The oldest one
I walk in the door from work -- it's late, 7:30 at night, and go right to check on the cat. The vet said to call him tomorrow if she's not better. She's not.
She's lying on her side, half-in and half-out of her bed, as if she fell over while trying to move and couldn't get back up. Her mouth is shut, eyes open, and she's breathing rapidly -- short, shallow breaths. I lean closer and see that the white fur on her legs is wet -- she's leaking some mucousy fluid from her nose.
"Oh, Kitty." I lean over her to stroke her forehead and she raises her head, snarling at me, no recognition in her glassy eyes.
I call my oldest, who picked out this kitty as his own when he was seven years old. "Joe, the cat's dying."
His voice cracks: "Okay, I'll come right home."
When he arrives, red-eyed, we place her on his lap and he sits on the laundry room floor with her, stroking her long fur. I give them some time alone, sure she'll be gone within an hour, maybe two.
We move around the house quietly, stilted. Joe's so broken up; it seems rude to talk, to cook, to eat. Eventually he moves to the couch, and my husband suggests we watch a movie to ease the silent grief. March of the Penguins: perfect. We all hustle into our chairs as if it's the most important thing we could be doing at that moment. And maybe it is.
We make small talk during the movie as the cat continues to lie on Joe's lap, motionless, and he continues to stroke her fur as he always does, always has. The movie is fascinating, as we've heard it is, and the hours slowly ease by.
When the movie ends and Joe stands to take the cat downstairs to his room, my heart breaks. The image will stay with me for some time: him, a big, strapping 20-some-year-old, standing there at the top of the stairs with his beloved cat in his arms. The cat is on a blanket in a shallow box, and he's holding her in front of him gingerly, as if she's on a tray. He's carrying her down to his room to die during the night. He's crying, and I hug him a long time before he goes downstairs with her. It seems so cruel: sending him to his room with her to die. But that's what he wants, and he's a big boy now.
Neither my husband nor I sleep much. When I do, I'm dreaming bad dreams. My youngest is kidnapped while he's at camp. They don't tell me about it for three weeks. I arrive, furious, and go to find him. I do, and it turns out to be a former friend of my husbands. We chase the guy, and my husband leaps from the car to beat him up. I flee with my youngest. That dream mercifully ends, but the next one is bloody, and the one after that full of gravesites. Every time I wake up, I wonder if she's died yet, if my son is lying in the dark stroking the fur of a dead pet.
Morning comes and she's still alive. We agree to take her to the vet to be euthanized.
It's an awful drive, and though I haven't cried yet over the kitty, I do now. Hard. Very hard. I'm almost sobbing in the vet's office, and Joe and I hold one another. It's over quickly, and we drive home with her, with the stench of death in the small car. He wants to bury her on our property.
I know pets get into our hearts and claim a small portion of them, and we don't realize until times like these how deeply entwined they are. But I also wonder how many of my tears and sobs -- Joe's, too -- are unrelated to the cat. How many of them are just leaking out of that vast well of sadness that sits just under the surface now? You can't cry over your addicted child, because hey, he's doing well now. You hope. But you can cry over the cat, and so you do: you sob, you feel the agony. And you wonder what the source of the agony really is.
Joe is out at our property right now, digging a deep hole in the frozen soil, handling his pain in a way that may ease it, attacking the frozen ground with a pick axe. The pain is so intense; you know it can't be just from a cat, wonderful as she was. You look into your kid's red-rimmed eyes, and he looks into yours, and you think about this day exactly one year ago, when your other son was in the hospital and you were making plans to take him, sick and huddled under a blanket, across the country to gawd only knows what future. At that time you also looked into this son's red eyes, and you felt the pain together then, too. And you love this oldest son, oh, how you love him as you prepare to bury his beloved cat.