If Marty would not have broken her foot, the whole thing might never have happened.
I was sitting in the control room at work in Boulder on the Wednesday afternoon before Memorial Day Weekend of 2016, when the phone rang. I answered and was surprised to hear Marty.
“Well… I hate to tell you this, but I won’t be coming this weekend. I stepped in a hole outside of work earlier today and they think I broke my foot.”
I choked down my disappointment, imparted the usual consolations, asked if there was anything I could do, and hung up about 15 minutes later. Marty and I had been dating for about three months and it felt as if we barely got to see each other. If her foot was broken, it would probably kill, not only Memorial Day Weekend, but our summer plans as well.
Some of you reading this may wonder why I didn’t offer to go stay with Marty and nurse her back to health. Let me offer a five-word answer that many guys will respect implicitly.
Marty lives with her mother.
Two days later, my coworker Bethany and I were sitting in the drive-through line at Wendy’s just across the street when she asked me, “What are you doing tomorrow?”
“Why? You gonna come ravage me now that Marty’s laid up?” I asked, only half kidding.
“Umm, no. I was gonna see if you wanted to take Winnie.”
“You’re kidding!” I said. “You really want to get rid of her?”
“Yeah. I’m just too busy with work and school and Hallie and can’t give her enough attention. I think she needs someone who can spend more time with her.”
“Well… Sure… I will give it a shot. But you need to know that, if she works out, I’m changing her name. Winnie is what a horse does.”
“Ok. I don’t blame you,” Bethany said. We both ordered Baconators, fries and large frosties and went back to work to dine with our disapproving coworkers.
The next day, Bethany showed up with her daughter Hallie around noon. When she came in my front door, she handed me a small cat carrier that made noises that sounded like, “Errr! Errr!” I opened it, reached inside and muttered, “Ahh shit. She’s got longer hair. Sue’s gonna hate that.”
“Sorry,” Bethany mumbled in reply.
Sue was my kindhearted building manager from Texas. Four years earlier, I’d negotiated with her in order that some friends and I might give Katy a kitty for a Christmas gift. She told us we could, but he had to be declawed and have short hair. “If I get around a long-haired cat, I swell up like a hot air balloon,” she informed me.
In January of 2012, Ty came to live with Katy. He had short hair, but she never got around to mutilating his claws. Thank God Sue never pressed the point, probably because she fell in love with Ty along with the rest of us.
I gently extracted the fuzzy bundle from the too-small carrier, set her on my couch and waited. She immediately jumped off the couch and prowled around the room. It took her about 45 seconds to disappear.
It took Bethany about three minutes to disappear with her daughter. Two months later, Bethany would leave AINC and move on with her life, but my life with my new companion was just beginning.
That night, I sat on the phone with Marty and wondered. “How long you think it’ll take her to come out?”
“Probably a day or two,” Marty said. “Did you find her yet?”
“I think she may be in the closet,” I said.
“Go see,” Marty urged. I went to my bedroom closet and knelt down. I heard a small, “Err,” from the back of the closet. “I found her!” I rejoiced.
“See if you can coax her to come out,” Marty said.
“Maybe I should just leave her alone.”
“Yeah, but if you pet her and talk in a high voice, she might relax and come out.” Marty was the cat expert, having owned a few felines, so I took her at her word, reach my hand behind my dusty bass guitar and touched a furry, cat-shaped object.
“Errr,” she said and wriggled away from my fingers and behind the laundry basket.
“I think she wants me to leave her alone,” I said and went back to the bed.
The next day, I sent Katy a message. “Take a break from your Harry Potter erotica and come down. I want you to meet my new roommate. I think she’s gonna come out today.”
“I’m reading Alex Cross, you jerkface. DID YOU GET A CAT!?”
“Why do you sound mad?”
“I’m not mad. I was gonna give you Ty. I’ve been thinking about it for a while now.”
“Well, too late now. Bethany brought me her cat and I agreed to take her. Hey, when you come down, can you bring your extra cat collar with the bell on it? I may need it if she comes out. I’ll give it back to you when I get my own.”
Katy came down. We hung out for a while. She talked about Harry Potter. I talked about Breaking Bad. We both consumed a Domino’s cheese pizza together. In all that time, my new guest did not make her presence known once.
ON Memorial Day, Marty and I had one of our hours-long phone chats. At one point, I thought I heard a faint, “Err,” from the living room.
“Hey! Marty! She’s coming! I think she’s out!”
I sat bolt upright in bed, awaiting that happy moment when she would leap upon the bed and greet me. Instead, at the instant I sat up, I heard the sound of scurrying feet, followed by… Silence. It was the first lesson I would learn about my new cat. She did not respond well to loud noises, or abrupt movements from her human.
The next day, I went to the Woodlawn Vet Clinic and bought a cat pheromone diffuser. Brad, the friendly but quirky vet, told me that it would help relax the kitty so that she might become more comfortable in her new environment. “Don’t sweat it if you haven’t seen her yet. Some cats take up to a week before they trust their new owners.” I assured Brad that she was eating and using her litterbox. He told me that was a good sign and sent me home with the plugin kitty pheromone diffuser, which reminded me of one of those Glade dispensers that I used in college to impress girls when they visited me in my dorm room. Of course, back in those days, I wanted to get the girls excited. Now, I was trying to achieve the opposite result on a different species. I really was getting old.
Five days after Hallie’s former playmate became my roommate, I was sitting in my recliner listening to Megyn Kelly on Fox News (remember those heady days) when I heard a soft, “Err,” from the middle of the floor. Either Megyn had just received an unexpected guest on-set, or my new friend was going to give me another try. I sat statue still. “Err,” I heard a little closer.
“Come here, girl,” I said softly. “Come here.” I patted my leg softly and said, “Come here, girl. It’s okay. Come here.” I just kept speaking softly to her, careful not to move or speak too loudly.
Suddenly, she was in my lap in a flurry of legs and fur.
“Hi there,” I said softly. “Hi there, girl. Welcome. Hey there. You’re home now. This is your home. You’re safe here, girl. You’re okay. You’re home now. It’s okay. You don’t need to be afraid. You’re home. You’re safe.”
I just kept talking to her as my hands explored her back, her sides, her tail and her fluffy head. She in turn explored me with her nose, her face and her cat whiskers. She started to turn in circles on my lap, showing me her tail, then her head again, then her tail. And then I heard the noise that would never fail to fill my heart with warm joy, like brandy on a cold night. She started to purr. I knew then that she was my cat. In the moment when her body rubbed against my face and I felt her purr vibrating against my neck and shoulder, I knew that she was here to stay. She was the first pet I’d ever truly owned. She was, in every way possible, my cat.
Shortly afterward, she jumped off my lap and went to her food dish. She didn’t return to my lap again that evening. Later, when I was in bed and had hung up with Marty for the night, I said, “Goodnight, Mags.” I’d taken the intervening days since she’d come to my house and gone into hiding to decide on a name for her, choosing the criminal matriarch from the TV series, Justified. I put my sleep mask on and prepared to drift off to sleep. As my brain began to fill with welcome fog, I felt a “thunk,” followed by an, “Err.”
Off came the sleep mask. Again, my hands ran over her body, but this time, since I was in a prone position, she walked all over my chest and stomach, purring and sniffing as she investigated me. Eventually, she curled in between my feet and I put my mask back on. It was our first night together; the first of many happy times when I would drift off to slumber feeling her warm body near me, waking up later to her gentle nuzzles and good morning purrs.
As it turned out, Marty’s broken foot did not ruin all of our summer plans. She came down for a few days in July. As we came through the front door, I heard the customary jingle of Mags’ collar as she came to the door to greet me. Then, she saw Marty’s guide dog, Monty. That was the last I saw of her that night. The next night, Mags crept up on to the bed after Marty and her mongrel were asleep. She let me know, in no uncertain terms, that, while she approved of Marty, she eagerly awaited the departure of that smelly, drooling beast.
So, summer drifted into autumn. Work continued to be a stressful place to be. My relationship with Marty felt more and more distilled down to an obligatory phone call filled with distracted silence. Donald Trump continued to transform the political landscape into a blight zone. Alicia married Mark, though it happened only after he fought a hard battle with cancer. The CCB felt less and less like a place where I fit in.
Through it all, Mags was there every night when I arrived home. She would greet me at the door, wait till I was inside with the door locked, then she would run and attack her scratching pad. I would drop my bag, have a whizz, wash my hands, then go sit in my big recliner. She would leap into my lap, sniff my face to investigate what I’d had for dinner on the way home, do some circles on my lap and stomach, then lie down for her nightly petting. Sometimes, I would doze off in my chair, or turn on a radio show or the news. She would stretch out full length, her body nestled in between my right thigh and the cushy arm of my chair. I would sit for a long time, just petting her or letting her draw warmth from me, until she either got hungry, or my bladder insisted that I break the spell. Sometimes, I would brush her and she seemed to love it.
It was around Thanksgiving, about six months after Mags came to live with me, that I noticed that her ribs seemed to stick out more than they used to. It coincided with another disturbing trend; Mags seemed to throw up more than usual after she would eat. Brad (the vet) told me that she might have kitty IBS, so he encouraged me to put her on wet food, which would be easier on her system. Six months later, her weight was still falling by a couple of ounces per month. I changed wet foods, but Brad advised me to keep her on dry food so that she might gain weight.
Still, Mags was as energetic as ever. In almost every way, she was the perfect cat. She never woke me from my sleep, but once she discovered that I was conscious, she demanded attention. She had no destructive habits with respect to my property. She always used her litterbox. She seldom growled (unless she saw another cat outside our window) and she never, ever hissed. She figured out early on that I was blind and realized that she would need to say, “Err,” or jingle her collar, whenever she wanted to alert me that she was nearby.
The only troubling thing she did was occasionally throwing up after eating. That, and she would sometimes bite my hand a little too hard in order to get my attention. Brad agreed with me that the aggressive nipping was not an aspect of her normal personality, but that she was trying to tell me that she didn’t feel well. Throughout the spring and summer months of 2017, she continued to lose weight and eat less.
Then came that fateful day in August of 2017 when I responded to an Email advertisement for a job position at Radio Talking Book in Omaha. I left Mags in Katy’s care and boarded a train eastward. The rest… Is history.
As fate decreed it, I was half way in between Lincoln and Omaha on the way to check out an apartment for rent with a driver whom I barely knew when Katy sent me a recorded message from the vet. She had taken Mags for a vet appointment in my absence. I thought of waiting until I returned, but I was worried enough about her declining weight that I didn’t want to delay, so Katy was my stand-in. Brad was off for the weekend, but his partner Lisa examined Mags. Recently, I found the recording Katy made for me and can transcribe Lisa’s words verbatim.
“Based on her blood analysis, it looks as if Mags has early stage renal failure. What we want to do is get her on a renal-friendly diet. She’ll need special wet food and dry food that will help to support her kidneys. It’s early yet and we really need to keep an eye on her, but for now, she’s still very healthy.”
I heard this news having already accepted the job in Omaha, knowing full well that a move was coming. It was the worst possible news at the worst possible time. Cats are very territorial creatures and relocating them to a new environment is exceedingly stressful. Moreover, I had to focus on getting my apartment packed and ready for an interstate move, along with training a new replacement for my current job in Colorado. Trying to ween Mags on to a new diet was going to be nearly impossible.
Looking back now, I think that my biggest mistake was not placing more importance on Mags during the month of September, 2017. I was concerned over her health, of course, but once I returned to Littleton and reunited with her, the old girl was energetic and high-spirited as ever. The first morning that I returned after the all-night voyage on Amtrak, I just wanted to sleep the day away. Mags would have none of it. It was one of the few instances during our time together that she actively woke me from a dead sleep with emphatic back-rubbing so that I could make up for leaving her alone for nearly five days.
The move did happen, of course. Brad shot Mags up with some kind of drug that had little to no affect. She seemed to know that something major was happening. She yowled in her carrier as I took my final Lyft ride in Denver, heading to DIA. When I took her out of the carrier for the TSA agents, I was shocked to discover that she had peed and pooped all over herself. This was very unlike Mags, who had always fastidiously used her litterbox. I could only conclude that the poor girl was terrified.
“We gotta get Hazmat in here,” the TSA agent grumbled as I scraped cat poop off of her hind quarters. After they checked her over, I had no choice but to place her back in her piss-drenched carrier before leaving the private security room. The sounds she made broke my heart. It was a yowling sound; a mixture of fear, anger, confusion and sadness. Maybe I was anthropomorphizing. It was a horrible journey for both of us, yet, there was nothing to be done as we boarded the plane and flew to Omaha. The guy in the seat next to me assured me that Mags was sleeping peacefully under the seat in front of me. But when we landed and I picked her up, she immediately began yowling again.
The first night in the Extended Stay America was a nightmare for both Mags and I. She erupted from the carrier in the bathroom, where I’d closed her in so I could clean her off as best I could. Then I fed her a can of Fancy Feast, which she vacuumed up greedily, which told me that whatever drug was in her system had not worn off. She drank down her water in big gulps, which was also very uncat-like. She tried to use her new litterbox, but it was strange to her at first. All in all, it was just overwhelming for her to process.
She began to issue forth with a new noise; one which I had never heard before. It was a low, keening sound. It was filled with trauma and betrayal, punctuated with a sharp question mark. “Why? Why? Why?” I had no real answers for her. Any explanation I could offer was merely a human construct. More money. Change of scenery. Who really knew? None of it was good enough for her. All through the night, she would wait until I had fallen asleep, then begin again with her yowling. “Why? Why?”
My spirit finally broke around 10 the next morning. Physically exhausted and emotionally wrung out, I lay on that cheap hotel bed and sobbed like a kid. “I’m sorry, Mags. I’m sorry.”
Later that afternoon, fortified with a cheese Runza, crinkly fries and a large Diet Pepsi, I returned to the hotel room. I lay down on the bed. Mags jumped up beside me, flopped down and fell into a heavy sleep. I dozed beside her for a time, then listened to a Broncos game with Marty. Later, I cooked some dinner, chatted with various friends and readied for my first day at my new job. All that time, Mags barely stirred, only getting up once or twice to use her litterbox.
That night, after a shower and a shave, I crawled into bed. Mags snuggled up beside me.
“Baby, I need you to let me sleep through the night so I can be awake for my first day tomorrow, okay?” I stroked her head and flank. She nuzzled me, then stretched out along my extended right arm.
The next thing I knew, it was 6:30, my alarm was going off and there was Mags, demanding her good morning pets and scratches as if it were a normal day in Colorado.
“Good morning, my girl,” I said with a smile. A good night’s sleep really can do wonders for both humans and animals.
We spent two weeks in that low-end hotel before moving to the place that would prove to be Mags’ final home. My parents helped me move in. At one point, Mom said, “I can’t find your kitty anywhere.”
I began calling for her, but didn’t hear the tell-tale jingle of her collar. “Ahh, shit! Did she get out?” I said. Finally, Mom opened the cupboard door beneath the bathroom sink and began laughing. “Mags! How’d you get in there?”
It turned out that Mags had a skill with which she had never acquainted me during our time together in Colorado. She had the ability to open cupboard doors and hide inside the cabinet. She couldn’t put her abilities to use in our former apartment because the kitchen cabinet doors were held shut by weak magnetic seals. The cupboards in my new apartment in Omaha were the old-fashioned kind, easily pulled open by human fingers or cat paws. It was not unusual for me to awaken in the early morning hours to the sound of thumping cupboard doors as Mags honed her burgling skills.
So, my new life in Omaha commenced. The brutal cold set in and with it, the loneliness. I had few friends in Omaha. Everyone whom I was closed to was back in Denver. My boss, Jane, and her deputy, Bekah were very warm and welcoming to me, but the deep pain of loss ate into me like acid. Denver had been my home for 10 years and it had been harder to leave it than I had imagined it would be. To get a picture of my mindset, go find the infamous ‘Deep Shadow’ entry from New Year’s Eve, two years ago.
Yet, through the physical and emotional cold, Mags was there. She would greet me every morning with her usual nuzzles and purring. Every night when I walked in my front door, I would hear her familiar, “Err,” from the bedroom. NO matter what task demanded my attention, I always took 15 to 20 minutes to talk to Mags and tell her about my day as I stroked her and fed her.
Finding a decent vet was a priority, of course. The first one I tried was recommended to me by my predecessor at Radio Talking Book. I took Mags there on a Saturday morning and was instantly turned off by the assembly line feel of the place. The guy who examined Mags sounded as if he couldn’t have been over 21. When I told him that Mags seemed to keep losing weight, no matter how much wet food I gave her, he asked, “How much are you feeding her?”
I replied, “Two cans of Fancy Feast a day.”
“Well… Maybe you should up it to three.”
I left in disgust. When they sent me the automatic Email survey, I gave them zeros across the board.
Alicia had recommended a veterinarian service called, The Completely Cat Clinic. It proved to be a bit of a jaunt from my place, but as it turned out, it was well worth the trip. Mags disagreed, of course, but cats are compulsively contrary when it comes to matters of medicine. Sharon listened attentively as I spelled out Mags’ history. After I finished, she said, “I want to do a full blood work-up on your girl.”
“Money’s a little tight right now. Can we do the bare minimum and I can try for a full panel after I save up a bit?”
“We’re gonna take care of you and Mags today,” she said matter-of-factly. “Let’s get her to feeling better and then we can talk about payment.”
I didn’t argue. Maybe it was charity. I can’t say for certain that Sharon and her compassionate staff treated any other patient with the same kindness. I only know that I was in no position to be supercilious. My pride ended at the doorstep of Mags’ welfare.
Sharon and co also sent me home with several kidney-friendly brands of wet and dry food. Over the next month, I tried them all on Mags, but she turned her tail toward all of them. The only thing she seemed to crave was Fancy Feast and Purina One kibbles.
So began two years of various treatments. We started with Vitamin B-12 shots. I tried to administer them myself in the comfort of our home, but my hands kept shaking and I only succeeded in annoying Mags by getting her coat all wet. I began taking her into the Cat Clinic at regular intervals so that they could administer the shots.
The treatments worked, at first. Mags began to eat more. Her energy was up. She stopped her aggressive biting. Once again, she became the sweet, loveable kitty who first came to live with me in Colorado.
At first, I took her for her shots about twice a month, but as time wore on, the shots became less effective. Soon, I was taking her in once a week; usually on Saturday mornings. The round trips with Lyft added up to a pretty penny. Eventually, I was forced to sign up with Share-a-Fare in order to recover some of the costs of transportation. But the vitamin shots were inexpensive, only tallying up to $28 a month. Mags didn’t care for the regular ritual of being loaded into the carrier for a quick trip to the vet, but it was well worth it. Slowly, she began to gain weight again. Instead of losing two to three ounces every month, she began to gain as much.
So life went for my girl and I for about 14 months. Then, sometime in the early spring of 2019, she began to lose weight again. She ate less and began to vomit more. She also started the aggressive biting again. Sharon agreed that the B-12 had lost its effectiveness and decided that it was time to put Mags on a steroid.
For the first few months, the steroid worked. Mags began gaining weight. She quickly returned to the 12-and-a-half pounds that she was when I first took her. By early autumn, she was a little over 13 pounds. I began to have the opposite worry. I didn’t want her to be an obese cat. That would bring with it a new host of health concerns, diabetes being the most obvious. I also began to worry when Mags stopped using her litterbox to pee in, choosing to go just outside of it. I wasn’t sure if the steroid was irritating her bladder, or if her refusal to pee appropriately was behavioral. Eventually, I had to lay down some old towels over plastic around her box.
One evening in late September after coming home from dinner with friends, I discovered Mags lying on the floor in the corner of my bedroom. I tried to coax her on to the bed. I heard her scratch at the post, as if she were trying to leap up, but she didn’t have the strength to make it. I scooped her up and placed her beside me. She seemed content, but the next morning when I woke up, she wasn’t there to greet me. I found her in her kitty bed at the back of the bedroom closet. She wasn’t interested in food or water.
A hasty trip to the clinic followed. We did the usual blood tests and Sharon threw in a free x-ray. While Mags’ blood looked fine, Sharon discovered a small spur on one of the vertebrate near Mags’ tail. She also found that Mags was severely constipated. She sent home a powdered laxative for me to stir into Mags’ wet food, but said that the bone spur wasn’t a concern yet.
“We may have to get her on some kitty Aspirin if the pain gets worse,” she said. I worried about this. I’d already discovered that it was impossible for me to administer any oral medication to Mags. She simply refused to take it and I didn’t have it in me to force a pill down her throat once or twice a day.
I took Mags home, dispirited and worried. I texted Joe as I rode in the Lyft. “Hey, buddy. Mags is really sick and I’m gonna need to monitor her closely. I’m going to have to cancel our weekend.”
Something about that trip to the clinic with Mags caused me to turn an emotional corner. While all of my previous efforts were tinged with hope, it now felt as if Mags was entering into her final descent. The collective weight of her mounting medical issues made me feel as if her overall condition was worsening. Sharon had confirmed that her kidneys were shrinking, and that there was no hope of them becoming more healthy. As I lifted her from her carrier and placed her on the bed, I realized that I needed to treasure each day I had with her. I didn’t know how many were left. I warned my coworkers that I might leave work early, or show up late, depending on Mags condition. They greeted this news with their usual beneficence. I don’t know what I would have done had I gone through the ordeal in a different job with coworkers who were less supportive.
Mags and I spent Thanksgiving together. I had several offers to attend dinners with friends, but all I wanted to do was stay close to her. She was eating more and her energy was up. I’d kept her on only wet food for a while, But Sharon had encouraged me to put her on a high-fiber dry food to keep her regular. This seemed to help, but her bad habit of peeing outside of her litterbox only got worse. One night, I brought a female friend home after dinner and we were greeted by the strong smell of urine when we walked in the door. I apologized profusely as I gathered her towels to take to the laundry.
On Friday, December 13, I bought her a second litterbox. I hoped that a change of scenery might retrain her to pee on sand again. That night, she seemed to take to it. I found leavings in both boxes. The next morning, I again awoke to discover that she was not on the bed. Again, I found her in the back of the closet. I called the clinic to see about a last-minute appointment, but they were swamped. Eventually, Mags did take some food and water and I thought she might rally, but she never left her kitty bed.
At seven o’clock Saturday night, I lost my resolve and called my pal Kevin. “Mags needs to go to urgent care. Can you take us?” As usual, Kevin didn’t say no. He was there in 30 minutes and we went to Urgent Pet Care.
As it turned out, it was all but a wasted trip. Emergency animal care is a very expensive proposition. They wanted to run more bloodwork and x-rays on her, but they also wanted nearly $700 for their trouble. I simply didn’t have it. In the end, they gave her subcutaneous fluids and an anti-nausea med and sent us home.
So began the longest day of my life. Mags went straight to her nest in the back of the closet. Save an occasional trip to her litterbox, she didn’t leave her bed. I tried taking her warm wet food and water time and time again, but she barely acknowledged it. Eventually, she turned away from her water and faced the wall. My heart sank further late Sunday night when I heard her breathing become labored and shallow. All I could do was lie there, petting her, talking to her, begging her to hang on through one more night until we could make it to the cat clinic.
Kevin picked us up Monday morning. I took her there and was surprised to find a waiting line. Apparently, there were a lot of people with sick cats waiting to be tended to. Yet, Annie took her and promised that they would make her comfortable until Sharon could take a look.
When Sharon called me later that morning, she was mystified. “We’ve got her on fluids and gave her another steroid. She’s eating, going to the bathroom and drinking normally. I’m not sure what’s wrong.”
“Sharon,” I said. “I don’t think Mags can keep doing this. Honestly, I can’t keep doing this. I just went through the worst weekend of my life and I just can’t watch her suffer anymore.”
“I understand,” Sharon said softly.
“I wonder if we shouldn’t just… Ya know… Exercise life-ending measures?”
“I can get it done today if you want me to, Ryan,” she said.
“No!!! I mean… I just want a little more time with her before we have to say goodbye.” There I was, standing in the hallway outside of my office, breaking down at the prospect of facing the loss of my closest companion. After a few moments I said, “I wanna try one more time. I’ll come take her home, but the next time she has a crisis, we should go ahead.”
Sharon asked to keep her overnight for further observation. The next afternoon, I left work early and went to pick her up. Missy, one of the vet techs, said Mags was resting comfortably and eating and drinking just fine. I got her home, let her out of her carrier and waited.
At first, Mags wandered around the apartment, occasionally letting off an, “Owww!” This wasn’t unusual. She usually behaved like this when she came home from spending the night at the clinic. I laid down for a short catnap. Just as I was drifting off, I felt her jump up on the bed. My heart leapt. I stroked her and scratched her head, telling her how glad I was that she was home again, rejoicing in the sound of her purr.
An hour later, I found her at the back of the closet. Again, she turned away from food and water. I checked three more times and always found her in her nest. When I pet her, she uttered a soft, “Oh.”
At 5:55 PM, I called the clinic. “Tell Sharon that I will be in at 7:30 tomorrow morning. Tell her… It’s time.”
My last night with Mags was an emotionally mixed affair. On one hand, I was devastated at the impending loss of my companion. Yet, the sorrow was embroidered by relief. I was glad Mags wouldn’t have to endure more trips to the vet, more discomfort, more periods of mild dehydration and malnutrition due to nausea. I lay with her on the floor in the closet, whispering softly to her, petting her gently.
“Remember that time you got so mad when I brought a dog home,” I said. “Remember how much you hated that hotel room? Remember how much you liked Katy? Remember all the nice stuff Jeanne sent home for you? You love that scratch box, don’tcha?”
“Thank you, Mags. Thank you for keeping me company for the last three years. Thank you for taking care of me on that Christmas when I was sick. Thank you for getting me through the move to Omaha. Thank you for being your sweet self. I love you so much, Mags. I will miss you so much.”
I went to bed that night thinking that I wouldn’t sleep. Surprisingly, I dropped right off. About three in the morning, I was awakened by the familiar jingle of Mags’ collar. I sat up and heard her scratching at the post of the bed.
“I’m coming, baby!” I scooped her up and lay her on the bed next to me. She began to purr and weakly nuzzle my hand. We lay together for a long time, me stroking her and she softly nuzzling my hand to encourage me to continue. Later, she gave me her ‘leave me alone’ nibble. I lay next to her, listening to her soft snoring as she slept, her back against my big pillow for the last time.
“Mags,” I sobbed. “If you can give me a sign that we should keep going… I mean… I just wish you could talk, girl.” No response.
An hour later, she jumped off the bed, went to use her litterbox, then went to the back of the closet again. I had hoped that her venture to my bed was a rallying point, but as it turned out, it was her way of saying goodbye.
I don’t have the wherewithal to write about Mags’ final trip to the cat clinic. Any pet owner knows what it’s like to show the ultimate act of mercy to a beloved animal. I will only say that, when the end came, Mags was at peace. I will also say that my tears were not the only ones falling as I bent and kissed Mags on her head for the last time. Sharon and the two vet techs were also emotional. How many times had they witnessed such a scenario, yet they still possessed the humanity to show their grief along with their patients’.
Since Mags passed away, coming home after work has been the hardest part. The thing I looked forward to most was my time with her when I first returned, followed by her nightly supper. Now, I come home to an empty apartment that is cold and baron. I sleep with her kitty bed each night. She’s still the last thing I think of before I drift off, and the first thing I think of when I wake in the morning. My hands trace the soft contours of her bed, remembering how she felt inside of it, her head propped on the edge, as she lay comfortably there. Sometimes, I still catch myself listening intently, swearing that I can hear the jingle of her collar. As I write this, I keep expecting to feel her gently brush against my ankles, or her front paws tap against my thigh. My afternoon catnap just isn’t the same without Mags to warm my feet. My nightly bath is lonely without Mags lying beside the tub on her folded towel, or leaning over the edge to take a drink.
Last Friday, I received a call from the clinic, telling me that her ashes are ready for me to come collect. I plan to go New Year’s Eve morning. I will be taking a friend with me for emotional support. The care package is waiting by the door, filled with uneaten Fancy Feast cat food, a baggie full of Mags’ favorite kitty treats, an unused electric kitty bed and several bags of Baker’s chocolates for the angels in human form who took such good care of my girl. Mags’ final resting place will be on the bookcase of my living room, right next to my clock, in front of a painting that my friend Kelly did for me.
I won’t argue the notion that parenthood is probably the most selfless job that an adult can undertake. Honestly, I never wanted kids. I don’t regret not having them. I just never saw myself as fatherhood material. But in the absence of children, I believe that taking care of animals is also a very noble, selfless job. Animals cannot speak for themselves. Therefore, as compassionate human beings, we are responsible for their welfare. If I had known that Mags was sick when I first took her in, I would not change a thing. I wouldn’t trade a second of the time I spent with her, even during the moments when she was sick. Mags taught me the most valuable lesson I’ve ever learned; how to love unselfishly, especially when the object of that love is ill. Making the decision to send her over the Rainbow Bridge was the hardest choice I’ve ever had to make, but despite the heartbreak of her loss, I feel it was the right one. I only wish that I could have spent just one more Christmas with her before she went away. Christmas has always been my favorite time of year, but now, the shadow of her death will always dampen the holiday.
I have struggled over the years with matters of faith and spirituality. Yet, even in my dark moments of agnosticism, I believe in an afterlife. I used to imagine my entry into heaven as my landing somewhere familiar. I would picture myself standing at the front door of my grandparents’ home. I would walk in, and there Grandpa would be in his chair, waiting for me to plop down in his lap. From the kitchen, I would smell cookies baking as Grandma rattled dishes.
Since Mags came into my life, my view has changed. I now imagine my death as a time when I will go to sleep. I will drift off, finally achieving the peace that has so often proven to be elusive in life. Then, I will wake up in bed. My bedroom window will be cracked, the cool, crisp Colorado morning air bathing my face. Then, I will hear, “Err.” Mags will greet me with her usual nuzzles and good morning purrs, lying curled up in a ball as I stroke her fur. Every time I stop petting her, she will nuzzle my hand until I resume. It will be her way of telling me that I’m safe… I’m loved… I don’t need to be afraid… I’m finally, home.
Thank you for everything, Mags. Someday, I may have another cat, but I will never have another Mags.
Goodbye, girl. Goodbye.
Mags Marie Osentowski
Came to live with me: Saturday, May 28, 2016
Passed away: December 18, 2019
She wasn’t my pet. She was my family.