Cat (willowisp) wrote,

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To Gail

Dear Widget,

It's been a year now since callicrates and I made the worst decision I've ever had to make in my life. We had to let you go to a place where we couldn't follow, at least for now. Even after all this time I can't rid myself of the image of the fluid going through the tube. I have no idea how I restrained myself from pulling out the IV and just running away with you. Intellectually I know we made the correct decision; just looking into your beautiful green eyes was enough to confirm it. Maybe that's how I managed not to be selfish; knowing that you were in too much pain to truly live and just needed us to stop hanging on. Andy and I both knew you were holding on for our sakes. Anyone who says cats don't have that level of intelligence or emotional concern never met you.

I also clearly remember the first day I met you in the pound in North Carolina. You were listed as an adult, and I knew adults had harder times getting adopted. There was a very cute tabby kitten there who happened to be a nose beeper. I went back to you a second time to pet you, and you were so happy that you somersaulted. Some women came by and said you had gone with them to visit a senior citizens' home and had been so cuddly and sweet. Even then you seemed disinterested in food, eating listlessly when someone started to leave after petting you.

For a very long week we agonized over adopting you, but finally we decided to do so. Our timing was perfect; because you would have been euthanized in the very near future. The week we had to wait while they checked us out was agonizing, but visiting you each day and making sure you were still there helped. On the day we adopted you we discovered two things: you were pregnant when they spayed you, and you were only six months of age. Your long gray, peach, and white fur made you look bigger than you were, which is how you were mis-aged. I think that was good, though, because so many people looked at you in the week we were deciding, and I can only imagine the fact that you were an "adult" kept you from being snatched up, sort of like the tabby kitten who was a month older than you but was applied for even before I managed to get Andy back to the pound.

All of the literature and, in fact, the folks at the pound, said to keep you in a small quiet room for the first few days. You wanted nothing of that nonsense. When we left the door open and put a four-foot box in front of it, even though you had been spayed the day before, you jumped onto that box and were making good on your escape. We stacked a second four-foot box on the first, knowing that a convalescent kitten couldn't possibly jump that high. Until we heard the thump. We gave up on the small room thing after that and you had the run of the apartment.

The first few months with you were a bit rough. You had an edge to you, and jumped in fear every time we touched you unexpectedly. You lashed out at us, or at least me, the stay-at-home one, several times. There was one day when I was very seriously one step away from putting you into the carrier and taking you back to the pound. Thank heaven I was over it enough by the time that Andy got home with the car. We couldn't let you stay in our room overnight because your idea of playtime was every two hours or so and consisted of pouncing on various body parts which apparently resembled blanket-covered mice.

Even in those first few months, though, your clownish side was showing through. On the first or second night you were home, you had apparently realized that you were going to be an indoor kitty. Lacking a living, breathing mouse to put in our shoes, you did the next best thing: knocked Andy's wireless mouse into his sneaker. A few days later we caught you grooming innocently next to his wallet, which was on the floor, with one of his credit cards partially extracted. You would contort yourself into incredible positions just so you could have at least some body part touching every possible piece of clean clothing in a pile. Your theme song nigh on immediately became Enya's Wild Child.

Your incredible abundance of affection also never slowed after that first somersault. Though you never pulled that trick again, you did have a fierce craving for attention. You would start with the normal cheek rubbing, but very quickly you wouldn't be able to keep from trying to get us to pet every bit of you possible. You would put everything into your attempt to be petted everywhere all at once, and when you were doing it you would purr so quickly that your purrs ran into each other and tripped over one another. That side of you shined through your whole life, even in those first hard months of learning to live with each other.

The change came very gradual; so much so that it took us a while to notice, but you calmed down after about six months. I'm guessing it was because you were unlearning, in the second half of your life, everything you had learned in the first half. Either way, though, we did eventually notice that you were able to relax around us. We could even let you into our room at night without having to worry about you playing bed-mousey, and although you rarely slept on us, you would curl up at our feet.

You absolutely loved playing with and drinking from your water fountain, and playing with our food. We have pictures of kitten tracks in the pasta sheets I was letting dry before cutting them, and the muffin you dragged halfway through the apartment. For your whole life, though, you were never much into your own food. If Andy so much as came near your feather toy while you were eating, the food was deserted. In your short time with us you were tested for feline leukemia twice, and had been at the pound as well. The second time you were tested was when we'd had you for about a year. We had been battling a recurring gum infection so often that the vet was concerned there was some immune deficiency involved. Finally, though, six months' worth of antibiotics clobbered it enough that it only reared up two or three times in the rest of your life.

You were, in some ways, what seemed to be a study in contradictions. You were so frail, yet so bold. You were clumsy and proud of it, yet you would pull off contortions which I wouldn't believe if I didn't have pictures. You were timid yet you were also so very brave. You must have been through horrors I can't even imagine in your first six months, almost certainly at the hands of humans, but you were desperate for human touch. There was one thing which was never in question, though -- your mischievous streak.

For two wonderful years you were more or less healthy, and you felt safe enough to open up. Our favorite trick in that time, and the one by which we will always remember you, was/were the balloons. It started when Andy's dad sent him a balloon left over from his birthday. One day you grabbed the string and began running away as you were wont to do with strings. On the way over to wherever you decided to chew on the string, and suddenly the balloon was in the skylight. I pulled it out, and didn't think anything of it when I saw the balloon in the skylight the next day.

Then I caught you on what was almost certainly your third time. I realized only in retrospect that the second day was your doing, after I saw you grab the string, pull the balloon over to the skylight, and let go. Andy didn't believe me until the next occasion we had mylar balloons and he caught you. What always impressed me most was that you always put the balloon (or later bunches of balloons we got) into the skylight other than the one in which you had released them last time. I have no idea how you kept track of which one had been last, but the way you would oh-so-carefully pace around until the balloons were exactly where you wanted them left no doubt as to your intentions. You were as intelligent as you were affectionate, and thank you for repeating the trick in front of Andy's parents so they finally realized we weren't exaggerating.

There were other things, too. The fact that you demolished the cloth on the bottom of our box spring and loved going up and hiding in the box spring comes to mind. Your help in setting up the chess board... repeatedly... also was noticed, as were the various battery graveyards we would stumble across when moving sofas and the comfy chair. We figure you were an interior decorator in your former life, given the way you kept re-arranging the kitty furniture, and you certainly were as fascinated with gaming dice as I have ever been. Though it puzzled us it also was amusing to watch you scratch around your food dish and water fountain, and the ingenious ways in which you "buried" your food on a regular basis. The time you liked the food so much that you turned it upside-down and managed to wedge it under your scratching post was especially impressive.

You were not a very vocal cat in the usual sense. For the first few years I wasn't even sure you were capable of meowing. You made so many other sounds, though -- expressive coos and warbles and trills -- that we couldn't call you mute. When I finally heard you meow for the first time I had to hear you do it again to be sure I had heard correctly. I wish we had never seen an occasion wherein you were so unhappy that you did so. The three-day car ride was the only time you ever meowed.

In fairy tale terms, you were the little princess. Not the classically beautiful one (be she the oldest or youngest) who was courted by guys who would climb mountains of glass for her, but instead the silly happy one unconcerned with court life who never made it into the stories. In those unwritten stories you probably lived happily ever after married to the jester, whose acts you helped write.

You were occasionally regal, and I'm sure it was completely by accident. When you did something clumsy you didn't groom as if to say "I meant to do that", you would be as likely to give an encore performance. You loved playing; you loved putting things where they didn't belong or were at least unexpected; and you loved blowing every negative stereotype out there when it came to cats being aloof and haughty.

You could be cuddly but you were rarely a lap kitty. After esmerel sent us an afghan she had made, though, you found your place in life. We have so many adorable pictures of Andy wrapped in the afghan and you peeking out from it; not on his lap, but within the wraps. You would do it with other throws, but hers was your favorite, and the one you would sleep on if it was currently not wrapped around Andy. As you grew older you would sometimes sleep back-to-back with me, or curled up in the crook of my back when I was on my side. A few times which were some of the best in my life you would actually sit on my lap or, if Andy and I were seated together, arrange yourself on both of ours.

I don't know what exactly triggered your decline, but I suspect the two moves within a ten months may have been major contributing factors. The movers from NC to NM terrified you in ways I'd never seen you afraid before, even though you were never in contact with them. The three-day car trip and two hotel stays were not happy times for you. You seemed to be happy in the second apartment, though, and were still eating enough. Even though we made sure you couldn't make a two-story fall from a high ledge, you loved sitting on it anyway, and you adored the fireplace. Especially standing in the fireplace. When echoweaver and her husband kitty-sat you, though, you hid well enough that they thought you had been hurt or had escaped. You had always been the one to greet and beg scritches from strangers. The last year or so of your life was spent afraid of everyone other than Andy and me, even those who visited often.

The move to the house was only about a 20-minute drive, but maybe it was the change which was more stressful than the drive. At first you seemed happy, especially since there was no way we could block your view from this two-story ledge. Once again you wanted nothing to do with the "put them in a small room and gradually introduce them to the house" thing; you were very happy to explore. In March your vet checkup was unproblematic, and the vet and his techs adored you.

Sometime in April we noticed your fur was tangled, but I never thought much of it and I don't think Andy was too concerned. After all, you were a long-haired cat and without a daily brushing tangles are nigh on inevitable. A few days later I started noticing the canned food was going untouched. It took me longer to realize that you were the only one eating canned food, and even longer to realize that you hadn't been touching dry food for quite a while. I noticed your gums were inflamed again and called the vet, figuring you weren't eating the dry food because it hurt.

The vet said your gums were inflamed, but not to the point where they should make it too painful to eat. We scheduled a tooth cleaning and he ran some blood tests, including the third one in your life for FlV. The results were conclusive: a mild liver inflammation and no leukemia. You were put on bright pink bubblegum-flavored anti-biotics, which you hated. You seemed to be getting better when I had to go visit family in Upstate NY, so I didn't cancel the trip. Andy took you in for a follow-up checkup which seemed promising, and your liver levels had stabilized fairly high, but within normal bounds. You were still your sweet self, though, purring your furry little throat out and doing epic "pet me" runs.

Two of the things I regret most had to do with your medication. I regret that the day I returned from NY I coaxed you out from under the bed, then gave you your medicine. That was the last time you ever trusted us enough to come when called. I also regret asking Andy to medicate you half the time. The last few weeks of your life were mostly spent upstairs, afraid of both of us. I wish I'd put myself in charge of medication so in those last few weeks you could have felt safe with at least Andy. I'm so sorry, sweetie.

At some point just before or just after I returned from NY, you stopped eating again. The vet was concerned, and gave suggestions such as baby food, very smelly canned food, and fresh (cooked) meat and liver. Again it was esmerel to the rescue, telling me where I could find livers. When you still wouldn't eat the vet prescribed human appetite stimulants in reduced doses. It was at that point where one of the truly wonderful things happened: I went to Whole Foods to find food to tempt you, and I told the seafood butcher that I needed a tiny piece to see if you would even eat it. When he handed it over there was no price, just three letters. The cashier confirmed that it was the code for "On the house'. I still have that wrapper to look at whenever world events seem overwhelming.

That tuna was one of the last few things you ate, and I happily bought more a day or two later. The other thing was a piece of buttermilk chicken; something you had never been able to resist. It was about the only food for which you would jump up onto the table, sometimes even when we were still sitting at it. Andy always said you had good taste in no-nos. Buttermilk chicken has always been a very special occasion meal. This time we made it for you, and the fact that we got it too was nothing compared to how happy we were to see you eat it.

It soon became obvious you weren't eating, even with the appetite stimulant. On Sunday, June 27th, something scared us enough that we took you to the 24 emergency vet clinic. I was supposed to start in a game with lowapproach and dnabre that afternoon, but by then you were in an oxygen cage with an IV, and the emergency vet sent us off to eat while they awaited the results of the blood draw. Afterward I showed up to the game and barely managed to get across that I wouldn't be making it that day. When we went back to the clinic we got the news: you were in advanced massive organ failure. They could run further tests to see which had triggered the other, but those are technical details covered in our frantic posts that day.

We went back at 10pm to discover that you had improved but barely, being able to breathe a little more easily but that was about all. The further tests had been inconclusive. The vet recommended we come back first thing in the morning to see if there had been any change. If I slept that night at all, I don't remember. What I do remember is praying as I rarely had before; the desperate kind of prayers people say when someone they love is dying; mostly pleading for a miracle.

The overnight vet was obviously very good at what he does. He told us that you were dying, and that not even experimental procedures such as transplants could undo the damage already done. We liked the other vet more; to her we were "Gail's people" and you were "Gail" and "her". To him we were "the Wilsons" and you were "the animal" and "it". Even so, we knew that his diagnosis was based on both vets' having tried everything. When we went to see you and looked into your eyes, we knew you were in pain and were so very, very tired.

Both Andy and I went through a box of tissues as they prepared you; fortunately they ended up using the same IV as had been conveying oxygen and medication. I think the fact that both of us were falling apart unnerved the vet; in the end he said he wasn't feeling well and turned us all over to a tech. We liked her. She called you a beautiful princess, and assured you the pain would be over soon. I'm sure that had we both not been holding you, she would have been petting you. I think her words were more for us; you were suffering too much to be afraid. I hope you heard us asking you to give our love to your older sister and our grandparents, and that you also heard us saying how much we loved you.

We miss you, little Widget. You were a shooting star, and your streak through our lives was brilliant but far too brief.
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