I liked to joke that my cat was the most anarchist cat in Indy. Not because she had a defiant, care not attitude…quite the opposite actually…and not because the anarchists named her “Desire” (I always hated that name), but in part because that is where she came from after being essentially abandoned at the collective house when it shut down. I discovered her in the middle of the winter with an open bag of cat food strewn on the floor and a water bowl frozen to the rim. I took her home with me and there she stayed for the next 9 years.
I called her the most anarchist cat in Indy because, well, she lived with me for one, but also because she ended up living in so many anarchist houses. First it was the collective house, then my apartment where we would throw dance parties and paint political banners, then another collective house, then another house that was a hub of anarchist activity, and she event spent a short stint at the “anarchist cabin” in North Carolina. In total, I think she lived in approximately nine different locations before I settled in my current house.
She lived a lot and endured a lot through it all. She lived by herself, then with another cat, then 8 other cats, then back by herself and finally with one more. She was always happy by herself though, preferring to be left to her cat business instead of having to face territory confrontations. She just wanted to enjoy the cat life. And in that cat life she endured an abscess in her chest that was so deep I worried she might die from it..but she didn’t. Then last summer she hid a wound on her hind quarters so big and round the vet didn’t think they could pull the skin together to stitch her up, and therefore would have to put her down. Fortunately, her large mass and thick skin was plenty enough for stitches and she lived on, though she had to wear a cone for something like two months.
What always amazed me about her was that she simply endured all these life changes and physical issues. She never whined, cried or even became angry through it all. She simply endured it, as if to say, “Ok, this is happening. Let’s just wait it out and get on with being a cat.” I see she was very much like me in that way and how I have chosen to handle my current complications.
Ultimately, Desire was my friend. And I didn’t realize it until last night.
For the past two weeks I noticed she wasn’t at the front door when I woke, ready to explore the neighborhood…or just the neighbor’s porch who enjoyed her company and left food out for her. Not taking advantage of food is NOT like Desire. I would go into the basement and find her laying on her favorite couch, just enjoying her space. But then, when she would make appearances upstairs, sometimes to sleep at the foot of our bed where she endured our inadvertent kicks, I would pet her and noticed her spine prominent through her skin. I thought that was odd, but as each day passed I started to feel more and more of her spine and bones pushing through her fur.
One day I opened the front door to watch her walk onto the porch and just lay down, as if exhausted from the effort of walking outside. I think then I knew something was wrong. Wondering if she had been avoiding the new brand of dry food we bought, I got her some wet food, shut her in the room with us overnight and listened to her devour it as we tried to sleep. Good….she was eating. I gave her another can in the morning to make sure she was eating it, and watched her devour it again. I was encouraged….but then I saw her abdomen struggling with breath. I called my old roommate, who is a vet tech, to come and look at her and without much reservation, he told me I needed to take her to the emergency vet right away.
And that was last night.
As soon as they saw her labored breathing, I noticed a new sense of urgency in their actions and yet a resolved tone in their voice. Desire wasn’t going to make it. Still, we ran the X-rays and they gave me the diagnosis. She had fluid in her lungs and fluid in her abdomen, pressing on her lungs and making it difficult to breath. There was something else on the X-ray….a fist sized mass near her abdomen.
I struggled to answer the questions thrown at me about her options, my throat choked up with emotion. We shared so much over the past nine years and now we even shared this awful disease. For me, though, I have options. Desire didn’t. Anything they attempted would most likely not work and she was at near death, to the point they strongly suggested I not take her home for the night as she wasn’t going to make it.
And so I made the decision to put her down. It was a rough night. I carried her heavy body in a cardboard casket out of the vet clinic and placed her in the back of the car. I laid it on a blanket in the garage last night, and woke up knowing I would have to bury her in the morning. I picked a spot by a flowering bush and dug a small grave, placing Easter flowers at the head.
And with that I lost a friend. How much a friend I didn’t realize until the house was that much more silent without her. She wasn’t at the door and she wasn’t in the basement. My friend is gone.
We couldn’t communicate in the way human friends do, of course, but we communicated regardless. In the way humans and animals relate, with that physical connection that is really separated by so little when we actually spend time around non-human animals. We did share a lot. Multiple homes, trips in the car, weekend moments on the couch, hours in bed after my surgery, and just the daily interactions inherent among housemates. And suddenly that’s all gone. I only wish I could have had one more night with her in the knowledge that it would be the last.
I’m not going to lie, this affected me more than I realized. It’s one thing for nature to take it’s course and let an animal die in relative peace (before the pain sets in), but it’s another to actually make the decision to end a life…to turn off the switch of existence. I’m still struggling with that decision, if only because I have the decision to continue on despite my dying condition, and yet I made the decision not to continue on for hers. I don’t care how right it was, the act is difficult to internalize and process.
And then, it had to be cancer right? Of all the experiences we shared, I wish we didn’t have that one, although it didn’t seem to get to the point that she was in difficult pain. She just knew her time was coming to an end. I did find a small amount of amusement in the way we dealt with our circumstances. Cats are so much smarter and in tune than humans. She knew something was wrong and so began her slow dying process, keeping to herself and just waiting it out far ahead of time. And what did I do? Keep running like nothing was wrong, telling myself all the crazy things happening to my body would pass and I probably just had too much to eat the night before…until I could barely walk in pain. Humans are stubborn idiots sometimes.
And…I’ve chosen not to dwell on this, but there were a lot of moments of internal fear and panic in the vet last night, when they asked if I wanted to be with her when she passed, when her sudden degeneration was coupled with the knowledge of her cancer. It was impossible not to remove myself from the comparison and wonder what my future might hold, how loved ones around me would react to my potential degeneration and end…I just couldn’t. I couldn’t not consider all that…but I had to stop. This isn’t the time for that.
Ultimately, this story doesn’t have a happy ending. I’m still fighting back tears and feel the sense of loss when a friend is suddenly gone from your life. I’m going to miss her beautiful face and kind, sweet nature. It would have been nice to have her company after surgery this summer, but I go on knowing that I did give her a good life for the time she spent with me, even if sometimes I subjected her to far more cats than she cared to tolerate.
I’ll undeniably miss her, but her character certainly won’t be forgotten.