liam had been delighted to tell his brother that HE was a moron, then, too. His brother understood after some drilling that the cat couldn’t hear him no matter how much he hollered, but never got over the grudge he felt against it for its previously supposed mental deficiency. That was why Liam had said he wanted the cat, anyway, but he didn’t seem too bothered to give up entirely fairly quickly on the idea of having this one all to himself. Liam explained that regular cat food would normalize the little one’s digestive system, as it contained specialized enzymes designed for cats, so, I guess he wasn’t really worried that much about a giant odor being a permanent imposition, after all.
I might have been a little perturbed to have realized I’d been expertly manipulated (Liam was good at pulling that sort of thing off... I was significantly younger, and he was clever, and charming... did I mention he got me to accidentally move in with him?), except that, when the “manipulation” gets you something so adorable and so precious (despite the horrid stink), how can you really complain? Liam still put up a mock fuss for a while about me “stealing” his cat from him by manipulating him so that I was the one who bonded with our newest pet, but, the truth was, that little bugger loved everyone. He’d have just as easily happily imprinted on the next “hugger” to come along. So, no, I hadn’t stolen him. I think he just become my cat the moment I held him, and Liam saw a light in my eyes that reflected the shining sparkle in that beautiful, tiny furred face. I’m pretty sure that was a radiant brilliance Liam was never willing to let become distinguished.
During the car ride, we discussed names. I wanted something that spoke to his color, but also to his quiet charm, and his playful, simultaneously endearing and off-putting nature. Liam suggested Spook. I regretted that I hadn’t thought of it myself, but admitted it was perfect. I looked in the back seat at this small, cute, putrid thing.
“Are you my Spook?” I asked him. He responded with another soundless cloud of air pollution, a silent smirk on his sleeping face. And from that moment on, he was.
Life in Liam’s house was quite a handful, 6 cats being only one relatively small portion of the chaos encompassing the entire horde that resided there. But Spook soon proved himself to be something special, unique, and extraordinary. He wasn’t scared of anything. Truly, this cat had NO FEAR. I suppose, if you’re an animal, not normally prey, and you can’t hear what’s coming, really, what in the world is there to be bothered by?
Most cats hate the vacuum cleaner.
Not Spook. If he noticed it at all, he simply found the motion mesmerizing, and could watch it for hours, sometimes even following it around, occasionally batting at it playfully.
Most cats are finicky about affection. They want it on their terms, and you’re lucky if they bother to define those terms for you before you get bit.
Not Spook. I’ve yet to in my life meet another domestic animal who _NEVER_ didn’t want to be held. There was never any time limit, either, on how long he’d want you to hold him. You’d pretty much have to give up because he’d gotten too heavy, because you had something else to do, or because you’d fallen asleep. And sitting in your lap… yes, please. Was there any place better under the sun? It was his favorite place to sleep, but he’d eat there, screw there, pee and poop there, too, if you'd let him, and he could only figure out how. He didn’t care a thing about your personal privacy, either. He’d hop onto your lap while you were sitting on the toilet. And why not? You were a captive audience. You weren’t going anywhere. You HAD to pet him!
Most cats are leery of other new cats invading their space.
Not Spook. Anything with four legs, whiskers and a tail was an instant friend.
These are just a few of the standout areas that made him such a rare gem. He had so many odd quirks, and bizarre behaviors, too. For example, one weird habit was his spitball fetish. He would sit on the edge of a table, with his haunches on the corner of a newspaper section (or any kind of paper would do in a pinch, so you’d have to be careful not to leave anything important lying around), using his butt as a weight to hold it down, and the greater portion of the paper hanging off the edge of the table. Then he'd tear into the dangling edge with his teeth, throw his head way back to toss the chewed, torn bits high up into the air, and lick his lips and flick his tail while he watched them fall, twirling, all the way to the ground. Then he'd do it again with the next piece, giddy with glee. Crazy, goofy weirdo. It really didn't take that much to entertain him.
What was surprising to me was how often people I’d encounter, upon learning that I shared my home with a deaf cat, would respond with a sympathetic reaction of, “Awwww,” as if there was somehow something wrong with this situation. This never made any sense to me. Who were they feeling sorry for? Me? Uhm, no, thanks. Spook was the coolest cat – no, the coolest animal in the world to me. Him??? Well, pssshhhh…. that’s just ridiculous. I’d carefully explain (in slow and deliberate terms, so they’d be able to understand me better), that Spook didn’t KNOW he was deaf. He had no concept of sound! His life was not diminished in any way. If anything, he was more free, more liberated than many other cats. Some people appreciated that enlightening revelation; others just never quite got it.
Having no concept of sound, though, I was often amazed at how much he did seem to pick up on without hearing. It never ceased to blow my mind that if I ever found myself in a position where I was downhearted to the point of shedding tears (which really doesn’t happen all that often, I might add, so it’s a wonder he could manage to be so damn consistent about it), it wasn’t long before I found myself clutching wet clumps of saline-soaked white fur, and would look down to discover my precious little angel had snuck onto me and curled up in my lap, quietly purring and “kneading” my flesh methodically with his soft paws. Because, who doesn’t need a cat massage and a cat tissue when you’re sad enough to cry? Perhaps it was all entirely ulterior motivation on his part, though, as my instant reaction was always to scoop him up and smother him with loves and kisses like I planned to call him George.
Hmmm... two birds with one stone. Score one for the Spookmeister, that mischievous little devil.
Another sometimes comical and occasionally aggravating side effect of living with a pet that has no concept of sound was his reaction to his own vocal chords. He would sometimes wander around the house opening and closing his mouth like he’d seen other cats do, not realizing they were making noise and he wasn’t. It was pretty hysterical to watch. I’d tease him, and get into mock conversations with him, wondering what he was thinking we were discussing. Which isn’t to say that Spook was a mute. No, quite far from it, actually. He had a rather distinct, and periodically loud sound, not unlike the wild toms caterwauling on back alley fences. And, unfortunately for household sleeping patterns, the times he usually chose to exercise his vocal talent was generally in line with alley cat serenades. He’d wander around the house at three in the morning, exploring the entire place room by room, screaming at the top of his lungs, for no apparent reason, not really even aware he was making any noise, until I’d drag my tired ass out of bed and find him (not that it was very hard), scoop him up and carry him back to bed with me, where he’d spend the rest of the night asleep at my feet, purring. Once again, I suspect, mission accomplished.
Well played, Spook. Well played.
His inability to hear did give me cause for alarm at times, though. If ever I was in an apartment and couldn’t find him, I’d freak out, imagining he might have at some point slipped out the door while I was coming in, and was wandering the halls, or had disappeared out the exterior exit with another tenant. Ridiculous, I know, but a worried pet owner can conjure all sorts of terrible potential atrocities at the height of a frantic, fear induced frenzy. Inevitably, though, he’d be comfy and secure in some completely irrational space that I never could have even imagined he’d be capable of getting into, like the INSIDE OF MY KITCHEN CUPBOARDS, or the SECOND BRANCH DOWN FROM THE TOP OF MY CHRISTMAS TREE. I know, I know, hard to miss, you might think, but, really, who remembers to look 7 feet up in the air when missing a cat?? After a while, though, I got into the habit of checking there first, ultimately figuring out there was almost nothing he couldn’t do. He’d always be sitting there quiet and still, blinking noiselessly, completely unaware that he’d just cost me a year off the end of my life. I’d be so relieved to find him, though, heart racing, out of breath, and sick with worry. He’d just be half asleep, looking calmly back at me as if to say, “What?” I’d suddenly pounce on him, my kisses and snuggles turning him into my own personal fuzzy white stress toy, all the while he’d just quietly purr, eyes closed, head-butt zone rubbing against my cheek, once again, getting exactly everything he ever wanted, without even bothering to try.
Spook tactics strikes again.
In August of 2008, Spook developed a kitty cold. No big deal, really; I had lots of cats go through upper respiratory issues from time to time. It was all part of the package of being a cat owner. Change kitty litter, pick up hacked up furballs, wipe snotty noses, rub gunk out of weepy eyes. Just dirty, cuddly, 4 legged kids with fur, really.
Except this cold was different.
It wasn’t Spook’s nose that was runny… it was his forehead. A big poofy swollen ball had built up on the top of his head, just above the bridge of his nose between his eyes. You could touch it and squish it, and it would bounce back, like a fever blister on a big toe. He didn’t seem to mind, though. He didn’t recoil in pain. He didn’t react in frustration. He never even stopped purring. (Seriously… this cat pretty much NEVER stopped purring. Like, EVER.) I watched it for a few days, not knowing what to make of it. Called the vet, they confirmed my suspicion that it was probably just a minor cold, mucus membranes building up in a somewhat unusual, but not entirely unheard of place, and it would likely pass with the continuing change of season. They didn’t seem inclined to have me bring him in right away, but told me to keep an eye on it, and maybe give it some steam in a closed bathroom with a hot shower going. Luckily, Spook wasn’t afraid of ANYTHING, so even that environment didn’t bother him.
Things went on like that for a while. His head would swell up, and I’d wipe it down, keeping his nose and his eyes clear as normal ear-nose-and-throat passages that should allow the buildup to drain into, and steam it down in the shower as best as possible. Weeks, months passed. He never cared. It didn’t seem to phase him one bit. Then, one day, the puff ball of infection broke open. The buildup had just gotten too full and had nowhere else to go. The skin over the apex of it ruptured in a tiny spot, and green gunk poured out like ectoplasmic goo, leaked from the top of his head through a pin-sized hole. Still, he couldn’t give a rat’s patoot. Made NO difference to him whatsoever. The vet told me to keep it clean, warm, and moistened. I made a nightly ritual of rubbing it down with a warm wet washcloth. This, actually, did cause him some distress. He reacted by balking and trying to back out of it, the way a 4-year-old does to having Mom wipe her spit on his face with a napkin to get the dinge off. Except, I wasn’t wiping away dirt. I was clearing out an aggressive infection.
It was sometimes a chore to stay ahead of the buildup. Eventually, I got to soaking him in a warm tub with me, even on the vet’s recommendation bought a small gage syringe to help lance the fluid, pressing it out and flattening the growth down, while the open wound continued to expand. If ever he’d given me any indication that any of this caused him anything but minor irritation, if ever he seemed to have been feeling pain, I could never have gone through with it. But, outside of being frustrated that I was keeping him from playing, or pooping, or eating or napping, he never even cared.
Some time later I realized through one of the routine exercises of this process, that while pressing out green goo, I could feel broken shards of bone underneath the hole in his head. The infection was attacking his skeletal system. His SKULL was ERODING. Shortly thereafter, his failing bone structure altered the foundation of his head. His FACE started to sag, and pretty much began to fall off. One eye drooped to almost completely closed; you could see the pink interior under his eyeball on the bottom side of it, and his nose became permanently crooked, like one side of it hung off his nasal cavity. He couldn’t see out one eye, and he could only breathe through one nostril. The vet had no answers. They had no idea what he actually had, and even expensive diagnostic tests wouldn’t have given me any more information. There was no precedent for this. The best they could come up with was maybe some rare form of bone cancer. And, even if I could have afforded it, there really wasn’t anything to be done. What surgery would open up his head and knit it back together, while avoiding inflicting permanent brain damage, and still maintaining any quality of life?
Yet, still, he continued to be the happiest cat I’d ever known. His appetite never faltered. His quirky, playful attitude never changed. His affectionate nature never waivered.
But I knew what was coming. I knew, no matter how he reacted, it was only a matter of time. It had been nearly a year and a half since the first puff of gunk-filled fur had grown up from out of the top of his head, and slowly, over months of minor adjustments, we’d progressed to this level. How long before this violent destruction would tear apart his skull completely, and reach into his brain? From there, it was going to go very badly, very quickly.
I had a hard decision to make.
I thought of all the moments of happiness he’d blessed my life with over the years he’d been with me, and I felt cheated. The last cat I’d loved and lost had left me at 22. Yes, that’s right, I said he was TWENTY-TWO years old. Spook was only a few weeks shy of ELEVEN. It seemed so unfair. But I imagined the intense and terrible suffering that was only weeks, perhaps even merely days in front of him. I couldn’t let him go through that. From the moment I’d known him, he’d never brought me anything but immeasurable joy. How could I let him end his life in torment?
I made an appointment to bring him in to see my vet. It was an appointment to do the kindest thing, but she agreed to meet with him first, and review all our options with as many considerations as there might be available to us.
When we made it to the examination room, I put Spook down and let him wander around the room. It was incredibly small, and I trusted him. He wanted to explore. He didn’t complain. He loved car rides, and checking out new places. Everything is an adventure when you have no fear.
When Dr. Sharon came in, he was still sniffing corners, tail straight up in the air, twitching in feline curiosity. All with a half-drooped face. She picked him up to put him on the table, saying,
“All right, then, fella, let’s have a look at you.”
He happily started purring, and head-butted her hands, playfully trying to force her to pet him and give him scratches. He rolled over and exposed his belly when she tried listening to his heart.
Dr. Sharon was astounded.
She’d seen beloved family pets in pain and distress every day for her entire career. It was her job to see them at their worst, and still give them the benefit of the doubt, knowing they were probably pretty decent, well behaved, loving, gentle animals when they weren’t miserable, hurting or scared out of their minds. But, this... THIS was something she’d NEVER seen before. Here was a cat who quite visibly SHOULD have been experiencing the most intense and extreme torture, but who couldn’t even be bothered to acknowledge anything was the least bit wrong at all. And, not only that, but, even in this condition, he was every bit like you’d expect him to be at home. Dr. Sharon couldn’t contain her amazement.
“This is an awesome cat,” she told me. I couldn’t help but grin.
“Ain’t he, though?” I beamed.
She shook her head like she wasn’t sure I’d truly understood her.
“No, SERIOUSLY,” she emphasized. “I MEAN it. This is an AWESOME cat.”
I nodded earnestly, choking back tears.
“I know,” I managed to squeak out, barely above a whisper. “I really do. He really, really is.”
Dr. Sharon didn’t know specifically what was wrong with Spook, and she knew that no one would, in great detail, but she also knew, like me, that whatever it was, there would be no stopping it, and it was only going to get very ugly. She respected my decision, and told me she wished more pet owners would be capable of making it, rather than drawing out the inevitable, condemning their cherished household animals to endure their last days in agony because they selfishly weren’t ready to let go. She told me this, but also confided in me that she, herself, had not been able to follow through when the time came to put down her own horse; even had to have someone else do it, and couldn’t be there to watch. So, on the other hand, she wanted me to know she’d be just as understanding if I didn’t go through with it that day. After all, he was in great spirits, he was still eating, he was still behaving normally... his quality of life hadn’t changed a bit. Not a single bit.
And that logic worked for me. Quality of life was still part of the equation, after all. I’d never felt a moment of heartache over Spook’s presence in my life, and I never wanted him to feel a moment of the kind of pain that was bearing down on him, almost faster than I could catch my breath. Not a moment of it. But, still... I didn’t want to shorten his time unnecessarily, either, if I could help it. So where was the balance? How could I know? I’d struggled with the question, but the Doctor helped me to sort through it. We agreed that as long as everything stayed status quo with him, we’d just put it off until it became obvious it would be necessary. But we went ahead and scheduled another appointment, anyway, just in case, one week later, same bat time, same bat channel. She wouldn’t even charge me for the visit.
When the next week came, the situation was pretty much the same. Spook was his usual, chipper, playful self, and Dr. Sharon was just as incredulous at his demeanor. Things went on like that, a week at a time. I began to wonder if Doctor Sharon scheduled these non-billed recurring visits just so she could hang out with this truly awesome cat.
But, on the 4th week, the night before our regularly scheduled date, Spook wandered through the house, and came downstairs to find me at my desk, where I would usually be on my computer around that time of night. Only, he’d never been downstairs in that house. At all. Ever.
Something was terribly wrong.
His head was twitching in a repetitive motion, jerking, uncontrolled. He seemed quite unsettled by it, and cried a little, barely, but otherwise didn’t say much. It was well after hours at the vet’s office. I gathered him up into my lap and tried to comfort him, quickly getting on the phone to try and find an emergency service that could perform the kindness he was begging for in the middle of the night.
But it was Thursday night, my direct deposit didn’t hit until the next morning, there wasn’t a one among them that would take a check, and I couldn’t cover it with what was in my account at the time. I left a desperate message for Dr. Sharon, begging her to bump our regular 11am visit back to as soon as they opened, as soon as we could get in. Then I took him upstairs, and took him into bed with me, curled him up next to me, quietly whispering my message of love into his unhearing ears, softly vibrating my kisses into the steady rise and fall of his breathing, gently stroking my love for him down the length of his back, from his neck to his tail, until he calmed and fell asleep. I listened to his subtle snore, wordlessly praying that God would be merciful to this creature, His sparrow, His lily of the field, who’d never harmed a living being, and give him peace to get through this night, until I could do what I had to do.
When morning came, Spook woke up normally, ready to face this day like it was any other, pretending like nothing had happened, blissfully devoid of any memory about the frightening handful of moments from the night before. But I had not forgotten. I knew what he’d given me, on this, his final night. He’d let me know, he was ready to go, and he’d said goodbye.
I carried him to Dr. Sharon’s office, where he met for the last time with this fun friend he’d come to know over the last few weeks, and together, she and I fulfilled his final wish, and put him out of his impending misery. I held him close to me until I didn’t have any more strength to squeeze him, any more muscle tension to clench my sobbing sides, any more sound to escape my dry, cracked lips, or any more moisture to fall from my wholly dehydrated tear ducts. Then I passed him over to a nurse, and watched him carried down the hall, and as he disappeared around the corner, I knew I’d said goodbye to him for the very last time.
In this life, we must all suffer losses, some that will hit harder than others. I know it isn’t fair to compare my heartache over Spook to the loss of a loved one, a friend, lover, or family member, and I wouldn’t even try. That just doesn’t make any sense. But, I do know, in my forty years on this giant spinning orb, I’ve known all kinds of creatures of the land, the air, and the sea, and never has one so completely stolen my heart, and taken such a piece of me.
To this day, though, Spook still visits me. Sometimes, in my dreams, he comes to me, like he used to while he was here. In my theta-wave induced vision, I’m lying in bed, asleep, and he crawls on my chest, nuzzling my neck and turning around a few times, kneading my flesh a little before settling in, purring loudly, as I absentmindedly, half asleep, stroke my fingers through his fur until my heavy hand drops off in complete and solid slumber.
This is my vision of him.
From there, I always wake, suddenly, a little disoriented, with the sensation having been SO very REAL that I almost could have sworn he was truly there with me, just as he had been in life. He never is, of course. I'm not THAT nuts. Not yet, anyway. But, I know that dreams are simply representations of our subconscious mind, and I know that little spirit animal had worked his way into mine.
I’m only ever visited by Spook in the same pattern of circumstance, though. He comes to me in times of great distress, when my heart is overworked, and my mind is heavily taxed. No other living being had ever known quite so well when I was hurting, and needed emotional support.
So, you might ask, what does Spook bring me in my dreams? And I will tell you, the same thing he brought me in life.
Because even in death, my favorite cat somehow instinctively knows when I just need to be loved.
I miss you desperately, my precious angel.
But I’m happy you’re at peace.
LJ Idol | Season 9 • Week 5 - Topic: BUILD A BETTER MOUSETRAP
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