Essays, Loss

Saturday Essay: A letter to my euthanized cat

The following is from good friend and author Samuel Jaye Tanner. Check out Sam’s blog and buy his books (he will say please buy his books) from Amazon! Warning: This blog does contain some adult language, if there are children reading the Pets I’ve Met blog!

Author’s Note: This first appeared on my personal blog here. The nice thing about that blog is I can write about whatever I want. So what follows is a letter I wrote the night that I put my cat down. A corny and over-sentimental choice for a blog you say? Embarrassing choice of content? Perhaps. But over the span of fourteen years, that cat was one of the most consistent members of my family. And coping with the death of something that you have lived with for that long is difficult. So I am honoring my cat with a corny and over-sentimental blog. Consider it a public eulogy. This seems like the least I can do for her after driving her to the vet last week and watching her die. Here it is:

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Dear Fluffalufagus (Kitty),

Thank you and goodbye.

Thank you for accompanying me over the last fourteen years. You were one of the few consistent parts of my life as I made my way from a clumsy twenty-year old to whatever the hell I am now at thirty-four. Everyday over the last fourteen years, I could count on coming home to find you rolling over onto your back, eager for me to rub your grotesquely oversized belly. And to feed you. You were fat. Like really fat.

I was twenty when I first brought you home. The day before, I had picked out a different kitten at the Human Society with my old girlfriend. That kitten died the next morning.

“It died?” the person from the Humane Society asked on the phone after I called to inform them that their product was defective.

“Yes,” I said.

Indeed, the morning after I brought that kitten home, it was huddled in the corner of my basement, shivering, and looking at me with wide eyes.

“Help me,” it mewled at me as I stroked it helplessly.

I took that kitten to the vet and they euthanized it. They gave it back to me in ta shoebox. So I called the Humane Society to figure out my next move.

“Well, you could return it,” the Human Society told me over the phone.

This idea seemed odd to me.

“Return it?”

“Yes, you could exchange it.”

“So I need to bring you the body of a dead kitten?”

“You need to bring us the body of a dead kitten.”

So I brought that tiny kitten in its shoebox coffin back to the Humane Society and came home with you.

Later, I learned that my stepbrother’s enormous dog had picked up that kitten in its mouth while I was out and flung it across the basement.

“They were playing,” my stepbrother told me years later.

That is how I ended up with you, Kitty. I picked you out because you looked like a tiny version of my childhood companion, Cato. Like her, you were black and lanky with yellow eyes.

Dad found Cato in a box by the Mississippi river during one of his many walks. He returned with her and she came to live in my room from the time I was five or six until I was nearly a teenager. After many moves and upheavals, that cat and I ended up in Arden Hills, a suburb north of St. Paul. Cato wandered off one day and never returned.

“She was old,” Dad told me at the time, “she wanted to leave on her own terms.”

Dad didn’t know this for sure. He probably just said that to soothe me. I was pretty sad about Cato’s departure. It would be years until I bought you as my next feline companion.

So I named you Fluffalufagus after that big-ass elephant thing on Sesame Street because I thought it was funny, placed you in my car, and drove you home. I was too stupid to keep you in the box the Humane Society gave me and so you wandered around my old ’94 Honda Civic, a spry young kitten, mewing and brushing against my feet as I drove through heavy traffic, west along 694.

I brought you down into my dad’s unfinished, freezing basement. This was where I lived when I was twenty. I was an English Major at The University of Minnesota who was figuring out what he should do with his life. Now I was all of those things as well as a cat enthusiast. Let a playa play.

You couldn’t stop pooping and my stepmother made fun of you.

“Shitty kitty,” she laughed as you left your mark everywhere you went. Namely, my bed.

One of the most generous things my stepmother ever did for me was to take you to the vet. She returned with medication and I used a syringe to feed it to you twice a day. You stopped pooping everywhere and started staking out your claim in that basement with me. At night, when it was freezing, you climbed under the covers and curled into the space between my chest and arm and we kept each other warm after my huge, heated waterbed sprung a leak and I was left with a tiny single bed, pressed up against a freezing brick wall.

In fact, after my first girlfriend broke up with me you were just about the only comfort I had. I grew lonely and introspective in that cold basement as I figured out what the hell I was going to do next. You kept me company.

When I brought you to the vet for your first check-up, an extremely attractive girl was at the receptionist desk. When she asked for your name, I became embarrassed. I didn’t want to let on that I was a weirdo who named his cat Fluffalufagus. So I told her your name was Kitty. Talk about smooth. I repeat: let a playa play. Anyway, the name stuck. So I started calling you Kitty for short to save whatever I could of my manly reputation.

You were there as I tried to make a go of things with my next girlfriend. You were rightfully suspicious of her crazy episodes and begrudgingly followed me to and from that little apartment I shared with her on Grand Avenue in St. Paul. You came back to a new-and-improved basement suite in Dad’s even bigger and better suburban house down the block in Arden Hills after that relationship fell apart. I was twenty-two.

You managed to corner and kill two mice in my new bedroom that winter. You loyally dragged them into my room and set them on display. I stepped on one of your kills one morning as I blearily made my way to the shower to prepare for another day of student teaching. It was horrifying. I screeched and hollered until my stepmother, more of a brute than I was, came down and disposed of the mouse. Maybe the name of my cat was the least of my worries in terms of salvaging my manly reputation.

We packed up our things and you came with me when I moved into that little bachelor’s apartment in Uptown. This was after I got my first job teaching high school. I spilled food into your dish whenever it was empty and you amassed an enormous amount of excess weight as you stumbled around that apartment, finding comfortable places to sleep. You really liked to sleep. And you really liked to eat. Like I told you already, you were fat.

Yes, and you would sleep in my big queen’s sized bed with me when I came home from a tough day of teaching high school to play Final Fantasy IX. In fact, when my characters would die before reaching a save point, you let me fling you against the wall in frustration. Then you would jumped back up on the bed, curl up against my legs, and fall back asleep. You never held a grudge.

So we hung out in that apartment together, keeping each other company. When I cranked up the air conditioning in the summer, you would climb underneath the covers and sleep in the crook of my arm to stay warm.

You were there when I bought my first house in Northeast Minneapolis. You spent moving day hiding underneath the couch in that apartment in Uptown. You had my friends that were helping me move convinced that you had escaped. They searched for you for hours as I finished signing papers at the closing. They knew I would be devastated if you were lost. They even enlisted Daryl, the apartment’s heroin-thin groundskeeper. A tattooed man who shirtlessly tended to one of the most vital gardens in Minneapolis, Daryl always had a cigarette dangling from his mouth. His ribs protruded out of his skin. That afternoon, Daryl walked up and down Bryant Avenue like a skeleton, calling out your name.

“Kitty,” his voice squawked, “Meow?”

Whenever I called out your name, “Kitty,” and followed it up with an obnoxiously over dramatic, “mmmmmmrrrrrreeeeeeoooooowwwwwww,” you would come bouncing into the room, expecting attention, love, and mostly food. People who came over to my house were always slightly disconcerted by the greeting I created for you. You seemed to enjoy it though.

Yes and you spent hours in Northeast Minneapolis staring out the window at birds and making strange, guttural noises with your throat. You followed me around that house from room to room. Wherever I was, you would come grunting in and find a warm spot to curl up and keep me company.

You were there when I met and married Katie. You approved of her whole-heartedly from the beginning, even after she picked up that footrest in my living room that you were sleeping on. She tried to move you and you fell to the floor. You slammed your head against the table. At the very least, we figured you had suffered severe brain trauma. But you were tough. And fat. The fat probably broke your fall. So you forgave her and spent hours curled up next to her as she stroked the folds of skin behind your neck. I joked that I wanted you to be the ring bearer at our wedding. I wasn’t really joking. To Katie’s point, you never would have been able to handle the stimulation of the day.

Yes and you were thoroughly pissed off when Katie and I brought your sister Yara home from the Humane Society. It took years before you could walk by her without a furious hissing fit. Eventually, you got over your first-child syndrome and the two of you made peace. You even became willing to share the bed with each other during afternoon naps. You chased each other up and down the stairs of that house in Northeast Minneapolis.

Yes and you were there for the birth of my first son. The day we brought Solomon home, you rubbed your elderly body up against his crib and mewled lovingly at him. His eyes got wide and he started breathing heavily. You were his favorite thing in the house. Whenever you walked by him, he started to giggled and grabbed for your tail. You even let him grab onto your face and violently try to pet you.

Your elderly routine continued as Katie and I moved out to the suburbs of Maplewood. Every night at bedtime, you would hop up onto the bed and cuddle up underneath the blankets between us. Just like when you were a kitten, I would guide you into the crevice between my chest and my arm and you would purr and nuzzle into me for a couple of minutes before leaping to the ground and falling asleep underneath the bed.

To the point, the most consistent part of my life over the last fourteen years was the time you spent huddling against me each night before going to bed. That, and you waking me up every morning around three o’clock to feed you. Seriously, you really had a pretty severe weight problem.

This routine continued even through the last day of your life. I woke up at three o’clock in the morning to hear Solomon crying. You were sleeping on my stomach. When you noticed that I was up, you came down and started nuzzling against me, trying to convince me to feed you more out of habit than of hunger. After filling your dish, I noticed that your neck was stooped in an awkward position, your eyes seemed strange, and you looked like you were in great pain. More shockingly, for the first time in fourteen years, you didn’t devour the food I put in front of you. Even Yara seemed concerned when you stumbled away from your dish without eating. She followed you as you curled up in a corner of the closet. You spent the afternoon sleeping with your head buried underneath your paw. Yara stayed close to you as you wheezed into the afternoon.

Hesitantly, I called up a local vet and set up an appointment. I put you into the pet carrier. I threw a couple of your favorite treats into the cage with you. You didn’t touch them. Instead of reacting violently against being caged, you simply curled up and waited. I knew something was wrong.

Katie, Solomon, and I took you to the vet together. On the way out, I held you up to Yara. The two of you touched noses. I suppose you were saying goodbye.

After examining you, the doctor grabbed a box of Kleenex and handed it to Katie. She didn’t really need to say anything else. We knew what was coming next. I signed a form and held Kitty as the doctor prepared the syringe. I wept and stroked your ears. Katie and Solomon wept as well.

And then the doctor was sedating you, then she was injecting you, and then you were going. Then you were gone.

I don’t cry often. When I do, it can be pretty enormous. Though I have learned to hide it well, I am extremely emotional. We left the vet and put Solomon back in his car seat. Once we were along in the car, Katie held me and I wept powerfully for you.

So I guess the only thing I can say is thank you and goodbye. Thank you for your companionship, your love, and your presence in my life. It might be corny as hell to say this to a cat, but fuck it. I mean it. And I wish you well as you are released into whatever is next for you. Call me crazy, but I cannot believe that our living energies that are conjured in this existence are gone when we are finished here and so take whatever we conjured here with you wherever you end up going.

I am happy that you lasted long enough to see me married, to meet my son, and to watch me grow up. I am happy that we shared that together.

So one last time, with feeling, I’ll call it out here. Let this sound beckon you at the endpoint of whatever trajectory you are on now. Let it carry with you whatever part of me (and my family) that is with you now, with you always.

“Kitty, kitty, kitty, Fluffalufagus,” this sentence calls out obnoxiously from the context of a corny and over-sentimental blog, “mrrrrrrrrreeeeeeow.”

Love,

Sam

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