Shortly after the breakup of my engagement in July of 2002, someone left a box in the alley beside or behind a co-worker’s home in Benton, Louisiana. Inside that box was a small, grey kitten who was probably only a few days old. My co-worker, Susan, knew that I was a “cat person” and began to urge me to adopt this sweet, little ball of fur, whom she’d named “Allie”, since, at the time, she’d thought the kitten was a girl-cat.
Susan brought “Allie” up to work with her, contained in a large cardboard box with a towel over the top, along with some food and water, and placed it alongside her desk, to take care of it while she worked. This was when Alexander and I first met.
A few days later, we had to change the name from “Allie” to “Alexander” when it became clear the kitten was a boy-cat. A few days after that, and I was taking Alexander home to meet Samantha, and I was wary of how, or even if, they would hit it off.
It turns out I needn’t have worried. Although the veterinarian suggested it might take a few days of smelling each other underneath the door, by the next morning Alexander was cuddling up to his new surrogate mother.
Alex was always a climber. When he was still a small kitten, he would lunge and latch his claws into my jeans (or underwear), scurry up the back of my t-shirt and stand, triumphantly, on my shoulders or sometimes, on the very top of my head. Soon, he was climbing up kitchen counters, dressers, the top shelves of closets, on top of the refrigerator… When I bought a carpet-covered climbing tree that braced itself against the eight foot-tall ceiling, he would scurry up and down it like you and I open doors.
Alex also liked to hide in dark places. One day, again while still a kitten, I came home and was unable to find him. Imagine my shock when I realized he’d climbed up into the very back of my recliner! He continued to hide in that small space until he became too big to fit through the small flap at the bottom of the recliner that gave him access to the stuffing. Another time, I woke up to find he’d not only gotten under the covers with me, but he’d crawled down to the very bottom of the bed and curled up next to my feet. And just a few days ago, he’d wrapped himself in my quilts and blankets on the floor at the bottom of the bed.
Alex and I have always been cuddle-buddies. He would curl up next to my face, or underneath my arm, or between my legs, when we slept. As I’m a flip-flopper when I’m asleep, he would frequently grumble as I switched positions for yet another time.
But we loved each other… Once, I woke up to feel his raspy, tongue against my scalp, and I realized he was giving me a bath, as a sign of affection.
To those who didn’t know him, all this sounds like a sweet, pleasant cat, but Alex was often what I called a “little stinker!” When he was about 9 months old, I took him to the vet to be neutered, and they called me to come pick him up the next day, telling me, “We’re scared of him!”
Alex (and Sammie) have their full claws, and Alex could charge and hiss and spit like no other, even at the very last. Once, when my sister and a friend helped me move from one apartment to another, we’d moved all of the furniture and things out of the bedroom where the cats were, and when it was time to move the cats, Alex had to be covered in a blanket and hurled into the carrier, but not before severely scratching my sister. That night, he was given the nickname, “Psycho Cat”, and no one but myself was ever allowed in his territory.
He could also shed that beautiful, grey hair like no other cat I’ve seen. When I washed my clothes or sheets I’d frequently pull enough fur out of the lint filter to knit a new cat. Despite medicine and diet changes, he continued to periodically throw up hairballs that were as big as he was. So, when he started to throw up in the middle of the night a few nights ago, I wasn’t worried. When I’d come home from work and find him curled up in his bed in the back of the closet, I wasn’t worried. When I picked him up and cuddled with him one afternoon and he complained a little when I lifted him by his abdomen, I wasn’t really worried.
I should have been.
Feline Hepatic Lipidosis is a disease that affects previously overweight cats, (at his prime, Alex was a muscular 20+ pounds), where fats begin to build up in the cat’s liver, and the cat stops eating. Once they stop eating, their body begins to metabolize fat, just as we humans do. Our livers (and theirs) are not very efficient at processing fats, so eventually the liver fails. This is what happened to Alex. Had I noticed the signs and gotten him to the veterinarian sooner, he might have been saved, but it would have been costly, and knowing Alex the way I did, he wouldn’t have tolerated the treatment.
Alex would often let me pick him up and hold him against my chest for about 30 second to a minute before he’d strain to be let down. The last few days, he’d allowed me to hold him for several minutes without any push back, and I’d be the one to eventually want to end the hug. Today, he quietly stepped into the carrier that he’d normally hiss and spit and fight against with all of his might, and I carried him the short distance to see the doctor. He was visibly anxious, but he allowed me to stroke his face as we waited for Dr. Coker to enter the room. After discussing his condition, and watching Alex begin to fight to the bitter end, she asked me to step outside while they sedated and examined him.
Within minutes, Dr. Coker stepped outside and told me the prognosis. We stepped back inside the examination room and saw Alexander, eyes wide open, lain on his left side, laboring to breath and still wanting to fight these humans who he thought were hurting him, even though they wanted so much to help him. The doctor explained that it was time to put Alex to sleep, and we discussed how it’d be done, what we’d do with the body, etc.
When I’d left to go to the doctor, I was living with three senior cats, so I knew they’d all be passing in the next couple of years, and I’d attempted to prepare myself. Now, I have two.
When my father passed away, I was by his side, and I’d shed no tears then because he’d lingered on in pain for over five years. When my mother passed away two years ago, I was also by her side and shed no tears then because, again, we’d recognized that she’d come home to die and if anyone I’ve ever met was prepared to meet her Maker, it was my mom. Of course, I sobbed like a baby when I was at their funerals, but during the actual death I was able to contain myself.
But with Alex, when what the doctor was telling me began to really sink in, I used up what was left of the tissue papers were available in the exam room.
The doctor and her assistant left the room for a few minutes to allow Alex and I to say goodbye to one another. I draped him with my arms with his back to my chest, just like we did sometimes when we cuddled in sleep together, and I told him how much I loved him, how I knew he wouldn’t be in pain anymore, and I kissed him repeatedly behind his ears, just like he liked.
The doctor came back in, and had to sedate Alex once more, since the first shot was wearing off and he’d begun to struggle again. After it took affect, she shaved first his hind leg, then his front leg, looking for a vein. Poor Alex’s blood pressure was so weak, it took several tries before she was able to administer the drug.
And with that, he was gone.
I’ve been “owner” to four cats in my life thus far: Smokey was a Burmese cat that was brought home one afternoon by my mother after I’d been told by my father that I could not have a dog. As much as I’d loved Smokey, I’d not been given a choice as to his joining our family, and everyone knew he was really my mother’s cat, anyway.
Samantha was given to me by my former fiance’s youngest daughter because, after the breakup, she was concerned that I would be lonely. As much as I still love Sammie and as sweet of a gesture as that was, once again I had not been given a choice.
When I moved back into my childhood home to save on expenses and care for my mother as she began chemotherapy, I bonded with her cat P.C. (“Prince Charming”) and that simple fact gave my mother great pleasure to know that my kitty-cat “brother” and I had bonded so well. When Mom passed away, it was a given that I would continue to take good care of P.C., which I do to this day. But once again, he is not “my” cat and I had no choice in the matter.
Alex was my cat. I’ve known him practically his entire life. He was the cat that only I understood, and that only I knew. I chose to adopt him, and as much of a troublemaker that he was, I’m still absolutely heart-broken that he’s gone and that I won’t be able to love on him every day when I come home or wake up.
Alex was placed in a small, cardboard coffin and brought home. As the sun set, I dug a grave at the back of my property and buried him next to Smokey.
I know he is no longer in pain. I know my remaining cats can sense my loss. I know there is little else I could’ve done. I know that we all die eventually. I know that tonight is going to be one of the hardest nights I’ve experienced in a long time. And I know that I’ll always miss my sweet boy.