Mo and I rearranged the living room today. I tell you this because I know you care. Also we cooked a lot of food for the week, and I’ve warned Mo not to double up on recipes she’s never tried before, but she ignored me and now there’s a whole pot of Sweet Potato and Barley Stuff that is going to be fed to the wild animals. Unless somebody wants it. That’s like, oy, this tastes like gym shorts, here taste it. But you never know, somebody out there may really like Sweet Potato and Barley Stuff. And Melissa said she’d obey my every command from here on out, for real. Love that woman. Did I ever tell you about the time she got us lost in the Bronx? I always navigate, see, because I have a superhuman sense of direction, and Mo always drives because I have what Mom calls Auto Narcolepsy. So we were driving past the Bronx, and Mo, who has always trusted my directions before, says “are you sure we don’t exit here?” and I say “I’m sure, keep going straight” and she says “I’m exiting” and then suddenly we’re lost in the Bronx. Obviously it was I who navigated us out or we’d still be driving around the Bronx 12 years later. To be fair, Mo does all the bill paying, because when I’ve tried on that role we had collection agencies crawling up our behinds, the point being I’m trying to be balanced and not seem like I’m being mean to my wife by telling stories that may possibly seem to be making her out to be slow. I should stop now.
(Melissa is awesome. And beautiful. And I love her, and she’s smart as well.)
When I posted on the FB a few days ago that we were celebrating our 14 year anniversary of togetherness, I got some really nice comments about how our relationship is admirable and strong, and how lucky we are and how cute we are together, and how our love is beautiful, and I thought, wow, we’ve fooled everyone. I felt like a fraud. I mean, behind the scenes? There are so many daily challenges just being ME, with my wonderful chaotic creative scatterbrain and ADD and various things I take medication for, and then adding in a life partner? And pets that die and get hurt, and a kid with medical issues and kids that live far away who we miss, and watching our parents age (sorry Jeff and Ma) and two jobs each and not enough health insurance, all this pressure. It wears on a marriage. So I felt like a fraud, but only for a minute or two, because then I realized, as we were sitting side by side on separate computers after our date, and I was reading your sweet comments on my post, that we’ve been together fourteen years. 14. That’s like half my life.
And though I may fudge a very small amount on my age, for Mo and me, numbers don’t lie. Foul doubled recipes and Auto Narcolepsy and arguments be damned, we’re doing it with intention, and we’re doing it right.
It’s a week since Bob died. I’m relieved to not have to worry any more about his being completely deaf, partly blind, camouflaged like gravel and prone to napping in the middle of the parking lot. I’m relieved to not have to clean up his incontinence-induced messes all over the house any more, or to have to wash him, or to have to smell that dying smell he had during those last few days. I’m glad that he’s not hurting any more, and I’m glad we helped him along before things got really bad.
Mostly, though, I just really seriously miss him. I miss the way his little sticky-up cutoff tail felt. You could feel the bone, covered with the softness of the fur that stuck up from the end of the stub. I miss the way his eyes looked when he looked up at me – I’ve never seen love in a cat’s eyes before Bob. Anthropomorphizing? Bite me, Modern Science. Obviously you never had a cat or dog. I miss feeling his purring on my chest. I miss hearing the loud deep rattle of him happy and close.
Bob was an interesting creature with a hell of a story. Much of it we had to surmise from his roadmap of scars and neighborhood oral history. He was born something like eighteen to twenty years ago in a house a few doors down from our old casa in Austin, next to the Bouldin Creek greenbelt. His first name was Kafka. He was born with a sticking-up tail and his people had it amputated. His original people were two women who had lots of cats, and he didn’t stick around. He became a feral, not all the way feral, but close. He lived wherever he lived, probably the woods above the creek, and ate off the porches of the people who fed the stray cats on that street – elderly sisters Miss Laura and Miss Naomi, his original lesbian mamas, the old woman with the yappy mini schnauzer named Schatzi. He was tough and scrappy. He survived a lot of fights. He survived being hit by a car (evidenced by the road rash scars down one side, where no hair grew).
He arrived at our place wild-eyed and skittish, but hungry, scouting things out. He and the resident cat, an ancient matty tortoiseshell named Chelsea, soon made an agreement (she was Queen, and would suffer his company) and he began coming around regularly. He wouldn’t let me pet him for a long time, though. Eventually, being patient and quiet and making myself small, I was able to pet him – briefly, then he’d run. Then, gradually, he began coming into the house – also briefly, with a quick darting exit.
That year, the year 9-11 happened, there were three deaths in my family, all within the course of one week. I lost both my remaining grandparents and my godfather. I witnessed my grandfather, my beloved Pops, die before my eyes. When I came back from Maine, I was a shell. I was hollow with grief. A day or so after I arrived home, I was lying on the couch with the door open, staring at the ceiling, thinking, how am I going to do this? Then that gray bobtail cat walked right into our house, jumped up onto the couch, settled down on my chest, and started to purr. I was claimed. And that was that. He purred on my chest day after day, and his purring healed my broken heart.
Harry, our landlord who also lived on the property, starting calling him McGee (after Bobby McGee, taken from Bob, due to his lack of tail), but I wasn’t going to have a cat named McGee, so Bob it was. He loved our sweet yellow dog, Sunny, though she was a little afraid of him. He kneaded on my tummy when I was pregnant. He fought and fought, and finally yielded to, a big, tough, fluffy fine fellow who acquired the name Blackendecker. (B&D died later, from cancer). Years later, when we decided to move out of Austin, we debated whether or not to take Bob with us. This neighborhood, Bouldin Creek, was his home. We were not convinced he would use a litter box, since he always did his business outside. We were afraid he’d try to come back to Bouldin. He would go stay with neighbors, and disappear for days on end. We just weren’t sure he was entirely OURS. In the end, he showed us that family was what mattered. Home, he told me, is wherever y’all are. And I quote.
In Louisville, he never stopped visiting neighbors, and convinced a few that he was theirs (before we made ourselves known). He would, true to form, be gone for long nights and days, to reappear a few days later fat and smiling. He was a deadly hunter of small bunnies, squirrels, moles, mice, and birds. He had a special liking for cardinals. He left parts on our welcome mat. He nearly died many times throughout his life, starting (we assume) with the car accident. We said goodbye to him three or four times, knowing each time that this was the last, the very last life, but the Cat Came Back. Until it really was the end. And even then, he wouldn’t die. We had to do it for him.
Robert Kafka, Cat of Cats, my sweet Bob. Oh, I miss you. I’m so, so grateful to have had your friendship all these years.
Here’s an update for Friends of Bob. He’s having some new health problems. If I can get an appointment, I’m talking him to the vet tomorrow to get an idea about what might be happening, without running any invasive tests. He’s very frail now, completely deaf, partially blind, and incontinent. Still, there’s that damn PURR. He can’t seem to stop purring. I can deal with all of the above as long as he’s happy. But now, some of the time he’s clearly in pain, plus we have to wash him with a rag two or three times a day, which he hates. If it can be cleared up with an easy fix, like last year’s frightening bacterial infection was, maybe he can go on longer. If not, if it’s only downhill from here, or if the fix is something invasive like surgery, then we’ll take a few days with him, then say goodbye.
During the past few days I’ve had to really examine my motivation for wanting to hold off on euthanasia – for his sake, or mine? Both? This is a very, very hard decision. I went to bed last night hoping he’d die in his sleep. Wow. Of course, he didn’t. Because he’s Bob. I’m beginning to think he can’t die. And that we’re going to have to make it happen for him.
It would be so much easier to wait until he’s really, really sick, when his death would be an obvious release from suffering. But Melissa and I have decided not to do that to him. I would be keeping him alive for my own sake, because I love him, because I can’t stand the thought of him being gone, and because I’m too weak to make the decision to end his life. Not fair. I’ve always thought the phrase “you’ve got to be strong” is something dumb they say in movies. Well.
Were Bob still living on the Austin greenbelt, he would have died from that bacterial infection last year. If he hadn’t gotten sick, he would’ve gone when he stopped being able to hunt. That would have been, or led to, his natural death. We’ve kept him alive past his allotted time. That’s what we do, we go against nature, keeping ourselves and our loved ones alive when nature would’ve taken us out much more quickly. We’ve taken it out of nature’s hands and into ours. Obviously I don’t object to it, but because it’s in our (mine and Mo’s) hands, we damn well better think these decisions through.