I know you’re not really bad. You’re food-obsessed, you’re chatty, you have very specific annoyances — a lot like me, actually. When I was just 17 and had no idea how to train you, you would pee in my mom’s potted plants every day. Remember the time in the kitchen when I saw you squatting and I yelled at you for probably the 10th time "BAD CAT!" Your tiny fuzzy face looked up at me and I thought, "Oh dear, she thinks that’s her name," and it stuck. I think you’re actually the best cat I’ve ever owned.
When I was away from home for a year at school, every time I called my family I would ask, "Where is BadCat? When is the last time anyone saw her?" because they were not responsible pet owners and they would let you outside, where you would stretch out on the warm road. Oh how I’d scold you when I saw you relaxing there!
Do you remember that time when I took some black-and-white pictures of you for my photography class? I knew, even then, that life and love are fleeting. You’re 14 now, and getting sick, and I can’t even bring myself to look at those photos because you’re still here with me. I have only one photo of you as a kitten. I wish I had more of them from when you were just a little ball of fluff.
Do you remember when we found each other? The first love of my life given me the first heartbreak of my life. It was mid-December and I was talking with two other students who were also skipping school. A light snow was falling. A man came down the concrete steps of the overpass and you, a small as you were, must have jumped the steps one by one along with him, looking for someone to bring you in from the cold, someone to pick you up, hold you, love you, and feed you.
The man asked, "Does this kitten belong to one of you?" Three of us stood there, but you made a beeline for my feet. I don’t remember what I said, or if you were cold or skinny; I just remember how darn fluffy and cute you were, that you were probably more fur than flesh, and that my parents might not let me keep you. But I tucked you into my jacket and brought you home. I worried you might wiggle or try to get away from me, but you didn’t. You purred a lot, the deal, sealed, at least for the two of us.
I didn’t even have food for you, or a litter box, but you didn’t seem to care. You fell asleep on my chest and I was cat-paralyzed. Then my father came into my room and I begged and pleaded with him to keep you, all cute, fuzzy, and asleep. We decided that mother should see you for herself so that she would say yes as well. They weren’t great parents, but maybe they could tell I needed you, that you would mend my broken heart.
And you did, many times over. When my mother died and I cried alone in the apartment, you came to make sure I was okay. Even now, when I am laughing, you always check to see if I’m crying; it must sound similar, to a cat. Now that you’re going deaf you don’t hear my crying as much, and when I cry over losing you, I try to shield you from it.
Do you remember when my wife spent the night for the first time? You brought us a mouse. In the three or four years you and I had been together, you had never done that before! You brought the mouse up into the attic, and with it dangling in your mouth, yowled loudly until we awoke and turned on the light — then, of course, you let it loose. We laughed and went back to sleep. And then you did it again! That was the best thing: You caught it a second time. I took it from you and let it go outside, unharmed. Since then you’ve been an indoor cat, and we no longer live in places with mice. I wonder if you miss catching them.
Do you remember when my mom was sick and you tripped her? You didn’t really trip her, I know that, but boy did she make a thud when she fell. You helped me be more compassionate because of that, because despite the sort of mother she was, she was my mother, and everyone only gets one, so I helped her up and made sure she was okay.
Do you remember the first time I took you to the nursing home? I don’t remember that, but man, we’ve been so many times since. I know you meant a lot to many different people. It’s kind of nice to think that when the time comes you’ll see a lot of familiar faces that will keep you company until I meet you at that legendary Rainbow Bridge.
I hope you live long enough to go to some more 5k walks with me this year. Last year, I took you to my first one because I thought I would be bored. I walked you in that cute pet stroller that you love; I got to show you off and tell everyone how old you are and how you love to go in the stroller and how I taught you how to sit even at the age of 13! Now I want to take you to every track that allows for a stroller.
Last night I said to my wife, "I’m going to go get BadCat. Now she’s on borrowed time, I really just want to soak up this time with her."
"But aren’t they all?" she replied.
My wife and her darn existentialism. Yes, BadCat, we are all dying, but I am pretty sure you will be the first of our family to go. I have no plans to get another cat after you; the four we have now are one too many. But you were my first cat. I paid for your spaying, the treatment for your ear mites (and the resulting painful and ugly yet adorable hematoma), and your bladder infection from the stress of our first move. Now you’re less expensive, because the doctor doesn’t know how to help you. The ectopic thyroid growth is too covered in blood vessels and nerves, and very close to the jugular. We want to keep you comfortable, and I won’t watch you suffer. We might see a specialist, but there is no cure for old age.
I’m sorry I don’t know how to make you better. I want you to be with me forever, but I know that’s not possible. I have to follow the advice I have given many pet owners, as a shelter worker and as a vet tech: I have to watch you closely and determine when your good days are outnumbered by bad. It’s harder this time, because I’ve never had to do it myself. But until that day, I will do what I can for you: pick you up and put you on the bed, do homework with you on my lap, take you with me whenever I can, treasure this time with you — but I have piles and piles of homework and housework, and soon I will have an internship that will take me away from you during the day. I love you. Take that with you always.
When the day and time comes, and I have peanut butter for you because you’ll swear off all bets for peanut butter, and I am holding you and crying, I will whisper in your ear the same thing I have told some of the people at the nursing home: "When you get there, tell my mother I love her and miss her." Just promise me you won’t trip her.
After many years working in animal shelters and a veterinary hospital, Janelle D is pursuing her education to become a veterinary technician and go back to working in an animal shelter as an animal control officer or humane society police officer. She shares her home with her supportive wife and their four cats, BadCat, Smitty, Orbit, and October.
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