As I type this, it’s T-minus twelve hours to the start of NaNo; by rights, I should be scribbling a post about writing: my anticipation and trepidation about the month ahead, personal tips or maybe a pep talk, even an anecdote from my writing life. However, circumstances have intervened, and this post has nothing to do with writing.
It’s Halloween morning, and I’m in my back yard burying a cat (a dead one – I’m not like that). Early yesterday morning our oldest cat, Digit, died. It came as no surprise and in fact, was something of a relief. He’d been sick about a month, a tumor-like growth that he’d had on his side for years ruptured and slowly began eating away at him. I’ll save save you the gory details, but eventually it was just too much for him. Even before he got sick, we new his days were numbered; he’d been on a sort of “death watch” for a couple of years now. I guess I should mention he was twenty years old.
Digit was a shelter kitten. My brother-in-law, Chad, got him as a birthday present for my sister. Digit and Leonard, a female tabby mix, stayed with Michelle and Chad for five years until the couple’s first baby was born. Neither cat took to the new arrival, and Michelle and Chad scrambled to find a home for them. Almost to the week of their asking me, I had broken up with my live-in, allergic-to-cats girlfriend, and with a suddenly empty apartment, I took the refugees in.
Over a month into our co-habitation, I still had barely seen either cat. Only the tousled litter of the cat box and the dwindling food and water levels were the only hints that I even had cats. Eventually, as we all do, they came to terms with their situation; the mom and the dad, and even the strange crying, pooping thing that had been their world were gone. This apartment with that strange guy they kind of knew was their world now. Leonard was fat and happy; she loved attention, especially if she didn’t have to move to get it. Digit, however, wanted nothing to do with anybody. He accepted the apartment, and later the house, as his home, but it was just that: his home. I heard it described somewhere that dogs have masters, but cats have staff, and that was true of Digit, who was soon to earn the affectionate nickname “Grumpy”.
Routinely, he’d sit on a desk or counter and face the wall, staring at it for hours. He’d let you pet him, sometimes, but only on his terms. Every once in a while, I’d violate his house policy, and he would voice his displeasure in creative ways. Once, he peed on me while I was sleeping.
Leonard’s death changed him, however. He was still grumpy, but he became more tolerant. Instead of the jerk that kicks your chair out from behind you, he became the old curmudgeon, cranky and irritable, but always willing to sneak in a kind word or deed when no one’s looking. He was with me when my first marriage fell apart, and through my sometimes disastrous attempts to put my life back together. Eventually we found Kristy and her boys, and her cat, Keiko. We added three dogs and a few more cats to the mix, and Digit was recognized by all as the elder statesman of the four-legged family members. He even became the alpha dog somehow. He would never admit it, but he was happy.
Digit collapsed Friday night walking to the kitchen (food was his passion). I gave him a bath, redressed his wound, and put him in bed. The last few hours of his life were as comfortable as I could make them, wrapped in blankets and snuggled between his mom and his dad. When I woke up in the morning he was gone. His eyes were open, but there was nothing in them. I let him rest there a while longer, then wrapped him in a towel and put him in a box. When I went to gather all the linen for the laundry, I noticed a wet spot on the bed; death must have released his bladder. Digit’s last act on this plane was to pee on my bed.
He would’ve wanted it that way.
Thank you for indulging me. He was more than a cat; it’s hard to explain. My next post will have something remotely to do with writing, I promise.
1990 - 2010