Am I a writer without a cat?

Is just one crazy idea my mind created as I deal with the one unavoidable thing that life brings: death.

Linc was 17 in our years, 85 in his. He joined our family when it was new and growing: I was pregnant with my second child when we picked up this cream puff of a Himalayan, at a year old he was nearly the size of our toddler son. Linc was reviled by our older alpha cat, ignored by our sweet female kitty, and alternately chased, cuddled, squeezed, dressed up and adored as our child count grew to two, then three. But he took it all in stride, as if he knew that his reality then would not stay static for long. His patience won out – flash ahead a few years and the squealing racing toddlers are now subdued teens, one of whom still cuddled and made of him, but no more tutus or capes for impromput home movies of ballerina cat or Super Linc. As the elder cats aged, he gradually muscled in, inching closer to us during TV time, hanging out in my office during Cat #1’s nap time, until the day came when he was last cat standing and king of the castle. If I was writing he was in my office, on whatever chair of the week was his, atop books or folders, he didn’t seem to care. Occasionally I would find a file folder or paper tugged from inside it with teeth marks in the corner indicating his annoyance, with the paper that tickled his belly or with me, I was never quite sure. If he was really peeved he would tip over my garbage cans, in the office, in the bathroom, and if highly offended, the metal can in my bedroom at 3 a.m. At that moment he looked better to me as a fur coat than a companion, but he would run, I would scoop up the used tissues, and by daylight, we were good again. On days when I didn’t get out of bed, or returned to it to nurse a headachae or some other ailment, he would sacrifice his chair of the week for a spot on my bed, the only time he’d sleep there. He’d start at the foot, curled in a ball, but by the time I was ready to rise he was next to me, still curled up, but closer. On cold winter days, as I reclined in front of a classic Bogart or Newman movie for inspiration, he’d curl up on my legs for his afternoon snooze. I know it was to keep his feet warm, but I didn’t care. It still felt like love.

The last few months, though, has felt more like pain. He stopped coming upstairs, began making puddles on the floor, started bumping into walls. He still ate, drank, and came in with us during TV time, but it was clear his body was shutting down, cell by cell, in front of our very eyes. The question became, not if he leaves us this summer but when, and how. Do we step back, keep him comfortable and let nature take its course? Or do we step in, ease his suffering and allow us all to move on? It’s an ageless question of how best to show your love for another. It also became a question of ownership, that the grief I was already feeling was not for the pending loss of a cherished pet but the unrelentless passage of time. He could no more be that determined, playful, howling-in-my-room-for-breakfast cat than my children could go back to being toddlers. The 16 years he was with us was lived and loved, but can be no more. There are new times ahead. Times that his age will not allow him to be a part of in our world. And then, the decision became about me. No longer could I watch this beautiful animal stand confused in the kitchen, not knowing where he was or what he wanted. No more could I stand the sight and smell of him lying in his own urine because he no longer had presence of mind or body to care for himself. The night before our appointment at the vet, I sat on the kitchen floor next to him, patted his head, scratched his chin, but there was no nuzzling of his nose against my hand, no acknowledgement that he knew who I was. He was purring, though, always purring. Even as the needle went in, he purred. Seconds after the purring stopped, his heart stopped, and he was gone.

As long and dreaded as the drive to the vet was, the longer and more dreaded was the going home to a house completely empty: the family gone for the day, the last of our pets now passed. The quiet is a great place to cry, but also an invitation to think, way too much. I stare at his water bowl, the food dish half full, the crumbs around the plate since he increasingly dropped more than he ate. I won’t miss the mess , I tell myself, as I clean out the bowls and open the fridge. Damn. That’s a brand-new can of food we just opened, and only a sliver gone. What a waste. I open the cupboard, pull out the bags of treats that at nighttime would drive him into a frenzy. 10 p.m., like clockwork, he would begin pacing in front of the TV room, waiting for his snacks, until the past week, when he sat motionless in his new chosen spot on our basement stairs. I should have known at that moment there was no more for him here. It took several more days, and opening a new bag of snacks (which he didn’t eat anyway) to finally make ths step. Should have done it before you opened these, my mind tells me, bemoaning the waste, which in grand total was less than $5. Way too much time to think.

I dump the litter pans, scrub the floors, pull tufts of fur from the furniture. Writers and cats go together like, well, writers and wine, writers and solitude, writers and eccentricities … I know, none of this makes sense. Many writers have dogs and drink beer, too, but my mind was determined to use this grief as an excuse to shut down. You can’t write without a cat, I heard clearly. Get another cat and you’ll have to go through this agony again. Ergo, no more cats. No more writing. I stare at the floor I’m trying to scrub. It’s marginally improved, but far from seeing your face in it or eating dinner off it. I sure as hell can’t become a cleaner. If I’m not a writer, what do I do?

I finished scrubbing. I sat outside and enjoyed the summer breeze. I listened to the excited recounting of my family’s day trip. We had supper, watched a movie, went to bed. This morning, I sorted through pictures of my departed fuzzy boy. I stared at the computer. And then I began to write. As I typed, more words came and with it, tears flowing to the point where I could barely see. But I kept writing, through the tears, fuelled by the grief. Because I am a writer. Linc may not be supervising me from his chair now, but he’s still watching, without the mess, the mobility issues, the half-eaten mice on my mat or the hairballs in my hallway. Just him: his patience, his loyalty, his never-stop-purring attitude. I just may kick my garbage can over every now and then, though, just for old time’s sake.

Thanks for being here.

Jennifer Hatt is a publisher and author of the Finding Maria series.