Thursday, October 7, 2010

I am trying to break your heart ...

I never guessed I'd feel relief. It didn't last long. Commercial-length maybe. Enough time to identify the lightened load, the proverbial "no pain ... better place," and then question the appropriateness of that relief. I had visualized every step of the process. From scooping Toonses up and carrying him to the car, to handing his lifeless body to someone in a lab coat. But never once did I consider the two-minute sigh of relief that it was over. No more of whatever had eaten at his brain, and turned him from a clumsy dog-ish character into an invalid over the course of a few days.

Of course, that feeling didn't last long. But it was there, like a giggle at a funeral.

***

We started carrying him places at the end of last week. Chuck would come down stairs with Toonses draped over his arm like a red fur stole. I carried him back upstairs to his beloved spot on a blanket in the closet. His body, 10 pounds lighter during his illness, dangling and weak. A single paw grabbing at nothing, trying to fill his broken-brain compulsion to spin right, even in mid-air.

I began wishing he would just die.  Lay down in a cozy space, roll your tiny cat head into your chest, and fall asleep forever. Please. And, extra credit, let Chuck find him.

The alternative made me sick: Wrapping him in a Steve Urkle sleeping bag, driving down the street to the vet knowing that I'd be leaving him. The fatal shot. His body going slack.But first, him looking up at me, his green eyes darkened and sad. Coming home with just an empty blanket. His little cat dish half full. His abandoned litter box. The layer of fur on his favorite surfaces, and redish lint balls caught in corners behind doors.

On Friday night I lifted him into his litter box. He tipped on his side, unable to stand. A bath in sandbox. A stream of pee wetting his fur, the dribbles of a leaky faucet, following by contractions of fur as he pushed out three small turds. First I wailed, then I bawled. His eyes were vacant and dark. I lifted him out, and carried him back upstairs. Then I watched him for the rest of the night.

On Saturday I got out of the bathtub and accidentally waded through a river of cat urine on the kitchen floor. I went back to the tub to wash my feet. An hour later, he had shit in the same spot.

A Facebook friend had written about how they were going to have to put their cat to sleep. They were indulging him in his final days. I imagined cozy laps, loving strokes, shared licks from their ice cream cone. Some final family photos, and all the things they wished they had said.

"Us,too," I wanted to write. "Except he won't eat or drink, so his final wish is to use the kitchen floor as his litter box. We're letting him. It's the least we can do."

I wasn't sure if this was crass, so I deleted it. Wrote it again. Deleted it again. Got off Facebook.

It was impossible to have a conversation without mentioning him. On Saturday night I reluctantly stopped by a party. The whole time I was worried Sir Spinner would loop toward the steps and fall. A furry Slinkie. I'd come home to find his neck broken, his tongue lolling out of his backward head. I updated a handful of friends who were sitting at a dining room table. The circles. The shit. Won't eat. My nose felt like I'd snorted ginger ale. My eyes leaked.

"It's so sad," JCrew said. "I mean he's been in your life for so lo-"
"Hey!" I said. Reached for a peanut butter and chocolate Rice Krispie bar.
"Oh, right," she said.
My throat bulged. I drank a beer. I left soon after that.

In a spare bedroom above the living room, Toonses clacked around in circles. His nails clicking against the hard wood floors. He sounded like a marching band of Gremlins. All night long. Down the hall to another room. Circling. Sometimes stopping when he tipped over, dizzy.

I feel asleep to the sound of this, this metronome, in the room next door. i kept thinking of the cat from "Pet Semetary." Church. What if Toonses went evil. Used his artificial steroid strength for a killing spree? Pounced in the bed, took a chunk of cheek off my face?

On Sunday I removed one of his paws from where it was tangled in the loop handle of a shopping bag from DSW. Two minutes later, he had gotten stuck mid-torso in the coffee table. He made for the wires behind the TV/TiVo/DVD player set up, and I intercepted him. He put a paw on the bottom step, tipped over. Looked at me, exhausted. He ran into the cupboards. He crunched into a grocery sack. He screamed, maybe finally in pain. Maybe finally alert enough to realize he was frustrated. There was a whole life of things to the left that he was unable to experience. He fell asleep on a grey slouchy boot.

"Are you going to get another cat?" I was asked by an acquaintance. "When our cat died, we got a new one 10 days later."
"No," I said.
"It made things a lot easier," she said.
"No," I responded.

I'm not a cat lover. I am a this cat specific lover. Just this one. This vocal, opinionated misanthrope whose personality so perfectly matched ours. Not so much a pet as a roommate. The way he bounded down the steps like a teen-aged girl when he heard us come home. How we had to fight him for the best spot on the couch. The way we could tell he hated our former downstairs neighbor, seemingly rolling his eyes in  unison with our complaints. He was always slightly more dog. Social, and anti-social. Nocturnal. Laughed awkwardly when he heard the neighborhood cats mating, like a pre-teen who accidentally sees a sex scene while watching a movie with his parents. Afraid of grass and thunder storms. Judged us when we were drunk.

I'd chase him around the apartment.
"What are you doing?" Chuck asked.
"I want to hold him!" I screeched.
"Why?" he asked.
"HE'S MY PET," I croaked.

"The people seem to have gotten into the crazy juice again," Chuck imitating Toonses' cat voice.

When we moved into this house, Chuck took an extra cardboard box and cut half an oval into it. A giant mouse hole, like something from "Tom & Jerry." He wrote "Toonses" over the door with a Sharpie. On Sunday night I went to check on the little guy, and he had curled up in that box. And that right there was the steel toed boot to the diaphragm moment.

***

I couldn't breathe Monday morning. As expected, Toonses doused my leg in the car. A sadistic sort of last rites. When we got to the vet's office, I tried to face the wall instead of being the snot-soaked reminder to the other people in the lobby that this gig, this pet ownership thing, never has a happy ending. Never. One woman couldn't stop staring. Her husband had a pig on a leash. I turned around again.

We went into a small room in the back of the office. The doctor came in, shaved Toonison's little left arm, and injected him. Within seconds, his heart had stopped.

"He's gone," the doctor said. "You can stick around as long as you want ..."
I handed him over, and we were ushered out a back door.

***

Toonses loved to watch figure skating. Once ate a pair of glittery Sam & Libby sandals. I bought a replacement pair; He ate those, too. Became obsessed with a sequin scarf, which he dragged around for days like it was his best friend. Hated the Velvet Underground and The Postal Service, growled when we played these records. He went Sonny Liston on Chuck's dad's yappy dog, once. They had to hide Penny in the bathroom for her own safety. Celebrity doppelganger: Garfield. But more like Marmeduke. A clumsy little fucker. Especially for a cat.

He purred constantly. Every second. Always. A constant happy throaty vibration. Even in those last three days.

16 comments:

Sproactually said...

I'm happy you were with him to the end, because really that's all he would have wanted.

And about getting another cat, you don't pick a cat, a cat picks you.

Now i can go wipe my eyes.

Beret said...

I'm really, really sorry.

Kate Bee said...

I'm sorry, Christa.

Karen said...

I am so sorry. I've always had a soft spot for Toonses. He had a good, long life and I'm sure even in the end he knew how much you loved him. Having gone through this with my Ferris (orange tabby, girthy, lethargic, chatty)I find those last words to be most comforting, because they're true. This was beautifully written, as always when you're being mostly serious. You're in my thoughts.

diatribes and dish said...

Ahhhh, Toonses. His antics were fun to read about, much moreso than those "Cat Who..." show-offs. May he rest in peace.

feisty said...

so sorry to hear- very sad. i never thought a cat story would make me all choked up...

Tooska said...

This was the nicest, most heartwarming, wonderfulest little pet tribute I've read.

It's so terrific that I'm not even miffed that it made me cry in my office in front of people. I just want to hug you, CL.

Mary said...

I'm so sorry. I always got a kick out of reading your Toonses stories on here...I hope that as the sting wears off, those funny moments are the memories that stick out the most.

Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry. I loved him and I love you.

- Lil' Latrell

Whiskeymarie said...

So I'm at work, hoping that no one walks by for a few minutes and sees my watery eyes and red face.

I'm so sorry for you and Toonses- poor little guy.

I try and push back in my brain the fact that, the more pets I bring into our life, up goes the number of times that I'll have to go through this.
Okay, I'm going to think about Unicorns and rainbows now...

jcrew said...

ugh. my own throat bulge at work. Toonses hated me; i loved to lug him around wherever you were living at the time and poke him. he drew lots of blood in the 8 years I've known him. that little fucker.

debby said...

oh wow, I'm so, so sorry to read this.

Nickname unavailable said...

That's a brilliant piece of writing.

Futbol said...

second. beautifully written.

Belldoorlover said...

Totally wrecked me. Sitting at work wiping away tears. I'm so sorry.

CDP said...

So sorry for your loss. This was beautiful writing, not that that's any consolation.