Everyone knows I love cats.
I have you to thank for that. All my life, you have had a natural love of animals.
Back in Virginia, we always had a rotation of animals. Dad and you got Ryan a Brittany Spaniel from the pound named Dave. Ryan had iguanas whose tails would always break off at the ends. We collected various amphibians from the creek behind our house. You had a cat named Tabitha and we shared ownership of a cat we called Baby Kitty.
When Tabitha died from old age, we had a funeral and buried her behind the shed in our backyard underneath a row of bricks. Shortly afterward, you got me a cat that I could call my own and I named her Kiki.
Ever since Kiki, we always had a few cats in our house at a time. I think that’s what made our houses homes.
At least as close to a home that we could get.
When we bought the house from Old Man Mel in New Jersey, your parents took in our two remaining Virginia cats because they hated our new, decaying house. We had to restock our new place with new cats. Daisy was a tortoise-shell we rescued from the pound. Through a flyer posted at the local Wawa, we found two sister kittens available for adoption. Layla was a fluffy gray cat who was always falling asleep and Lilly (aka BatCat) was a slightly pudgy black cat with a small, white patch on her chest and a big attitude.
BatCat and Daisy would always fight each other to see who would share my bed with me almost every night. To keep the peace, I’d secretly have one sleep under the covers and the other on top of my comforter.
I used to read out on our front lawn when the weather was nice. I would lay out on a towel or just settle-in underneath a tree and read for an hour or so while soaking up the sun. I’d hear BatCat rustle through the bushes. She would greet me with a small meow and she’d nestle in a patch of grass beside me. Sitting like that, I sometimes watched clouds pass overhead until I realized I was sweating from the heat of the sun and we’d head back inside the house.
When BatCat got herself knocked up by the neighborhood stray, she woke me up from a nap the minute her contractions started. I placed the palm of my hand on one of the kitten masses wiggling just beneath her skin. I ran looking for you, found you smoking a cigarette outside, and exclaimed the news. Even though a few were breach, you safely helped her deliver all of her kittens on my bedroom floor.
When I left our house for college, I had the most trouble leaving the cats behind. Afterall, I was closer to them than any person I knew.
When you moved into Ed’s hoarder apartment, you took them with you.
The few times I heard Ed speak, he fondly spoke of the cats. It never sat right in my stomach that he had them because I knew he could never care for them properly.
He didn’t even care for you properly.
But I put my feelings aside and convinced myself the cats were all right.
When I moved you out of the hoarder house, I was only able to catch glimpses of what became of BatCat as she scurried from hiding place to hiding place. She had eaten her stress and gained at least 15 pounds since I last saw her. She had masses all over her body. She couldn’t even clean her fur or use the litter box.
Even though it broke my heart, I knew I had to initiate the conversation with you. BatCat was still hiding in your new apartment, unable to adjust to having a clutter-less home. She began urinating all over your new bedroom. “Mom,” I began, “I don’t think BatCat is doing so well. She can barely move around. She has masses all over her body.” I felt awkward because of how matter-of-fact I was coming across while talking about putting her to sleep. I felt like a monster.
I still feel like a monster.
“You know what,” you said while holding back emotion in your voice, “I’ve been thinking about that myself. There’s just been so much going on and when everything stopped, I was going to get her an appointment. She hasn’t been doing well for a long time.”
“It’s not fair to have her live like this. She’s suffering.”
“I know, Case.”
You set up the appointment and I brought her to the Vet by myself. You had to get to work, which alone was a big step for you. You were sniffling as she climbed into the carrier with surprising ease. While watching me pet her inside the cage, you said, “I took a lot of pictures of her. I even got one of her and Layla, the two sisters together.”
I took a deep breath and tried not to breakdown.
As I drove to the Vet’s office, at every red light I reached back and stuck my fingers through the front grate of the carrier to pet her and scratch her face. She got a heavy purr going and I had to keep telling myself it was all for the best.
Every purr filled me with crippling regret.
When BatCat was on the Vet’s metal table, I never stopped petting her, holding her, and giving her kisses. The Vet said she was such a nice girl and BatCat was very friendly during the exam. She was relaxed and seemed happy to have so much attention.
It nearly killed me.
“She’s such a great cat,” the Vet said as she gave BatCat a round of full-body pets. “It’s a shame.”
All I could say through the flood of tears that then washed down my face was, “I know, I know.”
When the Vet’s assistant asked if I wanted to leave the room, I felt my face scrunched up and I sobbed out, “No, no. I could never leave her.”
Correction: I could never leave her again.
I stayed by her side and wrapped my arms around her. I told her she had been a good girl, such a great cat, as I kissed her head and she licked my arm. I told her she was beautiful and that I had always loved her.
I repeated my loop until the moment she died in my arms.