Vegas or Kitties?

“What’s on your mind, Dawn?” asked Nosy Server, who whenever there was a silence during lulls in the server aisle would start asking personal questions of whoever was standing around. “You look upset today.” I groaned inwardly at how my face wears what’s on my mind like outlandishly trendy clothes that should never be worn at all. The Bald Man stood nearby listening. It was a slow hour at The Pie Shoppe.

“My cat died and I’ll be picking up her ashes today,” I said with my customary directness for which I sometimes wish had a filter. I’m not very good at waffling around whatever I ought not talk about.

“Oh,” said Nosy Server, looking bored.

“Do you have a pet?” I asked.

“I dated a guy with a dog once. Never had one of my own. They’re too much trouble.”

I turned to the Bald Man. “What about you? Do you have a pet?”

“No,” he said. “I’m not a pet guy. Don’t like ’em, don’t need ’em.” Perhaps he realized that he sounded harsh, or perhaps my transparent face betrayed my dismay, because he laughed like he was supposed to be charming and continued. “Think about it.” He poked his finger in the air. “I couldn’t spontaneously spend a weekend in Vegas if I was burdened with a pet.”

Nosy Server gave a polite laugh.

I didn’t particularly like the Bald Man, but right then he had my sympathy. Both of them did. Puppies and kitties give far more than they receive. Their presence is nourishing to the spirit.

On the day I lost Sonoma, I woke up to her laying on her side, stiff and cold, her mouth drooping open and her little pink tongue hanging over her lip. Open eyes, which had stared unseeing from sudden blindness during her last month, now lacked the luster of life. She looked like she may have suffered in her last moments, breathing her last breath while hanging onto life with ferocity I hadn’t known she possessed. I felt guilty for not calling the man with the merciful syringes to come to my home the day before. My mournful vigil over her final days was fraught with uncertainty over what was best. She wound down slowly, like a watched clock. Yet, the home pet doctor and a life and death decision carry their own guilt. The euthanasia of Napa, her sister, taught me this. Death weighs heavy on consciousness, no matter the circumstance.

The beginning of an 18 year journey.

Outside, a morning mist grayed the trees and sky. I turned off the heater, which had been set up to keep her warm in the autumn chill hovering about the house. As prepared as I was to find her laying there, the sharp ache of her passing hollowed out my being, like a gutted and carved pumpkin. She and her sister purred on my lap for over 18 years. They came into my life before I bought my first cell phone or sent my first email. They witnessed two career changes. They moved with me from Minneapolis to Los Angeles. They watched my heart break, and love again, then break again, love, break, love, break, and love once more. They were my intimates, constant companions in a life filled with change. The loss of Napa earlier in the year was soothed by Sonoma, now laying on a cream-colored blanket. I could barely accept they were both gone.

It took almost a week for me to throw away their litter box. I hadn’t been rushing to get rid of all-things-kitty, and their toys and favorite blankets sat around where they were left. The kitty food container, and what was left of their food, rested on top of the fridge. But the eyesore sitting next to my toilet, all dusty and poo-stained, seemed clearly doomed for the trash. What surprised me was how the unpleasant nightly ritual of sifting through litter, carried out approximately 6,753 times over the lives of my kitties, had embedded itself in the normalcy and beauty of my life. They were consummately clean, never once doing their business outside of the box. The task was unlovely, but it was performed lovingly and was a privilege of their presence. I miss the litter box terribly.

Precious memories.

Every so often I see Sonoma out of the corner of my eye, a ghostly glimpse of her sitting patiently at my feet while I tap away at the computer. In the past, if I took too long to notice her, a little paw would rub my leg to let me know she was there. And if that wasn’t good enough, she’d meow incessantly until I picked her up and put her on my lap. If I briefly left the computer without picking her up, I’d come back to find her laying across my keyboard, something she knew I didn’t like. Negative attention was better than no attention. Of course in her final months, all I needed was the paw-rub. She eased the loss of Napa, which in turn made me realize her time was short. Every bit of attention I could give her was given.

When I wake up in the morning, I sometimes imagine Napa is still sleeping between my legs, her favorite place. She had a way of settling into my lap where her eyes, a passionate blue, almost violet, would soften and deepen as expansively as an endless twilight sky. They were loving and dreamy, and made me feel like I was her whole universe. She knew how to relax into bonelessness, her purr rumbling like an outboard motor and her breathing billowing her whole torso. It was quite unlike the shallow chest breathing I see afflicting many of us with worries tightening our stomachs. My kitties embodied how to live in the moment and just breathe.

Napa and Sonoma put love above food in their hierarchy of needs and would stop eating to luxuriate in my pets. When I held them, they would cling; when I needed to set them down, they masterminded passive resistance, becoming dead weight, far heavier than their dozen pounds. Both expanded my heart into an understanding of love which made our often cruel world feel like a soft place to land. They were as separated from me as a fish from a tree, yet they taught me how to feel connected. In a universe where two little creatures could fill my heart to overflowing, how could it be rooted in bad? How could there be a heaven better than the moments I spent cuddling in the furry warmth of their affection?

My Baby Girls’ gifts were everlasting.

Yin Yang Kitties: they taught me about life and death.

I looked at the Bald Man squarely and said, “If you had a pet, you might think they offer more than a weekend in Vegas.” He frowned and I walked away. It was probably better to have kept my mouth shut, but I often can’t help myself.

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14 thoughts on “Vegas or Kitties?

  1. Back in 2001, my (then) husband (we are recently divorced) and I adopted 2 Siamese kittens. One was a Seal Pointe Siamese, the other a Blue Pointe Siamese (our blue pionte looks just like your baby in the photos…). We named them Seti (the seal pointe) and Tut (the blue pointe). They were inseparable! In 2009, Tut passed away. Poor Seti! We were convinced Seti was looking for Tut. He used to look at us as if we had done something to Tut — hidden him away. Even now, we still feel Seti misses his brother. Your story brought tears to my eyes, reminding me of Tut and of the reality that Seti, who recently suffered cardiac arrest (but lived) and is now on several medications, is probably transitioning out of this world. The meds are keeping him alive – that much we know, so we live in fear that the next time he arrests, he may not survive. 😦

    I choose kittens over Vegas any day.

  2. I agree you should get another cat — at least one. I can tell by the way they affected you that you really understand cats the way only “cat people” can. πŸ™‚

    November 23 will make one year since I had to euthanize my dear Marty. Your story was well-timed as I quietly near this somber anniversary. It was a difficult decision to euthanize a cat that was only 8 years old, but we had tried everything to make him happy and — when that failed to work — to ease his symptoms. In the end, the loving decision was letting him go… even though I felt I betrayed him for at least every hour of a solid two weeks after he died.

    And then, picking up his ashes, I felt the sting all over again. Enclosed with his ashes was a card from the vet’s office. To my surprise, they’d dipped his paw in gold dust and used it to sign the lovely card. In a childish way, I imagined him putting his paw willingly to the card — his way of telling me that he understood why this happened and he didn’t forget how much I’d loved him. I’ve gotta confess — as I held that card in my hand and ran my finger over that golden paw print — I wept as hard as I’d wept for any human loved one that I’ve lost. James was there to hold me as I transformed, for the umpteenth time in as many days, into a quivering mass of blubbering and sobbing.

    I completely understand what you mean — when you see your kitties even after they’ve gone. The sound of Marty’s meow and his constant presence on the outer fringes of any room will probably forever haunt my memory and my peripheral vision will play tricks on me.

    Surprisingly, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to live in a house without cats — even though saying goodbye breaks my heart.

    • Thank you for sharing your vulnerable, poignant story. What a thoughtful vet you had. The paw print would’ve had me blubbering too. The loss of our 4-legged companions is unbearable. I’m glad you have a wonderful partner for support.

      I am thinking about a new pet, but leaning towards a puppy this time. I love cats, but I love dogs too. However, the other night I went to Petfinder.com to see if maybe I was ready to explore the idea of a new furry baby. I intended to look at puppies, but found myself at the cat section instead, then the Siamese section, then saw kittens which resembled my Baby Girls. Fresh tears!

      I think I’m not quite ready. Hopefully soon though… πŸ™‚

  3. “The task was unlovely, but it was performed lovingly and was a privilege of their presence.” This is what we do for love for anyone and anything. Our dog Jedi died in May. He was 12 years old. He hung on until our son got out of the ARMY and died with him in our yard. I hurt my back digging his crave and it still hurts but I am ok with that. I’d do it again. I still miss him. He was a golden retriever. The best dog I’ve ever been around.

    We have a new puppy now who is going wide open all day long.

    • I love golden retrievers–so loving, frolicsome, and beautiful. I am amazed at how deep our attachment to pets can be. I think they help bridge our hearts and mind, which are separate by social conditioning, and connect us to the mysteries of living. Thank you for sharing your story, Mark.

  4. When Ras our German Shepherd passed away a few years ago we were so crushed I was convinced we would never have another pet again, the pain of loss was too much. Then months later one stray cat after another started wandering into our back yard. We fed them, and they came and went, some stayed longer than others. Then when one got run over by a car while we were out, we scrambled to get who were left into the house, and ‘suddenly’ we had two cats as official pets. One more joined a couple of years later.

    Inevitably they will pass on as well as will we all, and the coming heartache makes me sad, so I don’t think of it often but just enjoy the moments I have with them now. As it is we still miss Ras heaps. We buried him in our garden where we lived, and when we moved house, we unearthed him to bury him in the garden of the new house lol.

    Your post about Napa and Sonoma is beautiful, as are your previous ones. I enjoy your writing very much. Thank you for sharing.

    • Thank you, Halim. I hadn’t known that others would share their pet loss stories in their comments, but I am very happy for it. Grief is a lonely experience, even with friends and support, and it helps to know others have weathered its turbulence able to love another furry friend. I love how your cats found you.

      We still have a dog who’s now alone when we’re out and about, and will need a companion. It won’t be long before I adopt again, probably a dog this time. πŸ™‚

      Sending many blessings to you, Ras, and your kitties.

  5. So beautifully written, understated and relaxing. I, too, have seen ghosts of kitties past out of the corner of my eye that end up being a trash can, or a dirty sweater, or simply vanishing into nothingness when I look straight on them. It is heartbreaking. Blog again soon, you are a wonderful writer.

    • Thank you, shrinksarentcheap. Very grateful for your encouragement and follow (you are my 100th :-))–especially since I find your writing inspiring. I will blog again. I seem stuck and blocked at the moment, where writing comes in fits and starts. But like any thing, this too shall pass, hopefully soon. Working to finish a short story which I will publish as an ebook–it’s my most important short term goal–stay tuned.

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