Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Worst Year Ever

Last week sucked.

So did Monday. So will today. And there’s not much hope for the rest of the week.

And there’s one less sweet, silly, grey kitty in the world to make it all better.


We got Basil from a friend of mine who had a pregnant cat. I told him that if there was a solid grey kitty and a grey stripey-tabby cat in the litter that I wanted them. I had the names all picked out and could even visualize them. The grey one was going to be a girl named Basil and the striped one would be a boy named Benny, which was short for Benedict. I figured if saints’ names were good for human babies, they’d work for kitties too. Mind you, I hadn’t seen them yet; in fact, they hadn’t even been born. I just knew that this was what I wanted.

Keith and I were planning on moving in together and I told him we had to have a place where we could have cats. I had lived with my mom for a year before getting another place on my own and had spent the entire year in my little efficiency apartment missing her kitties. I was so adamant about having cats that I paid the pet deposit myself and was going to pay the extra ten bucks a month on the rent for them.

They were born with just enough time to get weaned before we moved in to our new place. Amazingly enough, there were two babies in the litter that matched my “dream cat” descriptions perfectly—except that the stripey cat was also a girl. I changed the spelling of her name to Bennie, which was now short for Benedicta.

I went to see them when they were a few weeks old and fell in love. They were just starting to explore the world under the watchful gaze of their mother. I picked one of them up, and she clung to me right away, squealing the whole time. The mother jumped in front of me and gave me an evil look, but she was hooked on my shirt and I could not get her off. I had to get down on my knees and lean my chest as close to the floor as I could so she would let go. In my mind’s eye, I have romanticized this story to make that little baby kitty Basil, but the truth is I cannot remember which one it was. It may have even been one of the other litter mates. (Sadly, one of the litter died shortly after birth and the rest died right after I picked up Basil and Bennie.)

On the day we moved into the apartment, we went to get them. I didn’t have a carrier, so we punched holes in the top of computer paper box. When I got back in the car with them in the box, Keith want to see them. I opened the box and out popped these two fuzzy little heads that were all ears and eyes. He fell in love with them right away and they became “our” cats.

While the both spent time wherever they liked and with whomever they liked, Basil tended to gravitate to me from the start, while Bennie did the same with Keith. Very early on, Basil started sleeping on the back of my legs at night, something she only stopped doing when she got sick this year.

Pretty early on, it became clear that Basil bonded to me as if I were her birth mother. She would sit on my lap and bend her head, so that I could rub it with my nose, then she would rub her nose on mine and purr. She soon transferred this routine to the bathroom, where she would sit on the toilet each morning when I got ready for work and wait for me to rub her head. I started my day out like that for years.

She was never the brightest of cats, but she always managed to bully the others enough to be acknowledged at the leader of the pack. Even when we got the Boy, who is quite boisterous and rambunctious, she kept her top slot. She would sit and wait for him to walk by her and, every so often, she would smack him in the back of the head with her paw—just enough to keep him in line. Ironically, she was scared of anything that moved—including me and Keith if we happened to be carrying something. She was forever running and hiding from one thing or another.

In her mind, she ought to be able to do anything the other cats did and go anywhere they could go. However, she never could quite get down the exact process that the others followed. If the Boy curled up in my arms and went to sleep, then she would end up in some awkward stance with her legs all akimbo and dangling all over me. If someone got in the top of the closet or on a high shelf, she would do the same and then sit there with a perplexed look on her face, as if she had no idea what she was supposed to do next. (or how to get down.)

She could be as sweet as she was silly. She lived for lap time and, if she couldn’t get it, she’d plop on my feet to remind me that I was being derelict in my duties. Merely sitting down to put on my shoes was an invitation to her. There was never a day that was so bad that some quality time with Basil couldn’t fix it.

She first got sick right around the time my dad did. We were really worried that she had something like kidney failure because she had stopped eating and drinking and was isolating herself from everyone. It all started when things were at their most tenuous with Dad, and the thought of having to put her down was about to overwhelm both me and Keith. Losing her then would have been more than I could have taken.

Fortunately, all the tests for kidney problems came back negative, which left us with no clue as to what was ailing her. Then I started noticing that her balance was completely off. She was wobbling and weaving when she walked, and tended to circle unexpectedly. Our vet identified this as vestibular disease, which isn't normally fatal, unless it's a sign of something more serious like a braim tumor.

During that time, we had force feeding regimens to keep her strength up, plus courses of anti-biotics, appetite stimulants, and steroids. She was well on the road to recovery, when she had small relapse. The vet thought that we just didn't treat her long enough, so we had more anti-biotics and steroids for her. She started eating again in a couple of days, so we thought we were making progress again. This was late June/early July.

She never quite totally bounced back, but I just assumed it was going to happen gradually. She stayed earthbound most of the time, not getting in my lap or in bed with us. And she had diarrhea that never cleared up no matter what we did. At first we thought it was a side effect of the anti-biotics. The vet had some concerns about her vision, which would have been on e of the signs of something more serious, but she seemed to be navigating the house all right. She was walking straight, and eating, and cleaning herself, and going through most of her daily routines, so we thought everything was going to be okay.

We could not have been more wrong.

The end came so suddenly that I’m still in shock. Weeknd before last, we went away for the weekend, and when we got back on Sunday evening, she was isolating herself again. When she came out she would stagger and sway just like before. She had also stopped eating and drinking, and I was starting to suspect that, this time, she really had lost her vision. Her pupils were completely open and unchanging and she had a fixed glassy stare. She sat by the front door and cried all that night and into the next day.

We took her to the vet Monday afternoon, who concurred that she had definitely lost at least some of her vision. Her eyes didn’t respond at all to having a light shining directly in them. The vet also noticed that her skin was starting to turn yellow. We left her there to be re-hydrated, and by the time we came back to pick her up, she had started having difficulty breathing. She was trying to breathe through her mouth.

We took her home for one last night and took turns sitting up with her. She kept pulling herself up and staggering around the living room until she collapsed. Then she would start crying again. By the morning, she couldn’t stand and her cries were whispers. We called the vet and got ready to say good-bye. On the drive to the vet she crapped and pissed all over me.

Her bloodwork had come back showing extreme liver dysfunction. As near as we can tell, it really was a tumor causing her dizziness and we had only managed to delay things with the steroids and anti-biotics. In the meantime, it started spreading into her liver.

The vet talked to her a bit before giving the injection. She reminded us of the way she used to call Basil “Miss Chubby” before we started the diet. Everyone at the office knew and loved Basil. A couple of minutes after the shot and my sweet little baby was gone. For the first time in nearly 13 years, there won’t be a Basil at home to greet me after work.

I don’t know who’s going to help me start my day now or who’s going to make the bad ones better for me. All I know is that I’m tired of everyone I love dying. I’m still working through some of my grief for my dad. How am I supposed to grieve for Basil on top of that? I can’t take any more of this. 2005 is now officially the worst year ever.


Roger Owen Green said...

I'm sorry about your cat. When I was a kid, we had a cat named Peter, who I should write about. Smartest animal I ever knew. Died at the age 6, but I can't remember the diagnosis; I should ask my sisters.

Gordon D said...

My deepest condolences - about a year and a half ago, Blake and Steed - two cats whom I had helped raise since high school (in fact, Mom and I argued over who would move with me when I left to go into my own apartment: she won), developed liver and kidney problems.

They both left within six months of the other.

Mom has adopted new cats (and I, of course, have Dax, who adopted me), but I tell you, I miss those two.

EM said...

Thanks, guys. I appreciate the thoughts.