I’ve spent a good deal of the past two days sitting with a cat. This particular cat, with the person-name Margaret, doesn’t have a lot of time left.
I first met Margaret when I was probably 14 or 15 and my sister & her partner brought this kitten home. They were in college and planned to bring her up to college with them, but in the limbo of winter break, Margaret was going to live with us. She liked to scratch and bite, and when it turned out that you can’t have cats living in the dorms of certain colleges, Margaret came back to our house, where she could scratch and bite me as I attempted to pet her for the next several years.
I had never really considered myself a cat person, but Margaret’s persistent aggression actually had me leaning in an anti-cat direction for a little while back then (especially when juxtaposed against the kindest dog I’ve ever known, the late Louie Silberman). I’m not proud of this prejudice, and have since changed my mind, but in the interest of honesty I have to admit that.
My sister’s life took an impulsive, unanticipated and exciting turn toward California, but Margaret remained with my parents in New York. For the years that followed, Margaret lived as a staple of our household, sitting around, hunting mice, eating, and glaring. She and I developed a relationship not unlike that of two housemates who have issues and avoid one another.
But in the past few years, Margaret’s changed. She got nice.
She stopped swiping at me, and in turn I stopped ignoring her. We never became “close” the way some people are with their cats, but I became genuinely happy to see her when I visited and I think she was happy to see me too.
Now Margaret’s been sick for awhile- intestinal cat cancer I think, though I’m not sure because I’m not the one taking her to the vet, and I’m not here very often. She’s mostly stopped eating, and so the logic goes that if you’ve treated something in these animals for a long time and it isn’t going to get better, the best you can offer them is relief. So then arrangements are made to have a vet put her down.
She was gonna go today, but then she started eating again, so we called it off. But now again, she’s stopped, so the plan is to reschedule for Friday. I’ve never really thought about making and breaking appointments with Death. Apparently there’s no 24-hour cancellation policy.
I’ve sat with her as much as she’s willing to sit still for. Every so often she whips her head from left to right with her jaw open, a piece of whatever’s wrong with her. The rest of the time, Margaret seems peaceful and knowing, quietly understanding what’s happening in a more primal way than any vet could ever explain to us. She’s experiencing her end just a bit soon, at 12, which I am told is not that old for a cat. She’s patiently watching the end of her life, a black cat lying on the shore as the tide comes in.
And this is just a part of everything. It can be upsetting to know that sort of truth about our lives, but I don’t think it should be depressing.
If anything, maybe the predictability can be freedom, the lightness of knowing that we’ve only rented space until friday, so let’s see what we can do with only a few days. After that, we have to leave with whatever we came up with while we were there.
Every time something dies- be it a cat, a friend, a spider, whatever- it should be a pie in the face to anything keeping us from using every second of our lives as an opportunity to do something completely fucking awesome.
We are so lucky to have brains that give us hearts. We are so lucky to have the capacity to care deeply about a fucking friendship with a cat.