This morning I had to stop myself from filling two bowls of cat food. Our Annie’s long life came to an end yesterday.
Annie was, as near as we can guess, around 18 years old. Everybody tells me that’s wonderfully old for a cat, but my first cat (the one I had as a kid) reached that age too. I’ve been lucky. Annie came into our lives in December 1997, fully grown. The vet actually has her age down as 18 years 8 months and change, and I’m not sure how we arrived at that number. Annie had been wandering around a work friend’s church and shortly ended up in our arms just as we moved from an apartment (that did not allow pets) to a townhouse (where we made our own rules, dammit). We picked her up right when we moved in. New home, new life, new cat.
She was never cuddly. She never slept in our bed. The only bed story we have with her was that, ONE TIME she jumped into the master bed, was startled by how she landed on the comforter, immediately jumped out and would never try that again. That’s a very cat reaction. Learn something once.
But no, she was not the type of cat to come sit on your lap while you watched that season of “ER” when Dr. Carter struggled with painkiller addiction. But here was Annie’s secret: she was always there anyway.
She was about as social a cat as you could expect. If there was a bunch of people in the room, she would position herself in the center. Once she figured out that we spent most of our stupid pointless human lives in the adequately named living room, she would select her choice seats from around the outer perimeter. Like most cats, her favorite spots went in phases. Years spent on the top leftmost couch cushion. Then top right. Then the floor corner by the entertainment center (Kids, that’s a dumb phrase we used to use to point out where we put the TV. I don’t think folks use that term much anymore, but maybe we’re just all more cynical these days about what constitutes entertainment.) Zoe, our second cat, vanishes for hours at a time, and Zoe certainly would not stop by the front hallway to see what stranger just walked in the door. Annie would. Annie was always around. Always there as we played card games and watched TV and opened Christmas presents and ate dinner and everything else. She was always there, in the background.
And now she’s not.
Her formerly-constant presence has outlined her loss for me. I see shadows of her everywhere, because when I was at home, she was always beside me. I think about how just a week ago, she would have parked herself on the floor by my right foot here at the computer desk (Kids, don’t ask.) This basement room’s floor is certainly not as comfortable as the living room, but if she noticed I was spending Significant Time at the Mac, she would come down and join me. She was a daddy’s girl, my wife would often remind me.
She would be right over there.
Then she would stand up and paw at my leg, because she would be hungry.
And she would not rest until I did something about it. She was a very vocal cat, and her elderly feline voice had taken on a smoker’s rasp. She would yell at me in that sharp meow-snort when she decided she needed food, even if I was sleeping.
Her being hungry ALL THE TIME was a symptom of her advanced age, I think. Even though she weighed 4 pounds or less by the end, it was like she needed to eat five times that in a day. Sometimes, she would bug me for food, I’d deliver, and then she would come after me again 15 minutes later. Hell, not sometimes, most times. All times. Often she would just lick off the gravy and then demand more. That little dance became a major stressor over the past two years, and of course I have already devoted plenty of mental energy being angry at myself for every time I snapped at her over begging, or tossed a pillow at her for waking me up.
But you don’t see what’s coming, even though you know what’s coming. She would live forever, I told myself. I’d have years of feeding this cat ten times a day ahead of me.
There’s a lot I’d give to feed her again.
Some time late Saturday or early Sunday morning, something finally broke inside of her. I don’t know what. I have her on a motion camera image doing a very normal stroll to the litter box around 12:30am… but by the time we woke up, she could no longer walk. There had been other signs, too. She did not (could not?) eat cheese scraps on Saturday, when she would normally stampede across the house to scarf up cheese. She had been unusually silent as well.
There is such a haunting sorrow in a cat’s eyes when they know it’s time to go. It’s a long-lived housecat’s final communication. Annie was tired. Annie was weak. We got a little water and broth into her, but there was no way she would ever again be able to do it on her own. I held her frail body steady while Rhonda lifted the water bowl closer to her mouth. When she was done, she collapsed in a slow-motion fall, coming to a resting position that any cat owner could tell you was not the normal way a cat curled up for a nice nap. This was how a cat finally gives in.
Monday morning, I took her to the vet. I apparently will get her back in a tiny wooden box with a nameplate on it. It is a goddamn horror show to walk into a vet and know you are not both coming back out. I was a mess. Everyone was very nice. Annie was quiet.
It was very fast, and when the doctor told me she was gone there was a split second of time where I would have turned the lights out on the entire universe because I had failed everyone everywhere by letting this one spectacular cat die.
“Already?” I said. The doctor nodded.
Then the shock. “I wish she would have closed her eyes,” I sobbed. “They don’t often do that,” the doctor solemnly suggested.
I kept a little ball of her fur.
You know, we named her after the song “Ana Ng” by They Might Be Giants. But while that song is (probably) about soul mates who can never meet, I’ve spent nearly 20 years in love with Annie.
Ana Ng and I are getting old
And we still haven’t walked in the glow
Of each other’s majestic presence
Listen Ana hear my words
They’re the ones you would think I would say
If there was a me for you
Annie and I did get old. But her majestic presence was always around me. A central part of our family, a good kitty (the smart one), a bad vet patient. And a friend for our son, whom, in our shared grief I tried to tell him that her life was so long and so good that she was alive for twice the length of his entire life to date (he’s 9).
She was very probably deaf in her last year. I would like her to hear my words again.
We will miss her greatly. She was always here.