Friday, October 01, 2010

on exits

One of the least fortunate things about being a renter is that pets are problematic. I can't have pets now, so the best I can do is fawn over my friends' cat. It's a poor substitute, though, so I also just have to remember pets past.

We had a dog named Rusty when I was one, but I don't remember him at all. My dad was in the Air Force, and when he was assigned to Germany, we couldn't take Rusty with us. Instead, we left Rusty with a relative. I met him briefly when we returned to the US, but we didn't recognize each other.

We then had a Guinea pig named Snoopy. I liked Snoopy, but I don't remember much about him...Guinea pigs don't have an awful lot of personality, and I was quite young. We also had fish, but I always saw them as more decoration than anything else. As such, it was quite a while before I really understood the whole pet thing.

Tigerlilly changed all that. We got Tigerlilly when visiting my Grandmother. Tigerlilly was a Calico mix cat who I immediately loved. Tigerlilly didn't really care for me at first, though, and she would resist my efforts to hug or hold her. Eventually, when I learned to calm down a bit, Tigerlilly and I became friends. She was an interesting cat...she liked to sleep with her head buried in my shoe. She would also crawl into my violin case or camp out on my back when I was laying on the floor watching television. We also liked to play, in all the traditional boy/cat ways.

When she was about halfway through her natural life-span, though, Tigerlilly developed diabetes. We tried to regulate her blood sugar with insulin injections, but it was really a losing battle. I remember those last days, when Tigerlilly couldn't really get up off the floor. I petted her, told her I loved her, but when my father finally had to take her to the vet, I couldn't bring myself to go say a final goodbye...which still bothers me, to be honest.

We had another cat, a stray my mom named Muffin. Muffy had a hard life and was most likely abused before we got her. My mom was the only one who Muffy really seemed to like, and she rarely let me get close to her. She was always nervous and skittish, hiding underneath beds more often than not. Eventually, Muffy also got diabetes and didn't last long after the diagnosis. We were never friends, and I never understood her, but I was sad when she died, because I knew my mom did miss her tremendously.

Afterward, we eventually got two more cats, sisters from a litter in my Grandfather's barn. We got them when they were kittens. One of them was a tortoise-shell with almost leopard-like markings. My mom named this one Sheeba. The other was a long-haired Siamese my mom called Cleopatra. My brother and I, though, decided these cats deserved cooler names. Sheeba had massively long legs and tail, so we called her Spidey. The long-haired Siamese? She became Fuzzhead.

Both Spidey and Fuzzhead were great cats. They were generic cute kittens while young (I remember Fuzzhead falling asleep in my arms the first day we had them, which was truly an "aww" inspiring moment), but they both quickly developed strong personalities. Spidey was a talker, a yelper, tremendously loud, fast, and muscular. She really hated being held, but she was not shy about yelling "pet me! PET ME!!! NOW!!!!!" Fuzzhead loved to be held, but she would make you work for it...often, she would make you follow her for two laps around the living room and through the kitchen before stopping, looking back at you with her piercing blue eyes, and collapsing, almost as if saying, "Okay, you have now earned the opportunity to love me." That these two were sisters was also very evident, because they looked out for each other. One day, Fuzzhead fell into my parents' hot tub on the deck, and Spidey ran to the glass doors and pounded on them until she got our attention...and then led my Dad to the hot tub, where Fuzzhead was struggling to stay above water.

Eventually, we got cat number three, who decided to camp out on the street in front of our house in a torrential downpour, looking pathetic until my Mom finally brought her inside. This one was a black and white longhair, which Mom named Smudge after the white blotch of fur in between her eyes. Smudge wasn't very attractive at first, as her ears and eyes were way too big for her face, but she grew into it. She also never learned to meow, so she let out this weird grunt. Smudge also wasn't tremendously bright. She was, however, an awesomely sweet cat. She would run to greet me when I got home, and often, I would step out of the bathroom post-shower to see her sitting in the hallway, staring up at me like a long-lost friend.

Eventually I moved to Ohio. About a year or so after I came up north, Spidey developed a huge growth on her back. It was cancer, and although my parents had it removed, the cancer came back...and she died a thousand miles away from me. Smudge, who was very much my cat, also died of cancer when I was away. I often wondered what it was like for Fuzzhead, first seeing her sister disappear, then seeing her playmate (such as it was...Fuzzhead often just would whack Smudge for no reason) leave and not come back.

The last time I went to Florida, Fuzzhead still recognized me. She still looked beautiful, and she still purred like mad when I held her. But we knew not all was well. For starters, she weighed half as much as she used to, even though she ate constantly. She was also going deaf, and when I would sit down to pet her, I would surprise her...she had no idea I was near. Still, she seemed happy enough.

Before I left, I sat down on the floor next to her when no one else was around. She was laying on her side, so I gently started petting her. She snapped stroke head around, saw it was me, closed her eyes as if smiling at me, and let me pet her. I told her that although I wasn't around, I still thought of I still thought of her departed sister and of Smudge. I told her that she was always a great friend to me, and I loved the time we spent together. I reassured her that even though I was the other side of the country, and even though I didn't know when I'd be back or if we'd see each other again, I would never, ever forget her or stop loving her. She lifted her head to mine and rubbed our noses together, as if to say "I understand...and I feel the same way."

I found out this morning that Fuzzhead died last week. At age 19, her body finally gave out. She had a great life, though, and was loved to the end...especially by her friend a thousand miles away.

Right now, I am torn. I think of quotes from two of my favorite writers. One of them, in the course of a story, has a character that remarks "bringing home a kitten is, in one way, committing yourself to eventually burying a dead cat." The eventual pain, in other words, is inseparable from the pleasure of life. This might make one wonder if it's worth the separation, the suffering. The other writer, though, once said "Remember: every day here is a gift." This is the attitude I will try to take, as I'm sitting here, typing a memorial, realizing I'm totally cat-less, tears rolling down my cheeks, thinking of my departed girls.

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