My cat, Wish, died last night.
He was with me for a little over a decade and I think he was sixteen or so when he died, but it’s hard to say since I wasn’t his first owner.
He was my first cat.
I had pets growing up, of course – but those dogs and cats were my mom’s. This was the first one I decided as an adult to bring to live with me in the apartment where I first lived alone. After I’d finished with all the human room mates of my early 20’s it was just me and Wish.
At first we eyed one another with wary speculation. He seemed to decide that despite being considerably shorter he was the boss in our relationship and thus it was appropriate to wrap himself about my leg and chew my ankle when I came home from work. A lot of yelling, hopping around, and finally cat treats and thorough brushings convinced him that it might be okay to let me stay.
Eventually I got married and Wish grudgingly accepted the presence of a husband in our lives. Still, he never quite stopped giving Ted’s ankles the occasional gnaw just to prove that although I was at the top of the pack, he came second and Ted had to rank third.
I’ve never read an animal’s moods as well as I read his. I knew exactly when it was okay to pick him up for an extended snuggle, when he was feeling bitey, when I could touch his paws and when a fit of cat insanity was coming on. I never had to worry about a session of petting turning into an unexpected swat, because he never did that to me. In truth, he did it very rarely at all despite it being a common feline tendency. He was an outgoing, friendly, and funny cat.
I loved the way he smelled. At night, Wish let us sleep in his bed but during the day it was all his. I would frequently come into find him stretched luxuriantly among the covers and I would lay down and use his warm side as a pillow. He smelled like sunlight on clean fur. Ted would yell at me, “stop snorting the cat!” But I’m not allergic, so what do I care?
He acted a lot like a dog at times. When I came home from work he would be there – rolling around on the floor in a fit of apparent glee upon seeing my return, expecting a belly rub. When I went upstairs he followed me. When I sat on the sofa he assumed his rightful place in my lap. It’s going to be very, very strange to use a bathroom unescorted again after all this time.
I keep hearing his claws clicking behind me on the kitchen floor. The pillows in the dining room where he slept are still dented in the shape of his body and although it hurts every time I look at them, I don’t want to smooth them out. He was my constant companion in my house and everywhere I look is covered with the ghost of him.
When he first started to show signs of age, like little bits of silver fur mixed in among all the black, I would grow fearful of this day and lean close to one of his big ears to whisper to him, “stay with me… stay with me...”
The end though, must always come. It happened mercifully quickly. He had been losing weight as older cats do. My sister calls it ‘fading’. He used to be huge, with glowing gold eyes and a lustrous coat of thick black fur; like a panther in miniature. Of late he was starting to feel more like a cat skeleton with a thinning pelt stretched over it. Still – despite not being as limber or cuddly as he used to be, he was still my Wish.
I got home from work and fed him as usual. We ate our dinner and afterward he climbed into my lap awhile before assuming a spot just next to me on the sofa. I ran my hand over his back and again noticed the pronounced angles of his spine and hips through the fur. Eventually he went upstairs.
Ted called me because something wasn’t right. At some point shortly after going upstairs, I think Wish had a massive stroke. At that moment the bright spirit that I’ve loved so long left us. The body was still there and moving with frantic confusion around my bedroom making bizarrely humanlike sounds, but the feline mind so familiar to me had completely fled in an instant. He was just… gone. Just like that. It was as though the brain had irreparably broken but the malfunctioning body hadn’t yet caught up.
My sister and mom came over to help me get him into a carrier. He died next to me, in the car on the way to the vet. I’m glad it wasn’t at the office. They’re a great vet, but he really hated that place.
In the end taking the decision about what to do next out of my hands was the last gift of countless many that he would ever be able to give me.
So long old friend. I love you.