Harley's been on the wane for months now. She eats one kind of food for a week, decides she doesn't like it, then I have to go out and find another brand. Rather quickly I exhausted all known brands of dry and wet food. When she gave up on cat food entirely, I canceled the rest of my JetBlue pass for September and stayed home to bake her a chicken breast every day. Then she stopped eating chicken. She's grown thinner and thinner, and walks like a drunkard, back legs splayed out and wobbling.
Here she is, in her recent chicken-eating days. She would lord over her little plate of cubed poultry and not let the other cats eat her special little meal. Sometimes she lorded over it so long she fell asleep … in her food.
Yesterday I took her to the vet. Why did I wait so long, you may well ask me with an accusing waggling finger? Because I was hesitant to have my suspicions confirmed incontrovertibly by a doctor.
The doctor perked up my hopes yesterday, however. "Her behavior is symptomatic of a thyroid condition. Which is treatable. I want to do some blood tests. Come back at 5:00 today."
Okie dokie. I left her at the vet's and went home.
Around 4:30, the doc called: "I've got some bad news…" He cited functions and levels and numbers that were meaningless to me, made more obscure by my spinning head upon hearing from a doctor the two magic words "bad news."
"This or that is, in a healthy cat, a 2. A 4 is something to be concerned about. A 6 generally means immediate hospitalization. Harley's at an 8."
Head swimming. Room spinning.
"This or that level should be a 20. A 30 is okay, but cause for concern. A 40 is cause for alarm. Harley's at 170."
"Wow," I replied idiotically. "That sounds … bad."
It's her kidneys. They kinda don't exist anymore. It's been a gradual, natural thing for a cat of her age (18).
"The dysfunction of her kidneys and the subsequent toxicity level in her body would have killed any other cat long ago. Her deterioration has been so gradual that her body has 'adjusted' to the new circumstances, which is why she's still alive."
"Your recommendation?" I asked, and mouthed silently along with him when he answered since I already knew…
I've never had to put an animal down. I didn't know how to begin to wrap my head around that.
"But she seems happy … well, happyISH, and she purrs and rubs her face on me like always…"
The vet explained that cats often purr for mysterious reasons. He said she may not be in pain, per se, but what she's feeling is like a really, really, really nasty flu. Dizziness, nausea, disorientation, achey, etc. I agreed she was acting like a really, really, really bad flu victim.
"It's a quality of life issue," he said, and again I agreed.
I picked up Harley from the vet and made an appointment for Friday morning to do the deed. I carried her home in my arms, hugging the breath out of her, bathing her in tears while she purred and looked around the French Quarter with mild interest. Tourists would stop me and say, "What a beautiful kitty!" I would look up and they'd see tears and snot running down my face. Then they would back away, frightened.
I chose Friday (instead of today) for selfish reasons. I'm not ready to say goodbye quite yet. We have some bonding to do. 18 years is a long time to spend with somebody, and Harley and I have been very, very close since she came into my life. It's eerie how well we know each other, actually. I've never had such a tight relationship with any other animal. I know instinctively what she wants at any given moment (until recently, when her health diminished and I selfishly procrastinated confirming my suspicions). And Harley, with uncanny aptitude, can always read me like a book and deliver whatever cat services are appropriate for any occasion.
When my ex and I broke up in 2002, for example, and my heart was shattered into sharp, silvery shards, Harley didn't leave my pillow for two months and absorbed buckets of tears into her fur by acting as my pillow. (She usually doesn't like my head sleeping on her, but knew at that time it was what I required.)
I could ramble on for hours about all the experiences we've shared, and how she's been more than just a dumb cat to me because of her almost human sagacity.
She came into my life in '92 or '93. I was living in Oakland, CA at the time. My brother Chris was down in Lo. Cal. He had this kitten, which his then-girlfriend had named Harley because she purred a lot and sounded like a motorcycle. He was moving apartments and I guess there was some hardship having a kitten around. So a friend of mine from San Francisco who was visiting down there picked up the kitten and drove her to me in Oakland. I was just supposed to cat sit until Chris found an apartment.
It's now 2010 and I still have the cat. I suppose that means Chris is still homeless.
Kidding. Chris isn't homeless. He couldn't have recalled Harley after the first month of me cat sitting anyway. She had become my little princess-pooh-perfect and I would have fought in court anyone challenging my custody of her.
In '95 she had kittens. I remember the day she escaped my Oakland warehouse, driven mad by being in heat. I found her under the warehouse, through a crack the size of half a cinderblock. I could see her, but couldn't get to her. She was peering at me, with a neighborhood orange tomcat mounting her from behind. Ours eyes locked. I pled with her, "PLEASE don't let that trashy cat fuck you!"
Her eyes never left mine during her romantic copulation. They said, "FUCK YOU! This is what I NEEEEEED!"
When it was almost time for labor, I made a box for her and lined it with towels. She looked at it, looked at me, and understood exactly what it was for. She jumped right in.
One morning around 5am she left the box, jumped on my bed, stuck her nose in my face and mewled until I was awake. When she saw I was responsive, she turned her backside to me, which had a little kitten poking out of it. I still remember the look in her eyes as she turned her head to stare at me. Her eyes said, "What the fuck is this THING in my cooch!?!? Help me! Get it the fuck OUTTA there!"
I called in sick to work and delivered each of her kittens, which was kinda easy. The tough part was pulling out the bloody placenta after each kitten came out. The springy umbilical was, in a few instances, too thin, and the string broke and the placenta popped back inside her body. (A panicked call to a vet informed me that she would expel those naturally later.)
It was a disgusting but beautiful way to spend a morning.
A week or so later as she was dutifully nursing her children in the towel-lined box, she woke me again in a similar manner as before. When she saw I was responsive, she blinked at me as if to say, "Stay there. I'll be right back."
She jumped down into the box, picked up a white kitten in her mouth, jumped back on the bed and dropped it on my pillow. She stared at me meaningfully for a minute as if to say, "Thanks for the help. Here, you can have this one." Then she returned to the box to nurse the kittens.
I put the kitten back in the box and thanked her for the gesture, which I found astounding and very moving. She seemed to nod acknowledgment and accepted the return of her gift with aplomb.
This anecdote is what I mean when I say we can read each others' minds. I've never had that with any other animal, and I don't expect to again. And so continued a long and happy relationship.
I was biking around doing errands yesterday trying to recall all the houses she's lived in with me. I got up to eight, in three states and three time zones, then lost count.
When I'm at my computer in my office, as I am now, it is Harley's custom to jump onto the printer on the floor (usually turning the printer on by stepping on the tiny button, so I have to keep the switch to 'OFF') and then jump onto my lap and purr/meditate on my thigh.
She's on my thigh now as I write this entry, and it breaks my heart that this is the last time we will be like this. After today, I can keep my printer's power switch on 'ON'. But I don't think I will.
When I brought her home yesterday, Ben and I hung out with her in the bedroom as we talked about Harley, and Ben comforted me as I comforted the cat. I was getting a little stir-crazy and wanted to leave the house for a bit. I asked Ben to go to Lowe's with me so I could pick out some bulbs to plant on her grave when I bury her in the backyard tomorrow. (It feels so weird and awful to even type that as she sits purring on my leg right now. I feel dirty and cruel.)
I found an iris that has Harley's torte'y coloring, and a dozen black tulips to plant around it, so every spring she will come to visit me. I also bought a shovel because some crackhead stole ours from Clifford's backyard.
"Thanks for inviting me along on a romantic date to pick out cat burial stuff," said Ben when we got home. You have to laugh so you won't scream.
I was thinking of having a second line for her tomorrow evening, but I can't afford a brass band. Thinking instead of getting a bunch of friends together and marching through the Quarter with kazoos, but I don't think I'll be in any shape to organize anything that complicated tomorrow.
Harley has, over the course of her life, chosen a sleeping spot and stuck with it — for one to three weeks. Then she moves on to another sleeping spot. This week's spot is on my old records (when she's not on my thigh when I'm writing).
You can tell from her posture that she feels like shit.
In a way, I'm kind of relieved it's finally come to this. She's been the best cat anyone could ever hope for, but she's 237 in cat years, and I owe her a good death before she really starts to suffer. My god, if only we could all have it so good!
I'm going to miss her though. The house will be empty without her. My life will be missing her presence and love as well.
Oh god, Harley, how do you say goodbye?
All cats have a bit of S&M in them. They want to disembowel your arm when you play with them, and they want to be roughhoused in return. Harley was always good and game for such shenanigans.
Ironing the cat:
I SMASH YOU!
While she's always hated other cats (except her own kittens; she was a good mother), she certainly gets along with Scully for some reason, while all the other cats just want to swat at the snake and kill it.
My sweet princess-pooh-perfect:
Kitty likes feta cheese:
She loves her other daddy as well.
Where are we going today, Toonses?
A nap in the jasmine.
Happy Mardi Gras.
Goodnight, my sweet, sweet, perfect, perfect girl. I love you to explosion within my chest.