When I Came Home From the Vet
People who don’t have pets have the nasty habit of saying “Pet don’t matter. They’re just things taking up space in your home. Parasites eating your food.”
It’s not true. Don’t listen to a word of it.
Pets ARE invasive. They invade your life, one second at a time.
They live with you, they become part of your timeline, they insinuate themselves into your world-view, on the edge, underfoot, at the periphery of your vision. They need. They want. They are a responsibility.
And yet. You incorporate all of these feelings and many others. The time they sit with you while you work. Hogging lap time if they can fit, sitting on your feet if they can’t.
Staring at you, when you are writing your next magnum opus, telepathically beaming you a great novel if you only knew how to connect…
Climbing on fences, sitting in trees, annoying firemen, harassing birds, chasing off stray cats who might want your time or attention.
You marvel at their agility, their beauty. Their sense of self. Perfectly willing to be selfish, unaware of their god-given grace, when you watch their perfection, you sit in awe of them, like the first time you saw them.
They can do this thing. All their lives.
Even when they get older, losing a step, sleeping longer. Staring longer through rheumy eyes, their stare growing more far-off seeing their impending end.
Defiantly. Cats don’t fear dying. They stare at it. They tease it. They chase it. Into the street, up into a tree, in front of a dog, cats embrace life.
Life is their Advocate. Hence the talk of nine lives.
When Death comes for them, it must loom large to convince them to go. They resist. When my first red cat died, he had a heart attack. We struggled, gathered him up and rushed him to the vet.
Wrapped in a blanket he clawed me, bit me, yowled as if he fought death tooth and nail. He did. I was there. My arm still bears those scars.
He died in my arms. Red was his name. He was one year old.
Today, I laid to rest my second red cat named Blaze. He was a living fire. Long fur, strong Maine Coon frame, he was the Cat of cats.
He died, sick. In poor health. But he resisted dying for three years. He fought until the very last. He wanted to play in the yard. Watch the birds he no longer could chase. Sat with me while I played Destiny with his paw on my shoulder for those three years.
When Death came for him that last day, my wife had fed him from her hands. Like she did when he was sickly and tiny and discovered he had been born in an unscrupulous cattery where diseases ran rampant and his chances of survival were considered slim to none.
She created a food for him. Some created on the stove with carrots and chicken and the stuff of life itself, her Love. She fed him by hand. Then as he strengthened he at the food she prepared until he was able to climb to the top of my house and beg to be taken down.
Only to climb down by the same mysterious means he climbed up, the hour before.
He was like that. Contrary. Always someplace he wasn’t supposed to be.
When I took him to the vet, I Knew. When I watched her feeding him. I Knew. I think I am cursed like that. To know when the end is near for someone. I talked to him on the trip. He was in pain.
I knew I would not be bringing him home. But I didn’t know how to tell my wife. When I did I was beside myself with feelings. Feelings I didn’t realize were there.
Invasive, powerful, temporal… as if every moment I had ever spent with this cat, every tiny moment of emotion. Every second of awe. Of smiles. Of anger. Of pity. Of rage. Of deep abiding affection for this cat whom I groomed in the early days of my long unemployment, as much a comfort to him as to me. An hour or more a day.
All of this swelled up in my breast and crashed into me. All at once. If someone ever tells you about love about what it feels like, you have be there when someone you love dies.
Love claws its way from your breast like a beast eating you from the inside out. Love in reverse, all the pain, all the emotion, all the tragedy of watching that person die is there in you.
In that single moment. Which goes on almost forever.
When I came home, I could smell it. The scent of infection. The wrongness. The suffering. The pain. It was in everything.
I had to clean it all. Wash the sheets, clear the room, scrub the floors. I could not get free of it. It was in my nose, my hands, my hands. I could not get clean.
I sat with him while they prepared him for the end. I could not leave. My wife said I didn’t have to be there when the doctor did the deed.
I could not leave him in that final hour of need. I have cared for him his entire life. Through every incident, good and bad. Every fall from a tree, every moment trapped under the house.
In that moment, this cat was my everything. Fifteen years of adventures, of loving, of arguing, of fucking with my keyboard while I type with him hogging my lap.
The doctor shakes my hand. Awkward. Cold. Clammy. He hates this part. I can see the sadness in his face. He looks at me.
Am I ready?
No. Is there such a thing?
I touch him I hold him. I have no words that will comfort him.
“I will miss you, buddy.”
Dammit. Do it.
He is warm. His agonized purr is there.
Then it isn’t.
Black wings sprout from my chest and I can scarcely contain the roar.
I turn around. Thank the doctor. Walk out.
The scent of Death filled my house. I cleaned until it didn’t. Until the festering illness that was my dying companion I selfishly held on to was gone.
Then I wept. In my room away from anyone who might intrude on this singular, terrifying moment. The moment when everything I even knew about this cat sat with me.
And I was in awe of his life. He was my Companion. And I will miss him.
Thaddeus Howze is an award-winning essayist, author and journalist for various online publications, anthologies and websites which fancy themselves having discriminating tastes in speculative fiction, non-fiction journalism and critical thinking.
Today he is just missing his cat.
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