The Thinker

An Odd Kind of Grief

I understand that some people who grow up in abusive households miss its chaos and fear once they are away from it. It may have been traumatic, it may have been horrifying but it was also familiar. Something like that must be going on with me. Because I find 48 hours later I am grieving over the loss of our cat Squeaky.

Make no mistake. Squeaky was a difficult, if not impossible cat to love. She was fortunate to live with us because, well, we let her live. We’re old softies. I doubt she would have lived to an old age in almost any other house. She would have been taken to the animal shelter after a couple months, or abandoned by the side of the road, or simply shot by some exacerbated pet owner with a handy firearm. She was a test to my bleeding heart instincts and my ability to endure sustained periods of high blood pressure. If I passed the humanitarian test I passed only with a gentleman’s C. I let her live. I petted her on occasion. Sometimes I let her sit on my lap. Of course she would not really sit, but she would sit for five or ten seconds then nervously switch position, all the while howling, purring like a motor boat at high speed and making motions she really wanted to climb up my shirt with her sharpened, pincer-like claws. Most of the time I had to turn her away for my own self-protection and sanity. But she was one of these cats who were either unusually persistent or really stupid. Because I’d throw her off my lap and she’d immediately jump back again. Sometimes she did this twenty or more times before I bodily picked her up and carried her to another room. And even that wouldn’t stop her. She did not know the meaning (or simply refused to agree to the notion) of the word “No.”

But it was far more that this. This was a cat that had to be in our faces whenever she was awake. She had a knack for finding the most disgusting thing and doing it, like dumpster diving the trashcans on a daily basis or finding our most precious possession and gorping directly on it. The last few years have been especially difficult. She was parked with her nose at the door frame when I arrived home from work and immediately started howling at me. There was usually no rest until I created a cat free zone in the privacy of my room with the doors closed. In the morning I often got an unwelcome serenade outside our door an hour or two before we rose.

I am sure there are louder cats out there but she had a positive talent for waking me up, even with my earplugs in and a door between us. If I went pretty much anywhere in the house she followed at my feet. I am sure despite my best intentions I stepped on her paw at least a few hundred times. She had a (probably normal for a cat) fixation with the kitchen. Despite never giving her a handout more than once or twice a year she would be there howling while looking up at us demanding people food. The last few months were extremely vexing. I couldn’t even get out of my chair before she was on it and sniffing the spot where I ate. I had to remove my chair to keep her off the table just so I could clear it. I’d leave the kitchen and within seconds she was on the countertops or in the sink hunting for something other than cat food. Needless to say the kitchen had to be scrupulously clean before I left it.

Pretty much whatever I didn’t want her to do she did it. Whenever I didn’t want her to appear there she was.

I tried every kitty psychology tactic I could imagine. I repeatedly tried rewarding good behavior. It never worked. I tried punishing bad behavior. That didn’t work. There was no reasoning with her. No lesson got absorbed.

We found her almost impossible to groom and after a while I just gave up. No medicine would go down her throat: she would cough it all up. Clip her nails? Gimme a break: it was only possible at the vets. She had to be wrapped in a towel and it took two or more assistants. Even our vet was a bit plussed by her. Needless to say any trip to the vet sent her into ultra freak mode. She actually started sweating and yowled at eardrum piercing (never receding) volumes there and back.

The Science Diet cat food wasn’t good enough even though our vet said that’s what she had to have or she would develop more urinary tract infections. I read a pet doctor’s column in the paper. He suggested supplementing the dry food with wet food on occasion to perk up a cat’s coat. I tried that except she loved the wet food so much she practically inhaled it. Fifty percent or more of the time she vomited it up within half an hour. I was living with a neurotic and bulimic cat!

I spent nearly eighteen years with this cat. For about sixteen of them I fantasized that she would die a premature death. I also regularly wondered if my Mr. Hyde would come out and I would ruthlessly dismember her in a fit of rage. Fortunately for her these remained in the realm of fantasies. But my defense was prepared. I had lots of witnesses to my kindness. And I had lots of others who had witnessed her first hand. I was confident even the ASPCA would say “Well, we’d make an exception in your case: Justifiable kitty-cide.”

And you know it might just have happened. As she aged, her mind seemed to go. “Mistakes” on the carpet multiplied exponentially. They seemed to mostly happen at key moments when my attention was required elsewhere. I might have done the evil deed. I figure Squeaky was sent as a karmic test for me. God wasn’t done testing my mettle. “As if the stress levels in his life weren’t high enough let’s throw an evil cat at him”, is what I figured God was thinking.

And now she is gone. The house, once continually and dramatically alive whenever she was awake now does not merit even a slumber. The house feels dead. It feels like the life was sucked right out of it. Squeaky’s contribution to our house was simply to shake up every creature in it and to ensure we never had a mundane moment. Peace and quiet were not concepts she understood. Now the house is almost always quiet. Our house now resembles a mortuary.

Her sibling cat Sprite wanders around the house looking puzzled. I think he is wondering where she went. We figure Sprite didn’t like her much too since mostly they ignored each other. But he too was affected by her presence. So we are all giving Sprite extra attention. But being the polar opposite from Squeaky, Sprite was never the problem. Sprite is Chubby Hugs. Sprite is a Gumby cat. Sprite is Dr. Jekyll. Squeaky was Mr. Hyde.

So our domestic universe is now deeply out of balance. It is like Yang has left Yin. I know I should enjoy this phase of pet ownership: all the benefits and none of the drawbacks. Sprite is still as cuddly and affectionate as always. But his cuddliness and affection were always somehow sweeter because it could be contrasted with the obvious deficiencies of his sister.

I got used to the abuse I guess. Today we received a sweet note from the clinic that put her down Wednesday night. Inside on a piece of paper were two of her paw prints and a short handwritten letter of condolence.

And I cried and I didn’t know why.

 

One Response to “An Odd Kind of Grief”

  1. 11:25 pm on June 6 2004, Lisa said:

    Interesting, isn’t it? With all the havoc she wreaked, she was still missed. I’m sure I will feel the same when it happens to me. (hands you a tissue and wipes your tears) Nice tribute, Mark.

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