Monday, June 13, 2011
After seven wonderful weeks of traveling this beautiful country and visiting friends and family, my husband and I returned home on a cold, gray day--April 1. We got in around fourish, just as it was getting dusk and while excited at the prospect of seeing the cats after such a long time away we were a bit bummed by the cold and the deep snow that remained all around our Vermont log cabin. As we entered the mudroom, Bill called out, as he always does--Misty, Soot, I'm home.
Misty, our tiger, has always been a scaredy cat and takes her time responding. Normally, we have to search for her in whatever hidey hole she has chosen for the two weeks before she moves to yet another mysterious lair. This time though she sat at the head of the stairs above the living room and he went up--calling to Soot as he did. It was strange not to see Miss Anorexia, as a called her, in all her black, slinky glory edging out the more timid Queen La, so named for her more than adequate avoir du pois that seemed to be Misty's foil against the world.
I, then, added my voice to his, calling for our athletic girl, she who climbed the sides of the log cabin to get in, being much too impatient to wait for me to open the door on the porch to allow her entrance. Quickly, my call was answered with a loud wailing that seemed to come from the cellar. Oh, I thought, Sharon, the girl who took care of the house, must have locked her in my workroom. But as I headed down the stairs I could see that the door was open and the wail became louder, longer and somehow more ominous. I called Bill, suddenly reluctant to be the first one down the stairs. He rushed down and, at first, could not pinpoint the location of Soot. Then it became evident that she was under the wing chair pulled tightly against the book shelves. My heart pounding I wondered if she was somehow pinned under something that had fallen on her as her cries became more insistent.
When he pulled the chair out I saw a black form pressed tightly against the wall, her black coat dusty somehow and her body looking crumpled. She was lying on her side and I could see no movement. All I could do was cry out--oh, no, no. I moved aside as Bill carried her up to my footstool in the living room. We both seemed unable to think---he reached for the phone and called the vet as I comforted her. She was purring and her eyes looked clear. She rubbed her head against my hand and arched her neck for the massage she loved. Her coat was covered in dust--from litter? --and she seemed unable to move her hind legs or her tail. Yet, her behavior seemed absolutely normal but for that. She's pulled a muscle climbing this damned house--I had told Sharon not to leave the upstairs window open to try to dissuade her from climbing, as though she would somehow realize after 14 years that she couldn't get in that way!
By this time, it was after 5 pm on a Friday afternoon, so naturally the vet's office was closed but an answering machine informed us that an emergency hospital was open and to call it. So he did. Located in Hanover, help was almost 45 minutes away. Why didn't I go with them? I don't know--I guess I wanted to be here when Sharon arrived from work--or after traveling all day and in shock, I just wasn't thinking straight. Anyway, I remained home, alternately crying and then praying. Beating myself up for not leaving my sister's earlier--lingering to chat and eat rather than rushing home earlier. Reassuring myself that the cat was so healthy and energetic and active that she would be fine. Tearing myself apart for leaving them for seven weeks--even though they knew Sharon and loved her. Worrying that Soot was 14 and while young in the history of our past cats, nevertheless, aged by feline standards.
Soon Sharon came in and was shocked to see me in tears and worried that I somehow blamed her, which I assured her I did not, but which in my heart I did, unreasonably. What could she have done differently--what had she done that was different than what I would have done had I been here? Who knows, but grief is easier to bear if the cause is someone's fault--preferably not your own. In time, Bill returned and the news was not good--a blood clot. She was getting no blood to the rear legs and the temperature in that area had already dropped. She was probably stricken within the past two-three hours--oh, God, if I'd left my sister's earlier, we would have been home and could have gotten her to our vet--just ten minutes away. Guilt, grief, anger, hope, despair, tears, denial--so many emotions--and an attempt to be gracious to Sharon, but wanting her gone. The vet put her on anticoagulants and said it could go either way.
Saturday, call from our daughter and we kept the situation from her. Soot is her cat--she brought her home tucked inside her tee shirt--a tiny little thing whose ears were too big for the rest of her. She was only four weeks old though we didn't know that until she couldn't keep food down and our vet said she'd been weaned too early. She never lost that malnourished look. Betsy could hold her upside down, twist her in knots, taught her to sit on the porch swing--which soon became her favorite napping, preening, surveying of her kingdom spot. You could never even get Misty to sit on your lap on that swing--SWINGING???, OH, MY GOD! But Soot loved it.
Through two days we waited with reports from the vet--she's resting--no change. Why didn't I go to see her? Why didn't I hold her in my lap? Because I'd never had a pet in the hospital--because it never occurred to me until it was too late--because -----and then Sunday night at 1105 pm the call with the nice male voice--her heart is giving out--there doesn't seem to be any improvement and me, through my tears, saying it is the end? I don't want her to suffer, I guess we need to put her down. And here I sit, typing this and crying all over again. And the doctor saying yes, I called for that permission.
And so the next day, Bill and I went to the hospital--it is a nice place, I guess. They gave us a beautiful white box, which I never opened. I couldn't look at her. We brought her home, gathered her dish, a picture of Betsy,a blanket, and I don't remember what else and Bill took her and buried her next to the path she used to take to the lower fields. How often she'd come running up that path, through the arbor, with loud purrs to show me her latest catch--a field mouse , a mole, a chipmunk--so proud,so full of love, so happy to bring me my latest gift. And how quickly I'd make sure the porch door was closed so she couldn't bring it in the house and how closely I watched to make sure she didn't climb the log walls to sneak it through the bedroom window. She always ate everything except the liver and gall bladder--LOL. Last month, Bill planted marigolds on the grave and at the end of summer he'll plant lilies from my garden. She always loved to hide out in the daylily bed in the heat of a summer's day. You never could see her but as soon as you started walking the land, out she'd come with a loud chirp and she'd follow along or run in front and quickly drop down and roll her tummy up for a rub--almost toppling me in my efforts not to step on her. I hate walking out there now--it is so lonely. I haven't gone down the path to see her grave--I'm sure it is lovely. I hate all this rain--I can't stand her getting soaked and cold like this. I hate all this pain and the tears.
So why today--this resurgence of grief and memory? Because today our daughter comes home for the first time since Christmas. And today she is going to walk into the house without Soot--no Soot to greet her--no Soot to betray us by moving off our bed onto hers for the duration. She knows, of course, that Soot has left us. She knows, too, that Misty has blossomed and while still afraid of her own shadow and unwilling to be on the porch without us unless the door is open so she can get in easily, she doesn't hide anymore. And she gets on our bed now and never stops talking. But knowing and being here are not the same thing. I suppose I'll go to the grave with her and we'll talk about Soot--and we'll walk around the property and remark on where the others who've gone before her are buried--dogs and cats--they are all here --near the well, or behind the lilacs or now, by the garden path. All the pieces of our hearts still near and always remembered. And then we'll discuss where Misty will go, because, though overweight and sedentary and having outlasted Soot, she, too, is fourteen and will sometime leave us--though I hope she lasts the 18-20 years our other cats have lived.