I am writing this post because I’m having a damn hard time coming to terms with losing my Salju. Even though I posted the photos on Facebook of her (2, 3, 4, 5, 6) and on Instagram, and cried at the condolences I received from loving friends, I never really acknowledged or came to terms with losing her. I keep pushing it away. I never had that freak-out screaming agony fit I had when I lost both of my other babies, Mecca and Kia. I can’t come away from this unscathed because she so much was a part of my every day for the last 15 years.
I don’t know where to start, though, because inevitably I will miss some important fact about her, something that I adore about her that I will someday forget if I don’t write it down here, and above all my biggest fear right now is that I will forget something exquisite and irreplaceable about her. Most likely I am afraid that if I don’t write it all down, I will lose her, and really, I already have.
First I will tell you about her end as I listen to her song, and then I will tell about her beginning, and then I will remember her everyday.
About a year ago, she got horribly sick, and we had no clue what was going on. We found her on the floor in the bathroom one day, mewing helplessly, refusing to eat or walk, and that sent us into a panic. We took her into the vet, and thousands of dollars, and weeks in the oxygen isolation unit later, that she had a mass around her heart and lungs, and that with medication and steroids, it had been reduced in size. It wasn’t operable, but she had recovered well, and perhaps with steroids and other treatments, she would live a few more years. I didn’t want to do any bionic cat heroic-type measures, but I did want my constant companion around as long as I could have her.
And she thrived. She never regained a significant amount of weight, but pound by pound, she got better. The regimen of constant medications wasn’t always easy, but we managed. I got over my squeamishness about injecting her with meds, and we lived, we cuddled, we slept face to face, she and I.
Until about a week ago. We realized she wasn’t eating much, and that is always a bad sign. We force-fed her a few times, and brought her to the doctor, but they didn’t know what was wrong. We attempted to give her antibiotics, but they were in pill form, and she shut her mouth like a steel trap. We gave her diazepam to get her appetite up, whenever we could trick her into letting us squirt it into her mouth, but she never ate enough, and with her weakness and loss of weight, she would stumble around the house as if drunk on the tiniest amount of meds. I refused to give them to her unless we were around, and we hoped for the best.
The weekend of July 4th, Sunday, I decided to take her into the vet in the morning on my way to work – she just wasn’t right, and she wasn’t getting better. The next morning, Monday, I found her on the floor of the shower wheezing and struggling. She was making tiny mews again, like a weak squeaker toy, so I raced her to the vet. I didn’t know that would be her last day with me, the last time she rode in the car. Her last moments at home.
On the way to work from the vet’s office, I saw a man hit a squirrel that was trying to cross the road. It leapt out of that lane and flopped around like a flame in between the lanes, and in the split second between the several cars that passed it, I watched in horror as it flipped into my lane. I didn’t want to hit it, at the time, and was horrified when it hit the bottom of my car. Now I think that hitting it would have been a mercy. I struggled to forget it, not see it as an omen, as I drove in.
Because I am always so busy at work, Tony kept me as updated as he could, but there wasn’t much news. It was hard to get anybody on the phone, so he decided to just go straight there from work. After I finished my day, I called him, and asked him if she would be coming home or if I should go there to see her. He said, “It’s bad.” I went into an empty conference room, and straight up I asked if I should meet him there, or not, and that’s when he told me that her time was limited, that she could go home, but that she might not make it if she did. He said everything but the fact that it was over, and I needed to hear that. I asked him if they would wait until I got there, and left work.
I said “no.” to myself over and over again on the ride back to the vet, and I already knew that it was time. I just didn’t want to wait, overnight, another night. If it’s time, it’s time. What do I benefit from waiting another night if she’s in an oxygen tank in the doctor’s office? Does she suffer there or rest comfortably? Can I bring her home without her suffering?
The mass that had been growing around her little heart for who knew how long had pierced a lung, and was leaking air into her body. It was inoperable, not because of the location, but because of her advanced age, and her weakness. There’s no way she would survive the surgery. There’s no way to recover from this without surgery. If we left her as she was, she would die within a matter of days, hours, even, outside the oxygen tank. It was time, but suddenly I wasn’t ready, either. We left some of our clothes with her, and went home for the evening.
The next day we took off work, and went to their office earlier than the appointment to spend time with her. When she saw me, she lit up like a Christmas tree, and on hearing her name, she perked up and meowed at me. She made her cute little blert blert noises, and I lifted her out of the cage to hold her. She purred, she reached for me when Tony held her, she massaged feebly, but after even a few minutes, her eyes started to turn glassy. She lost vitality and lost her energy, and then I knew for certain at that moment that she wouldn’t return home. Every time we do this, I reactively second-guess. Is this the right thing to do? What if there’s something else we could do, some other treatment? What if we wait? What if I got a second opinion? What if what if what if. The evidence is always there, but I am always desperate to ignore it.
One thing about her I may not have shared was her desire to comfort me, to participate in whatever emotions I was feeling. If I yelled, cried, laughed loud, or otherwise caught her attention with my emotions she would charge on over, ready to save the day, to calm me down, to help me cope. Always she did this, and it was like a running joke in the house – oh you must be getting loud, here comes Salju. She’d march up onto me, over whatever obstacles, dogs, whatever was in the way, and loudly demand that I either include her in the festivities or pipe down; and if I cried, she would smother me with her little self until I stopped. She was determined to help me, come hell or high water.
I will tell you how heavy she was before she died, and how incredibly light she was after. She was gone, in that moment of medication, and in her absence, I could feel the difference in her little body. How heavy her soul was, how it must have filled that tiny body. How much her stubbornness and her love weighed, that kept her with me as long as it had. She was gone, and it was time – and the only thing that had been keeping her there was her love for me and her need to comfort me. And it was an inestimable kindness for us to finally let her go.
In 1999, in my undergrad days, I’d already had one cat, Mecca, and I didn’t think I needed another, when one day David came home with a tiny ball of fluff. She was so adorable that I immediately turned the new video camera on her to videotape her eating food, of all things. I still have that tape somewhere, I think. Adeline and Jonathan were there with me, hanging out in my poor excuse for an apartment on 3rd st. She was fleabitten, scrawny, and had a bad case of the runs, but she was my little shadow from the beginning.
When I bathed her in the sink to get the shelter off of her, she mewed pitifully, as if I were torturing her, so desperately sad that Mecca came meowing at me to the countertop near the dreaded sink and put her paw on my arm, begging me to leave the poor baby cat alone. She was always good at getting sympathy, my little munchkin.
Some of the little things that made her so precious to me:
- Should I talk about how her adorableness started the #chickennoodlefanclub on Instagram — and people other than me actually liked seeing her photos?
- She was able to melt me with her piteous meows into doing just about anything she wanted me to do, really.
- She was in charge of our little crew, this one. She was able to strike fear into Kiki’s heart with just a glance – if Sa stepped in her contentious direction, Kiki beat a fast retreat.
- She had this habit of sitting stock-still whenever you put something on her.
- The shoulder-lean of ecstasy
- The diamonds of water that would collect on her nose after drinking
- How she would just go boneless when I held her, even as a baby.
- My elbow was her favorite head rest, and she would stuff herself between the arm of the couch and my body to be there.
- She would do a silent sit-in in front of the garage door every day before I left.
- Which usually netted her some extra snuggles and tummy nuzzles.
- She could be counted on to put the hand towels in disarray
- Her tiny little feets (my sweet little littlefoot) looked like nothing other than cottonballs.
- She loved popsicles, especially green bean ice cream popsicles.
- Her nickname was “chicken” at first because she was afraid of everything, every sound, aluminum foil sounds most of all, and later became my “chicken noodle” because she was my constant comfort.
- She always crossed her paws daintily, as if she were waiting for her attendants to come brush her.
- She was impossible to put off, and would slink slowly, stealthily, with microscopically tiny movements into your lap.
- Also known as “sleeping pill cat” her contentment saturated whoever held her. I often fell asleep holding her. If I couldn’t sleep at night, I would find her and easily drop off after.
- I always told her the little swoosh across her cheeks was because God sneezed when he was painting her face. She didn’t think that was so funny.
- She endeared herself to the staff at the vet’s office, and they let her walk all over them, too…
- She loved to cross her paws around my neck, and I loved their downy-soft touch.
- She had an embarrassment of fluff, the biggest eyes I’d ever seen, the most expressive looks, and the littlest ears I’d ever seen on a grown cat.
I’ll never be able to tell you all of her. I’ll never be able to remember all of her. Finishing this here, finishing it ever, seems like an incredible injustice, and I just don’t want it to be so. I’ll probably come back and add things later, to make this my memory-collecting place, but I will never be able to do her justice just with words. I’m going to miss you so much, princessa.