As busy as our lives can be, sometimes objects of our affection become sick right before our very eyes, leaving us wondering how, and when it started to happen.
It happened for my mother, who witnessed my dad’s upset stomach for years before finding out it was esophagus cancer, with an extremely high mortality rate. She was so used to saving people. It was difficult to understand how this could happen in her own home, right under her nose.
When did he get so sick?
In the Spring of 1992, my ex-husband and I stopped at a local heath fair while enjoying a relaxing Sunday afternoon. As we approached the entrance there was a woman with a calico tabby cat in a cage and a sign, which read, “Free To the Right Owner”. She was interviewing candidates for this cute calico cat. My ex-husband (who could rescue every animal in the free world if he could) naturally stopped out of curiosity. I hung back because once I touch an available animal, I own it.
Thus how I got married to my ex-husband.
This free cat stretched her paw out of the cage and hooked the sleeve of my ex’s shirt – holding on for dear life. The cat owner spins around, smiles and says, “She wants you!” “Oh good lord,” I thought, as 15 other people shoot my ex and I dirty looks. He comes to me, “Want a cat?” “We have a dog,” I respond.
As it was, I was the one walking the dog every night, feeding and bathing her even though he had brought the dog into our relationship. “Louise (the dog) loves cats!” he answers. ‘Really?’ I thought. Louise the dog loves to attempt to kill skunks, moles, birds, possums, and raccoons with great zeal so I can’t imagine her loving a cat.
I tell him we need to talk about it since I don’t like making snap judgments, so we walked away to enter the fair. I said, “If she is there when we leave – it was meant that we take her home with us.” I was sure she would go to one of the people in the crowd that gave us evil looks. Cat people are weird.
My ex-husband never hurried through so many booths in his life. Upon leaving (which I swear was no more than 10 minutes), the cat was still there. The woman was contemplating giving her away at the moment as my ex-husband shouts, “We will take her!”
People turn, as the owner smiles with delight and answers “She is yours.” Cat people are glaring. I want to yell, “IT’S JUST A CAT PEOPLE!” Instead, I cuddle Annabel the kitty up in my arms and smile. She was as soft as a cloud with a LOUD purr. She sounds like a hot rod engine.
This is how Annabel came into our lives.
Annabel the kitty entered our home when she was just over a year old. The woman gave us food, a bed and a carrying cage. She wanted to find Annabel a home where she could roam outside. We just happened to live in a cottage in the country . . .
When Brian was born, Annabel changed to sleeping under his crib, as if protecting him through the night. If he started to fuss, she would get up, come into our bedroom and meow telling us we needed to wake up and tend to Brian. As Brian became a toddler, he would often carry her butt side up. Her hot rod purr would play, as if to say, “It’s ok, he’s just my boy.”
In the most painful times of my divorce, Annabel often crawled into my arms as if to say, “I know your heart hurts” and would purr loudly until I forgot my troubled thoughts. She likes to sleep with Brian, always wanting to protect him through the night.
After my divorce, when I could no longer afford the cottage in the country, it was time to move Brian in town so he could have more of a city life with friends. My ex-husband agreed to retrieve Annabel while I moved and set up the new place. I never thought moving would upset Annabel. When he went back to the cottage to retrieve her, Annabel disappeared. We tried for weeks to find her, leaving food out – even to the point of setting traps, but all we ever caught were raccoons.
One Christmas Eve came and I had a strange gut feeling. Christmas Eve has always been a magical night for me for as long as I can remember. I told Brian, “Did you know that Santa grants wishes on Christmas Eve?” “He does?” Brian asks, wide-eyed. “Oh yes Brian, he does. Let’s close our eyes really hard and wish for Annabel to come back home to us for Christmas.” We closed our eyes, made our wish, and at sunset got into my truck and drove over to the cottage. We got out and called and called her. I began to think that I may have set Brian up for an awful Christmas Eve disappointment, and was about to become his great Christmas liar mom, when out from the field comes this thin version of our Annabel.
I cautioned Brian, as she had not seen us for a year and I wasn’t sure if she turned wild, so I gently approached her, but she would not come to me. Instead, she went to Brian who scooped her up, kissed her, and she started to drool. We brought her home on Christmas Eve, back where she belonged.
Ever since Christmas Eve those 5 years ago, Annabel has been happily making friends with everyone who comes to visit this little complex we now all call home. Different neighbors feed her treats; others give her loving pats and some even let her into their home. We have called her the ambassador, because she never lets anyone leave the complex without a meow and some love.
But lately our Annabel has become very thin, thinner than is normal for a pet that always has food available. She is 14 years old, but is looking 18. I had to sit down this week and really watch her. To my shock (with all her loving, acting much the same, going in and out) while examining her close I can see she is painfully thin. Her breathing is heavy and her purr sounds like an asthma attack. I have been through this enough to know…
Our Annabel is dying.
I told Brian that I feel Annabel is very ill. Brian cried, and I explained that Annabel has lived a long and wonderful life. I called my ex and told him my thoughts and asked him to come examine her. He came over this morning after Brian was in school and we watched Annabel together. Her breathing is heavy and hard. She is so thin that the act of breathing makes it appear that her ribs might break with every breath. This doesn’t stop her from getting up on his lap and drooling her love all over him.
My ex looks up at me as he feels her body, “Damn she is so thin.” “I know.” I am feeding her three times a day, but it changes nothing. He looks me in the eye “I think our Annabel is very, very ill” I nod as tears roll down my face. I have seen this before with the pets I grew up with. “Have you prepared Brian that she might be dying?” he asks, holding back his own tears. “Yes, and I told him we need to take her to the vet to see what is wrong – and sometimes they don’t come back home from the vet. Brian wants to be a part of the decision.”
If the Vet says that she has to go I hope we can bring her home and bury her in the garden, where she loves to lie amongst the burial memorials of the dead goldfish, tadpoles, hermit crabs we tried to raise without success. It is under this little clearing where the flowered branches meet, next to my pink rose bush, just under Brian’s bedroom window. There is a Celtic cross statue that sits toward the back, against a flowering lily of the valley. The afternoon sun warms this spot upon the ground and Annabel loves to curl up there like a rounded rock in the garden. Of course the bird bath is not far to the left as she dreams of a bird wandering into her paws, but not motivated enough to actually hunt them.
I am still not able to wrap my head around the idea that we may have to decide to put her down. I have never thought of Annabel leaving us. She is a cat who has reinvented her life several times now, and most of all,
Until next time-
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