Monday, February 20, 2012
Since Cooper died shortly after Christmas, I've watched my other two cats with a careful eye. Are they eating? Walking okay? Acting more weird than usual? The three were all born of the same mother, one six months after the first two. This summer will be twenty years.
I get asked from time to time whether I'd like a new cat, or whether I'll be getting one soon. It's a question I've asked myself when I think I can't take one more day of aging cat issues. I pondered that question again the other night as Emma purred on my chest while I tried to read.
The answer is yes. I'll get a cat when Emma and Grace are gone. Introducing someone new into the family right now would send them both into a world of stress that wouldn't be good for them or me. And who knew that old cats could be so much work? Lifting up, putting down. Turning on a faucet because no other water will do. Letting out, and then back in—as quickly as possible because the urgent yowls allow for nothing else until feline demands are met. Offering first this food, and then that, settling on baby food (only chicken) and a really expensive dry food Emma will eat only when no one is in the room. Dealing with disintegrating toilet habits. I have neither the time nor the energy for a new cat right now.
I do know what I want when the day comes: a young fixed male, Maine Coon, from a shelter. One. What I end up with will of course be its own story.
As though reading my thoughts, Emma reached out with a claw-extended paw and grabbed my chin. When I wrapped my hand around her foot and firmly pushed it back, her purrs grew louder after she chirped at me. I studied her still-young face over the top of my glasses. The bright gooseberry eyes. Fur soft, shiny, luxuriant. Attitude in full flower.
Maybe she will live forever. I know better, but the longer I have her, the more I marvel at our relationship, and the gifts she's brought me. And it's been a relationship from the day she was born in this very room. There has always been something about tabby and white cats for me, so I was drawn to her immediately. I knew I would keep her even as I wondered how I was going to find homes for her litter mates. (As it turned out, I kept three and gave two to my brother—Emma is the last survivor.)
Our early relationship was less than ideal. She left home more than once, for a week one time, and my heart broke again and again as I thought I'd lost her. She would get mad when we went on vacation and pointedly ignore me for days after our return. She loved sacks, but got her head caught in handles and ran frantically through the house leaving trails of urine and broken treasures.
But she brought me gifts on a regular basis: flying squirrels, baby rabbits, tail-less lizards. She sought my lap, claimed my face with hers, and followed me around the yard when I planted or weeded. No matter how many other cats were around, they always made way when Emma approached. Everyone seemed to understand that we were each other's first. I'm not sure it's a choice I made consciously, or at all. It's felt like our bond was just there, and really strong, from the beginning.
The most precious gift Emma has given me is her aging self. I've watched her transform from a feisty, crabby, snooty thing who hid when anyone she didn't know came into the house into a friendly curious presence no matter who's around. She's more talkative, more affectionate, less fearful. She adores Toby, greets Walt as though she's actually missed him, takes treats from any friendly hand. She has become my model for growing old gracefully.
No new cat will replace Emma. I'll probably never have quite the relationship with another cat that I've had with her. Her longevity alone will be difficult to match. I do know that when her time does come, I won't be left with regret. I have loved her and cared for her as well as any cat could hope for, better probably, except cats always believe they'll have everything they want and more.
There's much I will miss when she's gone: the eggy smell of her breath, the particular weight and warmth of her in my lap, the curl of her behind my knees in the middle of the night. There's much I won't miss: the 3:00 a.m. relentless yowling, the banging screen door when she wants in, the messes. I know I can't have one without the other, and maybe I wouldn't want it any other way. Aware our days together are numbered, I embrace all of it, trying hard not to lose a minute of our time worrying about the end.