The only time I ever saw my dad cry was when he had to have his beloved Siberian Husky, Blitz, put to sleep. I must have been around 10 or so when this happened, and it was hard for me too, sure; but this dog had been my dad’s bro since before he met my mom, back in his storied bachelor years. He and Blitz were a packaged deal.
Our German Shepherd, Rama, was only a few years old when this happened. I watched my dad completely shut down and close the door on Rama. I mean, he wasn’t like, abusing him or anything. But it was almost like Rama didn’t exist to him. I didn’t understand. How could someone just shut out an animal like that? Especially one like Rama. Rama was fucking awesome.
This morning, Marcy’s daughter Willie passed away. She would have been 14 right before St. Patrick’s Day. Willie had started acting lethargic and weird last week, her breathing was getting labored. Henry took her to the vet and he re-hydrated her and gave her some shots, but said that he was pretty certain she either had cancer or fluid in her lungs. It always goes back to cancer, doesn’t it? She had lost a lot of weight and he wasn’t sure how she would respond to further testing, because just the process of taking her out of the house had her completely wigged out. Willie was kind of like the recluse of our cat family. In fact, it’s not uncommon for someone I have known for years to say, “Wait, you have another cat?” She spent a huge portion of her life hiding in the basement from people. Or, sometimes, late at night I’d be watching TV and Willie would come scurrying out from behind the couch.
She was very skittish. She also like to pee on things. An example? The first time Andrea ever visited us from California, she set her purse on the floor and Willie promptly peed on it. Andrea was a good sport about it. “Thank god it’s vinyl,” she laughed.
I wasn’t supposed to keep her. She was from Marcy’s first litter of kittens in 2000. So was Don. I knew right away that I was keeping Don, even if it meant officially pushing me over that fine line between “cat connoisseur” and “crazy cat lady.” Willie had been promised to a co-worker of my then-friend Keri. (I say “then-friend” because we are no longer friends.) But one day I came home and found Don and Willie snuggling together on my bed and I was like, “OMG I can’t separate them! They have such a strong sibling bond!” So I called Keri and told her I couldn’t give Willie to her friend. (No, this is not why we’re not friends anymore.)
Funny thing about that sibling bond, though. Don and Willie outgrew that pretty fast and spent most of their lives totally ignoring each other. Or gnawing at each others’ throats in murderous fits while Marcy glowered from her perch above.
The last several years, though, Willie had really started to come out of her shell. I mean, she wasn’t the friendliest cat, but she was super fun to tease. She also had a nasty temper–you never knew when she would strike. She attacked Henry and Blake years ago and Henry has tread lightly ever since. One night, I was doing this really high-pitched meow and she went hysterical, growling and attacking me. I had to wrap myself in a blanket and hide behind Marcy for protection.
You can’t tell so much from these photos, but she had really beautifully-colored fur. There were salmon-hued patches, almost pink. And the texture was wiry. We would always say things like, “She’s so beautiful. Too bad she has zero personality.” God, now I’m crying again. Why did we say things like that?
She is the third cat I’ve lost as an adult. The third in the last 2 years. The third from the Original Four. My fur-family is diminishing, and I can’t fucking bear it. This is the most traumatic countdown of all time.
Henry’s mom Judy inexplicably had formed some strange attachment to Willie over the last several months. (Though she refuses to use female pronouns when talking about her.) Judy has called Henry every day since Willie fell ill, wanting to know how she was doing. She’s been staying us with us for the last several days because Chooch hasn’t had school, so she was there this morning when I discovered a freshly deceased Willie in the basement. Judy was still sleeping and I was freaking out. So I did what any mature adult would do and shook awake my 7-year-old son and cried into his moppy hair.
“Don’t tell Grandma,” he mumbled, shaking his head. “It’ll upset her.”
So what does he do? He goes downstairs and as soon as Judy wakes up on the couch, he let her tell us about what a terrible night she had before blurting out, “Well, Willie’s dead.”
And Judy burst into tears. I didn’t expect that. I was sitting at the dining room table, hugging Marcy, crying into her fur as she struggled to escape my grasp.
“I pray for you everyday, Erin,” Judy sobbed. “Because I just don’t know what’s going to happen to you when THAT one goes.” She wagged a finger at Marcy. Hearing her say that made me hug Marcy so hard her eyes started to bulge.
When I was upstairs getting ready for work, I overheard Judy on the phone, telling Henry’s sister Kelly that Willie had died. She started to get herself all worked up again, when Chooch sagely piped up from his station at the computer, “Just remember the fun times, Grandma.”
Later, the still-sore subject of Speck came up and Chooch began sobbing. And then Judy glanced over at the cat carrier and said, “The last time I saw Willie alive, she was in that cage” and then began crying again. And then I started to cry. It just felt like the house was brimming with Grim Reapers and I was suffocating. Meanwhile, Marcy just sat there glaring at us, probably thinking we were fucking nuts.
I just couldn’t wait to get out of that house today. The emotions are percolating and I feel like my top is going to blow. I cried this morning, but I feel like The Big Cry is about to happen and I’m chewing on the inside of my cheeks because I don’t want to lose it at work. I just can’t deal with mortality. WHO CAN? I loved my damn cats more than any human (but comparable to Chooch, I guess, ha-ha) and every time one of them dies, another piece of my heart petrifies.
And now I understand why my dad never got another pet ever again after Blitz. I hope that one day, unlike my dad, I will be able to open my heart up to a new pet. But right now, I look at Marcy and I am crippled by panic. I know she can’t live forever and that I should continue to just enjoy the rest of the time I have with her without darkening it with morbid thoughts. But you know, The Panic. It’s there.
RIP, Willie. You were kind of an asshole, but we still loved you anyway. Marcy probably did, too.
If you need me, I’ll just be under a blanket, dwelling on the fact THAT EVERYONE DIES.