September 20, 2008

I have no idea for a subject line...

One of my cats died this morning, so I'm just going to babble for a bit to get things out of my system.

Up until the point of my finding him, it had been a very normal Saturday morning. The brats woke me up before 5:00am, I got up and watched a little tv in the dark until they calmed down, then went back to bed for an hour or two until they woke me up again, then I got up and fed them. After their breakfast, they went into rambunctious kitteh mode, chasing each other at top speed throughout the apartment and generally making a ruckus. Then things calmed down a little and I decided to make some breakfast for myself. At some point around then, either in the bathroom before or the kitchen during, I remember the boy cat rubbing against my legs and me reaching down so that he could squeeze between my leg and hand as he made his rounds of my feet. He's a long, lanky boy, almost skinny to look at but solidly muscular to touch. With his thick velvety grey fur overlaying that muscle, he's the personification of sleek. But perhaps I should be using past tense and saying he 'was'.

So, anyway, I poured myself a bowl of cereal and curled up in my chair in front of the tv. While I was sitting there, the girl cat jumped up and settled herself on the back of the chair behind my head. Things were quiet. When I got up, I noticed it was strange that the boy wasn't curled up on top of the scratching post behind my chair. That's usually what happens-- When I settle in somewhere, they both soon come and settle in nearby. But he wasn't in the room. I put my stuff in the kitchen and headed to the bathroom, as he sometimes curls up and naps on one of the rugs in that room. He wasn't there. Strange. So, I headed into the bedroom, even though the only time they spend in that room is either when I'm trying to sleep or when they're playing Kitteh Speedway. I came around the bed and found him lying under the bedroom window with his head and shoulders up against the wall. The fact that his bowels had voided made it immediately clear that he was dead. When I moved closer, I saw that his eyes were partially open and his tongue was hanging out of his mouth. Other than that, he was in the same sort of position that he would often sprawl in on the living room floor after play, with his long legs stretched out and his tail curved up towards his back.

I kind of freaked. I was in some weird state between frozen and hysterical, stunned but knowing that the sobbing was going to start any moment. So many thoughts went through my head, first of all being that my beautiful boy was dead. He was absolutely one of the most beautiful cats I've ever seen in my life and I loved to just sit and look at him. And, aside from the crazy rambunctious moments, he was very mellow and self-contained, only occasionally, quietly seeking affection (unlike the girl, who's in my face regularly, trilling and chirping for me to spoil her). The moment this morning when he rubbed against my leg was one of those instances. I didn't pick him up then, but for all his self-containment, whenever I did pick him up he would let loose a deep, loud purr while I stroked him. The feeling of all of this was the first thing to go through me when I saw him lying against the wall.

After that was the more practical issue of what to do. I closed the bedroom door to keep the girl out and called the vet for advice. Really, I knew what needed to be done, but this is the first time I've had an animal die this way. As a kid, we were always distracted and sent off to play when any of the family pets died, so I only had peripheral experience of death. And the other cats I've had on my own both became sick and died via euthenasia. So beyond the shock was the issue of my own experience with handling a dead creature. For all my fascination with death (call it morbid or pragmatic, it's probably a bit of both), I have a serious aversion to dead bodies. I was practically a basket-case the winter a few years ago when mice gained access to my apartment and were one by one turned into mincemeat by my previous cat. Having to clean up their little carcasses flipped me out and left me practically sleepless with the dread of future occurences until the problem was resolved. As I was sobbing on the phone with the vet and, then, with my mother, I wondered how I would deal with having to lift and wrap up Alec's dead body.

After hanging up the phone, I sat on the living room floor and bawled. I must have sounded horrific, because the girl cat arched her back, puffed up her tail, and backed away from me. I finally calmed down and comforted her a bit, and it crossed my mind to wonder why she hadn't sensed Alec's death before I found him. Had it been that sudden? That led to the other course of thoughts that had been running through everything else-- How? Had he become rambunctious again, launched himself across the bed, hit his head on the wall, broken his neck? Had he messed with one of the electric sockets in the bedroom? Had he somehow ingested something in my apartment that I didn't know was fatal to animals? What the fuck had happened to him?

I finally gather myself up enough to become focused on what had to be done. I gathered up paper towels and an old towel and went back into the bedroom. I was torn between wanting to kneel there and look at him to remember that moment and all the moments since I brought him home in January, to fix his beauty in my mind, and to prolong the suddenness of his death. Cleaning him up and driving him to the vet would finalize everything, he'd be gone with no chance of reprieve, no chance that I was imagining all of this and that he'd suddenly stretch his long limbs and raise his head to look at me with sleepy eyes. But his poop was beginning to smell. At the very least, I had to clean that up. I also had no idea how long before rigor mortis would set in. Better to deal with him while his body was pliant. Surprisingly, the squeamishness I expected wasn't an issue. Perhaps because he was my beautiful boy, perhaps because I was so focused on dealing with things, I don't know, but spreading out the towel and gradually shifting his long, limp body into the middle of it was easier than I expected. Wrapping him up was another matter. I'm not kidding this cat was long. I didn't want to handle him too much, trying to fold up legs and all, but I got him wrapped and began to pick him up, only to find that his tail was hanging out of the towel. So, onto the bed and tuck that in, then out to the car.

The folks at the vet's office were great, ushering me into an exam room as soon as I got there. The vet gave him a quick check for any obvious cause of death, but there was nothing. His neck was fine, there were no burn marks in his mouth to indicate chewing on an electrical cord, nothing. According to her, sudden death of this sort in cats is most often due to heart failure. It's possible the crazy kitteh shenanigans this morning were too intense. It's also possible he had an underlying issue that had never been apparent. They're going to do a necropsy over the weekend and let me know what they find out. After that, they're going to create a paw print for me of one of his crazily long-toed big feet, then he'll be cremated and returned to me. I surprised myself again by unhesitatingly stroking his dead body and leaning down to kiss him. It was so very hard to leave him there and go home to only one cat, knowing I'll never see him again.

Olive, on the other hand, doesn't seem to realize anything's out of the ordinary. She's been in my face perhaps a bit more than usual for attention, though that's probably also due to the fact that I'm reaching for her every time she comes near. But she doesn't seem to be looking for him. As I was inspecting the electrical cords and sockets in the bedroom, she walked across the spot where he had been lying when I found him and barely stopped to sniff. They weren't super-duper bosom buddies, there was a natural sibling-ish competitiveness between them (though they weren't related), but I don't know how she'll adapt to being a lone cat. I'm sure she'll love being the sole object of my attention, but she's way too energetic and playful not to have a kitteh companion, especially when I'm not home. So I've already begun wondering how long until I'll have to begin looking for a new second cat, and what I'll have to deal with in adapting her to a new 'friend' at her age. Acclimating a pair of 4 or 5 month old kittens to each other is one thing. Once they've hit a year and have a sense of territory, though, it could be much more difficult. And her and Alec's personalities just so perfectly complemented each other, him being so mellow and quiet, and her being frisky and chirpy. This will be something to occupy my thoughts over the coming days.

On top of all this, I've been dealing with a fibbutzed computer this past week. I'm currently logged on in Safe Mode to access the 'net and get this all out. Which brings me to the other issue I faced in conjunction to everything else this morning, the drawbacks of the solitary lifestyle I've chosen. It was different when my famly was just 45 minutes away in the next state, but since they've moved to Florida the fact that all of my closest relationships are hours away keeps being driven home to me. While on the phone with the vet, I was asked if I had a friend or neighbor who could help me wrap up Alec's body to bring him in. I had to answer no. I know a few of my neighbors and am cordial with them, but I don't consider them friends. My closest friends, logistically speaking, are the women I cycle with, but I don't feel close enough to any of them to impose something like this on them. I considered calling one long-distance friend just for a shoulder but, again, I don't know if our relationship has progressed to the point of me blubbering over the phone to her. So, I turn to this, the electronic journal that allows me to spill my guts to long-distance friends, acquaintances, and whatever strangers happen to stumble across it. If I had a concrete belief in God, I'd be thanking him/her/it for the intarwebs right now. But now that it's all out, time for me to try to stop crying and figure out why my PC keeps freezing during startup. Wish me luck (on both).


Jim said...

K, so sorry to hear about this. It's tough when you have time to prepare, tougher when they go suddenly. My condolences.

BettyBetty said...

So sorry about your cat.

birds fly said...

This was really distressing to read, especially since one of my own cats died a little over a year ago. Your vivid description mirrored many elements of my own experience. It was such a hard thing to deal with, and I still dream about him regularly. As corny as it might sound, I think it's his way of assuring me everything is okay. My cats were brother and sister and I haven't gotten another cat since Scratchy's death. I've thought about it, but I'm not sure if after eleven years of living with her brother, Fiznit would want another feline companion. She seems content to be the center of attention now.