Since she's been hiding out on the records in the front parlour and hesitant to come to the back bedroom, I blew up the inflatey bed last night and slept in the parlour with her. She pawed at the sheets, climbed under, and slept and purred in the crook of my arm all night long. I woke up several times to pet her. She never stopped purring.
This morning around 6am I woke up and played with her, as much as her debilitated body and mind could "play" with me. I haven't seen her in such high spirits in months. Which made it even more difficult to go to the vet's at 8:15 this morning.
"Say goodbye to the house, kitty," I said as I held her in my arms to walk to Royal St. "You'll be back here in just a bit and you can have a nice, long nap."
Ben carried the wicker basket with the red pillowcase that was to be her hearse on the way home.
I cried most of the way there.
The doctor and his nurses were great. Soothing, understanding, but moving the ugly business along. I could have sat in there for hours, wailing and gasping.
"First I'll give her a general anesthetic," he said, "followed by the injection which will stop her heart."
"Okay," I said, trailing snot from a Kleenex all over the steel table.
As I mentioned, Harley has been despondent and lackluster for months now. So wasn't I the proud papa when the doctor gave her the anesthetic shot and she perked up, giving one last animated FUCK YOU! hiss at him. I laughed through my sobs. "There's my girl! You tell 'im, Harley!" She got the last word, and that's just like my old lady.
Ben and I petted her and kissed her as she slowly sank into quiet, peaceful unconsciousness. She was still purring until she conked out entirely.
The doctor then shaved one of her arms and poked the final needle in. A plume of blood filled the hypo. He found the vein on the first try.
"I want to feel her heart as you push the plunger," I said.
Five seconds later, I counted three diminishing ticks of her heart beat — those three last beats like kettle drums banging in my ears — and then it stopped. She was gone.
I buried my face in her warm belly and cried. I heard Ben crying above me. We held hands for awhile as, for the last time, Harley absorbed my tears.
The doctor gave us both a hug. I thanked him for a perfect dispatch into whatever comes next. I envied Harley a little, actually. If only all our deaths could be that sublime and peaceful.
Ben wrapped her in the pillowcase and carried the basket as we walked home. I took deep, sobbing breaths, peering at the crisp newly Autumn skies on the way home. The French Quarter has seen a hundred thousand deaths in its 300 years. It didn't pity me or Harley.
We put the basket on the dining room table. I continued to pet her and kiss her for awhile. She was still warm. I instinctively felt her neck, as I've done ten thousand times before to feel for her quiet purr, but nothing. I think that's when it really hit home that she was gone. She loved being in baskets and boxes and being pet. It was guaranteed to evince some major purrage. Her quietude was … offensive.
I went to the backyard and raked up some leaves and tidied up the area. I dug her grave between two Confederate jasmine vines. I continued to pet and hold and kiss her in the crisp morning air. She wasn't cold yet, but she wasn't mammalian warm any more either. Her limbs and head lolled obscenely in a way no living creature would permit. A sack of meat and fur.
"Are you ready?" asked Ben.
"Yes," I lied.
I placed her in the pillowcase and lowered her into the ground. I arranged her with one paw curling over her face as was her sleeping pose for the last 18 years.
We each sprinkled a handful of dirt over her, then Ben shoveled the rest back in.
I planted the Harley look-alike iris over her head, and surrounded the grave with eight black tulip bulbs. I affixed my glassblowing friend Patti's red milagro heart on the fence over the grave.
When I met Pamela, my bio-mom, twenty years ago in Washington state, we spent the day at an old cemetery. Way off in some bushes was a chipped off marble headstone reading simply "SISTER." We spent that day trying to find where SISTER belonged, matching the broken-off headstone to broken stumps of marble throughout the cemetery. I never found her home, so I took SISTER home with me, thinking she was lonely off in the bushes away from her kin. I've had this headstone all these years. I planted SISTER's headstone above Harley, because that cat was like a sibling to me.
I sat in the cold morning air for about an hour, staring at her grave without comprehension. "She can't be down there," I reasoned. "She belongs in the house."
When I went inside, the doorbell rang. My dear, dear friend Winifred in San Francisco had sent flowers. I cried anew.
Harley's gone. I still expect to see her at the water dish, mewling her "hello, I love you," breep when I walk into the bedroom. I will never see her there again.
The house is empty. My heart is empty. I was going to call in bereaved to work tonight, but I think I really need the distraction. So if Patti's valium wears off by 7:00, I'll go in for a few hours and distract myself with work.
But when I come home, I know she won't be at the door to greet me.
Oh, Harley. I miss you so much already. You took a huge part of me with you. I know you're better off now, and I hope you have a nice, peaceful rest. For me — not so much. Not having you around is going to be a formidable torment for a very long time.
Goodbye, my sweet, sweet darling. Goodbye. Thank you for being exactly who you were and for sharing your life with me. My soul is buried with you, sweet princess.
The little brown thing sticking up in front of the gravestone is Harley's iris.
And finally, a cameo by Harley in my performance of Zez Confrey's "Kitten on the Keys".