The Cat Lady's Goodbye

Monday, June 4, 2012

I knew as soon as I saw him that he was the cat I wanted. "This one," I told Nathan. "This one is my favorite." He was skinny as sin but twice as fluffy, a grey furball with a white beard & big socks to match. A black nose, not a pink one, which I swore made him cuter. And most importantly, he was purring - hard. He responded to our petting, forcing his head up under our hands if we tried to stop. Yes, he was our cat right away.

We knew we were taking a gamble adopting an old cat. He was 9, the ASPCA told us (though we'd later learn he was closer to 12), an indoor-outdoor who went by George but didn't know his name, which meant we could easily change it. We adopted him despite his age because cats sometimes live to be 18, & where would we be in 18 years?! An old man seemed like a safe bet for an unknown future.

The first few days with George were rough, though. He had an incessantly watery eye, plus a stuffy nose & a kitty cold. He wouldn't eat & hid under the bed whenever we approached him. We took him to the vet but couldn't afford to shell out hundreds of dollars for a cat we'd just gotten, so the ASPCA agreed to take him back, & I gave him a tearful goodbye as Nathan planned to return him while I was away on business. When the photo came via text message less than a day later, though, I was so happy I cried: our cat, eating Spaghetti-O's! He was cured! Nathan liked to take credit for saving his life. We renamed him Stringer Bell, after one of our favorite TV characters & he was only sort of appropriately tough. Mostly, he was just cuddly.

When Nathan was away on Coast Guard deployment, Stringer was my saving grace. With no friends in the area, he was my little buddy, my constant companion. Unlike other cats, he welcomed belly rubs; he was nearly always purring. He'd sleep curled up in my arm at night & would lick my face before I fell asleep, like a little dog. He destroyed our furniture & stuck his head in all our water glasses, but he was the happiest cat in the land, & I freely admitted to being kind of obsessed with him. How could you not love something so cute so much?

Yesterday, while I was in Ohio for a wedding, Stringer had a stroke. Of course, Nathan didn't know that was what had happened, only that the cat had lost control of some bodily functions & was doing what we call his "angry meow." Nathan took him to the emergency vet, where he was X-rayed & put in an oxygen cage to help him breathe, on the off chance it was just allergies. But at 4:30 this morning, Nathan got a call saying Stringer had gotten worse & was likely in a lot of pain. Like a good papa, Nate gave them the go-ahead to stop his suffering. I took a standby flight home at 8:30am, but our kitty was long gone by then.

I don't even like animals. I certainly never thought I'd become this crazy cat lady who lets her pet lick her face at night. But I'll be damned if that little guy wasn't my absolute favorite thing in the world for a solid 14.5 months. He got me through life in Portsmouth when I wanted nothing more than to flee back to D.C. or Ohio. He gave me something to take care of while Nathan was away. He gave me infinite snuggles in exchange for food, water, & a few good belly rubs. When I petted that cat, I could almost feel the stress leaving my body; he was better & cuter than Xanax, but possibly even more addictive.

I've spent all day crying, & I'm not even back home yet. I know that when I enter our apartment & he's not there to greet me - when I see Nathan all out of sorts & sans-cat sad - I'm going to lose it all over again. I know, I know: Far be it from me to question nature's plan. Maybe Stringer Bell just didn't want to move to New Jersey? I don't blame you, little buddy. But I know that we gave him the best year of his short cat life, & he gave us so much love & happiness in return. Already, life feels a lot less fluffy without him.

Nap well, my sweet little man. Mama & papa loved you hard.

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