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Why do kitties have to die?

I put Cali to sleep on Friday. It's been tough, naturally, and all too lifey. I'm sorry this is such a long one, guys; this isn't some frivolous update afterall. For those of you who want to skip to the poem, yeah, click here.


I miss my cat. Let me just say that up front. I miss her. I really do. But....I'm sure there's some vast reasoning or magical thinking I could use to justify the decision entirely. I'll just leave it at—It was the right thing to do. Or, where that isn't good enough,—I did well by her.

Even before the vet found the growth (probably lymphoma) in her tummy, I tried my best to treat her well—she was obviously sick. She made it easy by being adorable and playful and lovable most of the time and only preciously infuriating the rest of the time.

She was an absolute brat last Winter—she couldn't eat her own food without puking and she'd find her way into any other kind of food out of desperation. Even dishwater, apparently. She mostly lived down in the basement with Parker and me to avoid the dogs upstairs, so we bore the brunt of the frustration. More often than not, she was puking on our stuff....

At some point I realized how drastic her weightloss had gotten, how worrying the situation was, frustration aside. I talked to Parker and told him that obviously none of this was her fault, but that she could die, and that if she did she should die knowing she was loved.

So instead of kicking at her or yelling, we picked her up and rubbed her chin and cooed.

When she yowled out a puke-warning, instead of screaming at her to get off our things or chasing her down angrily, we picked her up and rushed her to the side room with paper spread out on the concrete floor.

Instead of all but pinning her in place as she heaved up the unpleasantness, we held her gently behind her forelegs and talked softly to her about how brave she was and that it was okay.

Instead of locking her in there after, we picked her up and held her close and continued rubbing her chin & ears and cooing to her softly.

She really liked that, and she and I grew very close. She took to curling up on my chest every night and every nap—even on my ribs when I slept on my side. If she was hungry (even when it was only 5:30am) she would poke my face or neck with her paw until I woke up, and peer at me these curious, needy eyes (naturally, that particular habit of hers was terribly frustrating in its own way but endearing all the same).

The vet soon discovered her puking was due to a food allergy. After her diet was changed she quickly regained the weight she'd lost (and then some, I swear). Quite soon she was back to her normal flirty & mischievous self.

This little girl was quite the caution. Gorgeous, mischievous, to keep an eye on.
"Um, excuse me!?"

A calico (mix), she was beautifully patterned—each side of her face, for example, looked like it came from a different cat—and she had these soft green eyes.

She was a bit of a runt from birth; many had assumed she wasn't fully grown. Whence my favored petname for her "Little Girl". She was built somewhat long with sleek, silky fur, and a tail always at attention or flitting.

Cali often played shy (at first); she'd hide from strangers until they'd come over a few times or managed to catch her out in the open. Once they proved capable of lavishing attention on her pretty lil head, on came the flirting.

See, Cali was a total hussy. She flirted with everyone, but especially boys. She'd do this hilariously adorable thing where she'd look at you expectantly, then suddenly drop & roll over to present her fuffy white belly and give you these unbearably cute come-hither eyes.

She was a brat, undoubtedly. Cali somehow intimidated other cats easily despite her small size—she absolutely pwned Marcel, our huge marmalade sweetheart, and she terrified Madeleine's monstrously fluffy Maine coon cat, Lola.
She's got Marcel spooked, even though he's easily 3 times her size....
Cali was fussy, too. She was a fastidious groomer. She refused standing water—it had to be or have recently been in motion. For example, my dad and her developed a sweet little ritual where he'd poor water from a watering can into the large water dish. If he weren't around, and even for a while after they stopped, she'd actually hook her paw inside the dish and pull it around so the water would splash about. And then she would drink it.

She will certainly be remembered as the resident princess (we called her that, too). Besides the prissinesses I described above, she naturally imbued everything she did with refinement and sophistication. She'd sit and close her eyes or look out the window, and her profile would seem artistically rendered, aesthetically perfect. She'd lay out in the sun or shade and simply exude an aura of leisure and bliss. When she actually went outside, she proceeded daintily through the grass as though warily avoiding getting herself dirty.

But, for all her abundant personality, it was when she snuggled up with you that she was her most endearing. Whether in your lap or bu your shoulder or on your chest (either nose-to-nose or nose-to-butt...), she was just so small and so soft and so sweet. She'd usually do some added touch—drape her chin on your wrist or arm or shoulder; curl around with her paws over her eyes. But regardless—she was always so small, so soft, so sweet.

That was the Cali I loved & held dearest of all. And that was the Cali who, last Friday afternoon, died in my arms in the vet's office as I cried.

In the weeks even before but especially after the vet found the growth, Cali lost a lot of weight again. But much, much more than she had last Winter. The ever-hungry little brat somehow became virtually skeletal.

She also became somewhat incontinent; dripping feces anywhere she lingered long enough. She couldn't walk right—her back legs had turned somehow stiff and got wobbly.
We briefly tried keeping her on the porch.
She couldn't lie in one position for long—the growth was right along the bottom of her belly—but had to keep shifting. And yet she couldn't roll over as she'd been so famous for.

Her fur was losing its sheen; she wasn't grooming herself at all anymore. Bits of feces clung to her back legs and the area around her butt, but when I found some even on her whiskers, I knew...I just knew....

On a practical level, I realized this couldn't go on. With the incontinence, she needed to be away from fabrics—beds, couches, carpets—and somewhere at least decently ventilated but contained. We tried keeping her on the screen porch, which really she didn't mind except that it started getting inhumanely hot & humid outside. We tried keeping her in the crampt laundryroom, which although much better—cooler, at the least—could only be a temporary solution.

I hated seeing her like this, but there was nothing I could do.

As I'd explained before, I felt she deserved especial attention and care. As before, I'm sure she was in a great deal of discomfort (even pain), confusion, even fear. The least we owed her was making her comfortable. But I couldn't give her the kind of time and attention that I felt she needed, that I felt would be humane.

I've heard that in domesticating cats, we halt their emotional development in kittenhood; that they look to us as their own mothers. How long can a mother really let her baby live like Cali was? And, given everything I've described about her personality, how was all this not some betrayal against herself?
Such a little angel.

And, above all, she was my little girl, goddamnit. I couldn't bear seeing this little princess so...decrepit. Even when she couldn't sit in my lap (when she really needed the hard, flat stability of the floor under her) and smelled like shit and could barely hold her tail up, she still looked at me with those eyes. She still needed me. And I'd like to think—and this may be the full extent of any magical thinking I'll allow—she trusted me to do what was right.

Aaaaaand....I'm crying again. I've been tearing up through various bits so far, but now I'm outright crying. Not quite sobbing; just crying. Goddamnit. Brave heart, Tegan.

I called the vet Friday afternoon; they could see us at 3:30. It was barely half past 12. I put a towel on the dining room table where Cali had always enjoyed sunning herself most of all—she could see the birdfeeders from the window beside the table—and began my goodbyes.

It wasn't much, I guess. Rubbing her behind her ears, along her jaw—just the way she liked. I wanted to hold her but I doubted she was up for it; she was nauseous enough and unsteady already.... So I rubbed those favorite parts—gently, rhythmically, as she preferred attentions be administered to her.

I whispered things to her I'll likely never entirely remember. She closed her eyes, and actually purred (I got such bittersweet but burdensome satisfaction, even joy, in those final days when I could make her purr, that I could still give her at least that much comfort). She may even have slept.

I didn't leave her even then; partly to keep an eye on her and keep her out of trouble (her other favorite passtime) and partly for having nothing else to do. Nothing much needed preparing, afterall. As she half-slept on the dining room table, I poked at a copy of the poem I'd been working on.

The day she was diagnosed, I held Cali and cried and mumbled out some form of accidental verse to her. About an hour after that, I put it all in on my phone as I walked to the bus. I could hardly bring myself to edit it later, after I'd transcribed it to my computer and printed it. But as I waited Friday I managed.

Of whatever I whispered during that waiting while, I do remember a few things.

Praying to have strength and courage and praying that she would be taken care of, whatever that meant, (I'd been praying that one for a good 2 or 3 days by then, but at that point it really made my breath hitch).

I also remember reminiscing as I rubbed her favorite spots about what a silly, wonderful cat she was. I punctuated some things with “I love you, Cali; I love you.”s and “I'm so sorry; please, forgive me if you need to.”, but honestly don't remember much else.

Most clearly of all, though, I do remember pleading that if she could just pass right then and there—in the warm sun of the dining table, during our quiet, intimate exchange—then it could be so much easier.

The time actually passed surprisingly quickly; Parker later pointed out it had to have been around 2 and a ½ hours, thought it felt much shorter to me.

Those were the quiet goodbyes; “While I can still form whole words,” I had said to her, knowing that before long I could very well cease all coherence.

We got to the vet's uneventfully (except the part where Cali looked at me and quietly tried to meow; she hated cars); Tom stayed in the waiting room and read the latest Game of Thrones book while Parker and I were shown to a “consultation” room, which had a couch.

The technician—the same damn one as every other time I brought her in, bless him dearly—went through the standard questions (I hardly let him finish asking whether I wished to be present before answering “yes” seriously), and he answered some of ours.

While he took her to another room to insert the IV catheter, I somehow rounded out all the changes I wanted in that poem; everything more or less slid into place, it somehow found cohesive order. When he brought Cali back, now half swaddled in some almost comically kiddie-ish towels, he unhesitatingly left her in my arms and said we could take as long as we needed.

As you can imagine, I was crying pretty badly by this point. I was more coherent than I'd expected though I couldn't quite think of complete things to say; much of the time, though, I simply said nothing and looked at her and stroked her chin & cooed.

After a long, long bit, I unfolded the poem and lay it against Parker. When I was ready I began to read it to her. Some words I couldn't say, I just couldn't, and so I voiced what syllables I could and exhaled approximations for the rest. It probably wasn't perfect, but it was what was needed—for me at least. It was certainly heartfelt.

At the part of the poem where I ask her to “give me those eyes again”, she actually looked up at me—without fear it seemed; I could barely choke out the “thank you”s that end that stanza.

I cried more after I finished reading, but remembering the poem's final lines, asked Parker to get the doctor. I'd asked for the Dr. Moore, the vet who'd found the growth; it seemed fitting. Also, she was familiar.

Before administering the shots, Dr. Moore informed me that Cali may defecate when she passes and asked if I still wanted to hold her or would rather place her on the (metal) table instead.

Goddamned if I was gonna let my little girl go.

Dr. Moore administered the anesthesia first. I commented to no one in particular except maybe Cali how much it resembled milk. Almost before the syringe was empty, Cali's head dropped; that damn little girl rested it on my arm exactly as she would if she were napping in my lap at home.

The doctor then administered the euthanasia solution, and then a syringe of saline to flush everything from the catheter. I almost couldn't loosen my hold enough to her check Cali's heart with the stethoscope. When she said, softly, “All right, she's passed.” I exhaled sharply, not even realizing I'd held my breath.

My cat was dead. My little girl.

The doctor said still softly and with such professional but gentle tact as she left, “You can take as much time as you need; let us know when you're ready.” and added before she closed the door, “I'm sorry.”.

It seemed the door was hardly shut before Parker put his arm around me, and I held her close and began to sob long & hard.

There isn't much more after that to tell. It's been about 48 hours, and I've been able to let a good bunch of grieving pass through me. Each day this week, it's seemed, I've had a good cry; since Friday it's been more of a good hard sob in the late afternoon with little hitches of breath or tearing up elsewise through the day. I've been able to pray and let go a great deal; but it's still so, so hard.

Everytime I come home, I expect to find her curled up somewhere (probably somewhere she isn't supposed to be). Everytime I go through a door, I expect to find her waiting on the other side. Or, even just looking up or turning my head, expect to see her or her perky, even sentinel, tail weaving among the furniture. I keep expecting to hear her clicking across the floor on her too-long toenails.

But it's over now; it's done. She is gone. My green-eyed little girl is gone. But at least she's at peace.

But I've been surprisingly consoled by remembering the good times. The many marvelous moments. I don't know if this is some answer to my prayers for strength, but I've found some somehow and it's helped me carry on immensely.

Friday I got in touch with a lot of AA friends; we made some measure of plans so I'd have something to do that night.

After I got home, I had a bit of a sob-and-nap, after which I almost didn't want to go out. I even texted my friends saying I was worn-out.

I can't quite recall the thought process that led to it, but as I rolled back over I saw in my mind the way she used to roll on her back and give you those coy, flirting eyes. But it felt like more than reminiscence. It felt like she was telling me it was ok, that she was ok; that she wanted me to be happy, to at the very least keep on.

Okay, so maybe that is the full extent of magical thinking I'll allow. All the same, I feel I've come out of all this having learned something or found some (re)new(ed) appreciation.

All the same, I immediately grabbed my phone again and texted those friends telling them that actually I would come out & see them afterall that night. And I'm really glad I went.

One thing I've decided in all this is that I despise any phrase resembling “moving on”; it feels too much like something's getting left behind, discarded, when in fact I think it's more like you carry it with you in some way. Life doesn't “move on”—as though it had actually stopped and then restarted having lightened its load. Life, I feel, simply continues as it already was and as it always has.

Yesterday as I walked home (already feeling again the weight of her absence ahead of me), I revisited this “epiphany” I'd felt. It's not terribly grandiose, I suppose; if anything, it's entirely typical of me:
Life is real, and life happens as it happens; there's really nothing we can do about it but try to enjoy it as best as we are able. So, there's really no need or use for feeling angry or sad or even all that scared. It's probably better anyway to keep looking ahead and to be ready to learn and laugh and love. For what else are we here for than to live while we're alive?

Here's the poem I worked on that day and read to Cali. I've made only a few changes since--the biggest change being that italicized, right-aligned bit. I guess not many people would even know what that's about--it's, centrally, something I said to her. I would hold her and purr teasingly "assa 'idda gurl", except maybe not exactly like that I guess.

I don't mind having added it in since I probably said variations on that stanza at least several dozen times that day, easily.

more or less as read to her before she was euthanized in my arms

You were not always my favorite
And I wasn't always nice to you
And sometimes I got angry
—And none of that was fair to you—
But you were always my little girl;
The little miss kitty, my pretty kitty,
And the princess of this household.
And always, always my little girl.

I can promise you I'll miss you when you're gone,
And there will be a Cali-sized hole,
A Cali-shaped hurting;
And whether it is filled someday or forgotten
I cannot say and cannot know
—For such is life, and such is death.
But you will be missed, my sweet little brat,
I can surely promise that.

I know it's just a rule, a fact, just the way life goes;
But still it isn't fair—why do kitties have to die?
You don't even realize, do you?
All you may know is that I am here
And that I am not going anywhere,
That I will still be holding you even after
—That I care.
I hope that means something to you,
Maybe even as much
In your little kitty head & in your little kitty heart
As it does to me.

there, there, little girl...
it's okay, i'm here, i'm here...
that's it; such a little girl...
assa 'idda gurl...
assassassa... assassassa...
that's my 'iddle gurly-gurl...
that's my little girl.

O, Cali, Cali...
Give me those eyes again,
Make those coy eyes at me again
Before you go
Let me see that you are not afraid;
Thank you, Cali, thank you.

If you can just keep being
That funny little calico I love
Until the end,
Then I can continue as best I can
As the me you've snuggled all your life,
And neither of us will have to stop to cry
But do so
            as we need to
                               as we go.


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