living with goodbye

Ugly-cry was definitely not on my list for this weekend. But a man and his dog happened:

(For more of their story, Moon wrote this in The Inertia.)

The little wild child in me wants to live out of a truck and see the world. But I might die a little since it’s hard to receive mail on the road.

I’m living through a goodbye right now: maybe permanent, maybe not. Either way I feel like I am losing something: a friend, memories, a future.

Maybe growing up isn’t so much about how I can tough out the goodbyes; I’m not sure what it is about, though. Not yet.

bye-bye baby

I took my cat, Precious, to the vet one final time yesterday. Her tumor had grown so large she was having a hard time breathing properly.

It’s surreal to come home to not see her there. I keep moving so I don’t have to think, vacuuming enough cat hair from the carpeting to sculpt another cat and trying to not to miss her but I do. I miss the little trill in her purr when she greets me in the morning. Her random muscle twitching when she sleeps. Her meowing politely at 4am to be let out of the room. Her squashing herself into 2-inches of space between my occupied lap and the armrest of the armchair; evidently, cats are categorized as liquids.

She was a former stray who had grown to be part of me.

Funny how I remember the littlest detail from one night, just because of a cat. I was in high school and still living at home, a two-bedroom ground-floor apartment. Our storage units were outside of our kitchen window and usually served as a fabulous platform from which residential squirrels taunted us. We had just finished dinner one night and cleared off the table.  It had been snowing that night; a typical Minnesota February. My dad was moseying about the kitchen when he saw something outside of the window on top of the storage unit. It was a white cat, very small, and looking very cold. White cat in white snow. My dad called to my mom and I that there’s cat and both of us bounded to the window in a step and half, our three faces gawking at one. The cat looked at us shyly, checked her surroundings, then turned her gaze back to us. I slunk around our kitchen wall and opened our backdoor, which was adjacent to the storage units, then creaked open our arthritic patio door as non-threateningly as possible. The cat looked at me, back at my parents, then back at me and I made all of the enticing and ridiculous sounds I could think of to attract a stray cat. She looked at me a little longer, then tip-toed closer, lifting each foot high, touching the crusted snow as little as possible. She stopped right out of hand-reach, halted as if my outstretched hand and her nose were ends of magnets of the same charge. A pause, an eternity. Then she broke that force field and head-butted my hand. I scooped her up and flit into the apartment, letting the patio door close with an asthmatic whoosh. She didn’t struggle very much, but sat on the floor quietly, weather-weary and thin-boned, with widened eyes, one amber and one aquamarine, almost too giant for her thin face. My parents and I huddled around her like she’s a landed comet and made even more ridiculous cooing noises while she ate our roasted chicken left overs like a vacuum. Then she washed her face daintily and plopped on her side and stretched into a backwards feline accordion to have her belly rubbed.

And I was bewitched.

Copyright, Hannah Zhang

My life with her was full of emotional mayhem, a considerable proportion of which she caused. But she stayed with me, through three moves, my parents’ separation, a handful of break-ups, and a dozen early-life crises. When I would come home battered and bruised but too proud to show the world my wounds, she would climb into my lap and curl into her delicious cat swirl and purr and I would be a little girl again, just a cat on my lap and the world at bay.

I wanted to reason my grief away, that she was only a cat, that there will be more kitties who need a home, that she had a good life, that I had a good life with her. But none of these things help at all, even though they are true. I had expected her to be around longer, because there was so much more of life I wanted to share with her. I wanted her to be with me when I go off graduate school, so she could sit out on the screened-in patio and smell a Carolina autumn. I wanted her to hog all of my pillow space and purr the night away. I wanted so many more years. She was only nine.

I wish cats lived longer.

photo by Abby Kroken

on dying

Last Thursday, May 2nd, I took the cat in to have her teeth cleaned since her bad breath has reached biohazard level. Any time we have a vet visit I feel like I’m subjecting her to systematic torture, like enrolling children in Russian ballet training. The vet called me in the middle of the morning while the cat was under anesthesia: three of her back teeth were loose and she had swelling in her gums. They recommended removing her loose teeth and getting X-rays to assess the extent of the issue. While removing her loose teeth the vet found dead and blackened tissue and sprawling tumors on her gums, and the jawbone and tooth sockets where her loose teeth had been have eroded away.

The biopsy came back yesterday. Squamous cell carcinoma. Invasive.

When I got the call while she was still in surgery I started to Google oral squamous cell carcinoma, then stopped because I couldn’t remove myself from it all and say objectively, yes, prognosis is 30-90 days of survival time, and yes, invasive OSCC will metastasize quickly. Yes, she will die, and very soon.

It’s a strange thing to watch someone die, even if she’s a cat.

I forced myself to work through last Thursday on auto-pilot, then took her home and cried, through her post-surgery stupor and lack of appetite, and I cried harder when she perked up and came to cuddle with me because I knew how much I will miss her love. How much I will miss her.

But I am glad that she doesn’t understand the mental duress of having cancer and perhaps only feels that her jaw hurts, and I am glad there are drugs to alleviate her physical pain. Meanwhile I am the one having episodic mental breakdowns and getting incrementally psychotic and asking all the Why’s and How’s and What If’s. But better I than she. And I am glad that I get to say goodbye.

Even though I am horrible at it.

Jean-Léon Gérôme: The Two Majesties

Jean-Léon Gérôme: The Two Majesties