As the first light of day stretches across the ground, a sharp and sobering pain shoots through my heart, radiating to the ends of my being. There is no warm, fuzzy, loving cat next to my pillow. Nothing to pet when I wake up. Nothing to brighten the first moments of the day. She is not down drinking water because I’ve taken too long to rise. She is not staring at me, just waiting for my eyes to open. She is not here at all. And she will never be here again.
The paralyzing pain begins immediately. Before my eyes are open all the way, it knocks me clear on my ass. This morning I will not go to the kitchen to warm her food then coax her into eating it from my finger because she has been getting sick, and become afraid of the bowl. She will not warm herself in the sun at my feet, stretch that good cat stretch, then force her old bones into limberness to play like a kitten for a moment, if only a moment. No. I will go by myself to face the day. I will sit alone in the silence of my living room and beg for mercy from my heart.
For almost 16 years I have woken in the same way. I may have woken to heartbreak from lost loves, or friends and family who have passed on, crushing blows, flattened hopes or dreams, but I have woken nose to nose with a tiny creature determined to resuscitate my heart and make it beat again. Like CPR for the soul. Eleven pounds of boundless love…for me.
I know, this is the part where you say, “You foolish woman, be grateful! Few people have had it so good!” And I know. You’re right. And every day, particularly in the last few years, I’ve made a point to let that little beast know that she was loved, and beyond which. She was no beast of burden, that is sure; less it be the burdens of the heart. She was loved and she was spoiled, and because she traveled with me, we had adventures few cats have with their owners. I never had any children, just her. Together we went 20-plus times across the U.S.. She’s flown on a plane, and even been on a ferry. She’s a well-traveled cat. Was. More worldly than many folks. She used to sit on my lap or on my shoulders, and just watch the world go by, sniffing the wind or laying in the sun. But none of that makes it any easier.
And she was a bad-ass, bad to the bone. She moved like a panther, kind of strutted in this sleek, stealth way, ruler of everything that was. She was a fearless and mighty panther, and had no idea she was just house-cat size. She had a habit of corralling large dogs, and chasing them into submission. She would stand on chairs so she was tall enough to look down at them, then swat their noses until they bowed down to her. In her mind she was the alpha and omega, and every other being was going to bend to her will. Occasionally you read about a cat who has taken on a bear and either won, or sent it cowering. She is without question, one of those cats, she just never had a chance at a bear. And me? I’m rather stubborn myself, and we had to lock horns several times over who was in charge. But the winner, is really still in question.
I’ve cried for her several times in the last year when I knew she was sick, and old, and nearing the end, but that doesn’t make it any easier. She has had some outrageous struggles, but an iron will to live. Never before have I seen an animal so resilient and so determined to live. Several times I thought we were facing the end, then I’d just add a little love and she would fight her way back. She’d start playing, asking for catnip, and climbing her scratching post, then she’d want to go out in the sun, sprawl out and watch the birds.
And she would always, always sleep by my head, curled in the crook of my arm. If it got too late at night and I was still up, she’d tell me it was time. She would move toward the bedroom in increments and wait patiently until I followed. My husband would come and kiss me goodnight, then she would take her spot by my pillow, but if he came back in the room a second time, he was not allowed near me. She would stand for no interruption of our time together. Once we had had an hour or so of cuddling time, he was allowed to join us, but not before. After all, she had been with me over twice as long as he has. We were blessed with an inordinate amount of quality time together, but that does not prepare a person for something like this.
I got her when she was three-days-old. Her mother was killed by a car. I kept her on a heating pad until her eyes opened. With a cat that young, you must keep them warm and feed them every four hours with an eyedropper or a needleless syringe. It does not matter that you need 8 hours of sleep, they need milk. You must teach them everything just like their mother would have. To teach them to clean, you take a damp cloth and wipe their fur until instinct kicks in and they get the idea. And they have to stay warm. Monster often stayed warm in the mouth of a large Rottweiler who belonged to a friend. She would pick up the tiny kitten, put her on her tongue, and close her mouth, leaving just a crack for air. The first time, we thought the dog had swallowed her, but she was just exercising her motherly instincts. Perhaps that is why Monster was not afraid of anything. That was almost 16 years, and many adventures ago, but it doesn’t make it any easier.
Now I must brave the days, armed with pictures and memories: warm and loving moments with an animal too human to truly comprehend. But the minutes drag on in unbearable silence. An emptiness so expansive it fills the room and pushes the air out of my lungs. Now, only from the computer screen or my phone, do those intense green eyes look straight into my soul and comprehend with unwavering love and compassion, the state of my being.
Some will say a tiny creature just like Monster opened their eyes to unconditional love. Others will tell you it had always been there, but some similar little companion had opened their hearts to it, and let them accept it. I guess that’s another way of saying the bond between human and animal can be extraordinary if you allow it to be. Despite the current debilitating pain, when I am healed enough, I will jump in again with reckless abandon and let another little beastie right in to smooth my faults, warm my days, catch me when I stumble, and love me when I fall…and all other minutes of our existence. There will never be another Monster kitty, but there will be some other little creature with it’s own foibles and triumphs, and when it’s time I will welcome it. Because I know Monster would want me to be happy. Until then, I’ll have to contend with the fact that my husband does not want to be “petted”, and I will probably get a few sideways glances for trying anyway. 🙂