So. I've been very spotty on my blogging lately, because there was something I had to write about before I could get back into regular blogging. Except I didn't want to write about it, because that would make it real. And no matter how much I knew it was real, I didn't want it to be. I still don't.
Anyone who knows me or who's visited here knows how much I love my boy cats. I went to the Cat Protection Society in April 1993 for one cat and came away with two, because there was no way I could leave either of those precious little souls there. From that day on, it was me and the boys. We embarked on a mutual love fest that spanned seventeen years, two continents and innumerable moments of joy and delight.
And then we came to the end.
If you're not a pet person, you should click away now, because you might not get this. If you are--and if you've lost a pet or you're caring for an ailing pet with that ever-present dread--then this might speak to you. But it's this is really for me, to release the ghosts and capture some of the memories.
Pumpkin the Wondercat and Kody Cat, 1992 - 2010
My beloved Pumpkin was the first to leave us. The move back to Australia had been rough on him and I took him to 3 vets, each more useless than the last, for his thyroid. Finally, with the wonderful Robyn's help, we found the equally wonderful Cat Clinic. They got him brilliantly through a tough operation, but only 2 weeks later, he was in a lot of pain from what I thought--hoped, prayed--was (treatable) arthritis. I took the day off work to care for him, dreading when he didn't respond to painkillers that it was something more--and knowing by the way he watched me that it was.
The next day, the Cat Clinic confirmed my fears: the cancer we'd hoped had been removed 6 years earlier was back. As much as it was like cutting out my own heart, I knew I couldn't put Pumpkin through any more pain. The end was peaceful and calm, and vet Sally said some lovely things that I to this day can't remember, because all I could think about was the look on Pumpkin's face when he saw me, how he'd been feeling no pain on the strong meds and how his little face had lit up because he was sure I was there to take him home. And how I never would again.
It's fair to say, I was an aboslute wreck. For those who haven't experienced that close bond with an animal, I know you'll find it extremely weird for me to say that I grieved more for Pumpkin than I did when my own father died. But it's not really surprising--I spent far more time with Pumpkin than I ever did with my father. He had been my best friend, a kindred spirit. And so, for almost three months, I was that freak on the tram who hid behind sunglasses in the winter, hoping people didn't notice the tears running down my face.
If I was in mourning, Kody was worse--for while I adored Pumpkin, he'd been Kody Cat's life. Kody went from room to room, looking for Pumpkin, throwing his head back and howling when he couldn't find him. He'd had the beginnings of kidney disease, and it was made worse by an operation to remove teeth, but I'm in no doubt that Kody Cat died of a broken heart. Even when Libellule kitten came along and Kody finally had someone that wanted to cuddle with him (something Pumpkin had refused to), he only perked up when he saw her in the distance and thought--just for a second--Pumpkin had returned. The look he would give me when he realized it wasn't Pumpy...
We gave him the best care in the world, but eventually, Kody didn't want to eat. There'd been a time when you could hear his purr clear across the room--but then came the night when I held him and he could only muster up a very faint sound, deep, deep down where his big heart still was. The next day, I set him free upon the heavens, and I got a little comfort from the fact that my boys were together again--though I know Pumpkin would have been cursing me.
In some ways, Kody's death was easier to accept than Pumpkin's--he'd been clearly ready to go. But we'd been together for so long, and the end of that era just about broke me in two. So now I'm going to put down on "paper" what I've been formulating in my head for months, before I forget, before--to paraphrase the A.E. Housman poem--their lovely echoes fade.
My darling Pumpkin. You were the cat of my life. Some may think it's anthropomorphism, but what a wise personality you had--even your vet in Paris called you "sage"--and such a sense of the absurd. You were the calmest cat I've ever known, preferring to lay low rather than panic. The only time you ever bit me, apart from the odd playful nips, was when you got rushed by a German Shepherd and you ended up on his back--then sank your teeth into me when I grabbed you off him. (Although you did purposefuly bite a human--twice. I don't know what she did to deserve it, but the fact that you went after her a second time means she did something.)
Apart from the above-mentioned, you were also the friendliest cat I've ever known--you were even kind to the various kittens I fostered over the years. You always ran to the door when we had visitors, and when we had our first guest in Paris, you checked on her several times during the night to make sure she was still there. And then there was the time when I came home here to find two French tourists giving you sugar--they'd been walking by when you'd stuck your ginger paw through the fence and waved them down.
I think you probably gave Simba the long-ago dog from next door a few good whacks when he stuck his nose through the fence, though. I can still see so clearly the day he tried to escape through our yard and was barrelling toward the side gate--until you so very coolly stepped into his path and sat right in the middle of the gateway. The sight of that tubby Lab skidding to a stop then hauling ass back the way he'd come, peeing all the way, made me almost pee myself with laughter.
You weren't much of a cuddle cat, not the way Kody was, but you were always close by. I loved how you would join me in the bathrooms each morning while I got ready for the day--you'd sit on the toilet seat and hum at me. After I went to Africa on mission for almost two weeks, I lay on the sofa on my stomach and you sat there with your forehead against mine for probably ten minutes, just happy to be back in each other's company.
Even though you were remarkably well mannered--all it normally took was a "tsk!" to get you to behave--you loved to rush out the door in Essendon when I was trying to close up for the night and race for the nature strip. You'd head up the tree then come down and we'd laze about on the cool grass. The only thing you consistently did that I didn't want you to do was bust into the pantry and raid the chocolate stash. Chocolate is supposed to be toxic for cats, but it was just another example of how special you were. Chocolate and BBQ Shapes. You were crazy for them. And I was crazy for you.
Kody with Sophie, one of his favorite people, 2010
Kody, my sweet, sweet Kody. You were so starved for love when I brought you home that I couldn't move anywhere for the first 2 weeks without you hooking your claws into my skirt and walking on your back paws with me. They said you were there because your owners moved overseas and couldn't take you, but I always suspected you were such a handful that they didn't know what to do with you. I wonder if they even knew you were deaf and had to be handled differently.
There's no doubt you had your moments. If you didn't get the attention you wanted, you'd paw at whatever was taking it from you--the computer or the TV--then almost crow with delight when I snatched you away. And then there were the times you'd jump onto the mantelpiece and look me right in the eye while you knocked something off. I found a water pistol to be the best form of "pest" control.
Honestly, I don't know how we ever got you to 18. You got hit by cars three times, each time emerging without a scratch. There was the time in Elwood I heard barking and howling and raced downstairs to find a guy standing between his two big dogs and you. When I thanked him, he said "I'm not protecting your cat from my dogs--I'm protecting my dogs from your cat!" And then there was the time in Paris when I realized it was too quiet and rushed out onto the balcony to find you teetering on all fours--five flights from the ground. I'd thought what with the snow and you being 13 at the time that you wouldn't try anything silly. I don't know what I was thinking.
Just like Pumpkin, you had your favorite people, and were so happy when they came to see you in various parts of the world. When Luke and Laura came to Paris, you clambered up onto Luke's shoulders and started nuzzling. When uncle Kurt came to visit, you draped yourself over his lap, the same way you'd done to me the first time you saw me--when you woke up and realized there was a person in your cage and came running. With Tamara, you just sat on whatever you could until she had to give you loving.
Perhaps the sweetest thing about you was how you had to sleep with me--and not just on the bed, but beneath the sheets, your head on the pillow, me holding your paw. On nights when you couldn't wait for me, you'd put yourself to bed then "pritt!" at me each time I passed the bedroom. It wasn't until you were gone that I realized you represented love in its purest of forms. How very lucky I was to have been loved by you. And how very much I love you still.