I really wished that just once, one of them would grow old and die. Granted, I was only a kid. Granted, even as an adult, I tend to care much more about certain things than most people would consider normal. I did not see it as so ostentatious though. It would give me closure. Of course, it would still be sad, but there would be no mystery. I would have finality, I would be able to move on if I knew they were dead.
My cat Stella was my world. Mostly, because I was his world. I had a cat named Fat Kitty when I was young. He was huge – as his name suggests – and gray I inherited him from my aunt and began calling him the Notorious C.A.T. I have never been able to control myself when it comes to animals though. After a few years, I really wanted a second cat. Thankfully, I have always been good at manipulation and am not even all that lazy – hard for those who know me well to believe – when I have an obtainable goal.
I might be giving myself too much credit. I think my mom perhaps wanted the cat for herself. Ever since her cat Melissa was killed after a hutch fell on her, she had been too afraid to officially own another cat. I suppose she may have thought she could have a kitten vicariously through me. Whatever the reason, she ended up giving in and dropping her objections to the new acquisition.
Other than Fat Kitty, I had had plenty of cats before. Most of them went to the animal shelter or the bellies of coyotes. I wanted it to be different this time.
I did some research. Male cats tend to get along better with female cats. So when I went to pick my kitten, I picked a beautiful little girl. I named her Stella. I had thought of several other names for her, but Stella was the first one I floated which my mom actually liked. My mom was at this time still not entirely in the bag, so her preference meant a lot to me.
From the very first day we got Stella, Fat Kitty hated her. Apparently, Fat Kitty did not have to see the as yet un-descended testicles on our little baby to realize that Stella was actually a boy. Once we realized that he was a boy, we kept the name. I am rather opposed to changing names, for any reason. Once Stella had his name, that was it. In any case, I do not think Stella really cared. It did cause a lot of confusion at the veterinarian’s office when we went to have him neutered though.
Thankfully, when he came home, it was his scrotum with stitches and not his belly.
Stella was your quintessential scaredy cat. He was also quite evil. We would constantly have to yell at my sweet Australian Shepherd, Rusty. For some reason, this usually mild mannered canine had it out for Stella. Yes, I realize, dogs and cats are known to be enemies. However, Rusty got along perfectly fine with all other cats.
I could not explain Rusty’s abhorrent behavior, but I was certainly not going to tolerate it. I got a spray bottle and just about soaked his head every single time I saw him going for poor Stella. Then once I was done yelling at Rusty, I would pick Stella up and cuddle him.
After several months of this and having lost just about all the good will I had had for Rusty – alright, this is an exaggeration, I could never stop loving my Rusty, I was still quite pissed and disappointed though – I noticed Stella out of the corner of my eye one afternoon. I immediately focused on him because I knew Rusty was asleep in the same room. I wanted to make sure my poor Stella did not accidentally wander near Rusty.
Stella was not exactly walking towards Rusty. He was slithering, almost like a snake. His belly was against the ground and he had a very determined look on his face. I was too curious to stop him. So I sat and watched. Stella stealthily crept up to the sleeping Rusty and then viciously clawed him in the face. Before Rusty knew what was going on, Stella was running in terror. Rusty had an anguished look on his face when he saw me staring at him.
My cat was evil and cute enough to frame a dog and fool me for months.
I wish I could say this was Stella’s only real evil act while on this earth. In fact, there were many. I will give one more example. Stella had a litter of kittens with his sister before we had him neutered – no, the example of evil I am intending to give is not incest – I kept two of the babies. The other two went to my brother. Not because my brother could take care of kittens… I digress, my blog about why I hate my brother will be written in the future. One of the kittens I kept, named Merrick, was Stella’s next great victim. Stella never cared much for his children. The other kitten we kept, Hillary, returned his hatred. Poor Merrick always seemed to hope to carve out a relationship with his father though. Merrick was incredibly sweet to Stella and trusting of him for the first several years of his life. Of course, this just made it easier for Stella to beat the crap out of him. Merrick’s misplaced trust was crucial since at about a year of age, Merrick was noticeably larger than Stella.
After a couple of years, Merrick finally began to learn. Earning his father’s love was probably not in the cards. Stella would walk over to Merrick, and Merrick would show his claws and growl. He was not going to take his father’s abuse anymore. So after a few weeks of this, Stella bowed his head, and began purring one night. After a few moments of this, Merrick put away his claws. He brought them back out when Stella stuck his head out and began licking Merrick. They were retracted for the second time soon enough. Merrick eventually closed his eyes and began purring louder than a chorus of normal cats could. His pleasure was obvious. Finally, Merrick had the father he wanted!
It was at the very peak of ecstasy for Merrick that Stella would always choose to claw the shit out of his idiot son. Then Stella would run and hide. Merrick was much too confused to chase after him like Rusty had. This happened several times. Sometimes, Stella would even convince me that he had really learned to love Merrick before the maiming began.
Stella’s hatred of Merrick and Rusty was a special sort of hatred. Sure, he would growl at Hillary and other animals. For the most part, he left them alone as long as they left him alone though. So why these two? My love for Rusty and Merrick was equivalent in his mind to them trying to steal me. Rusty and Merrick are both gregarious little animals. I had Merrick since birth and I went out of my way to socialize him. Both of them could make you into their best friend within moments. Not Stella though. You would just scare Stella. See, the house we got Stella from was not known to care for their pets. The cats and dogs had been free to procreate as they pleased. They could not then expect the humans to actually care for the babies once they were born. That changed when enough neighbors contacted animal control. Finally, they gave into the pressure and had their male dog who always escaped the yard neutered. They had not had him neutered because they thought neutering a male was cruel. That is what they always said. When they realized they had no choice though, they opted for a pocket knife. They only got one testicle the first go around.
I do not know exactly what they did to Stella before we got him, but he did not trust anyone easily. Just about anything could scare Stella. When he got scared he fought viciously or ran faster than any Mexican mouse. He trusted me though and he was not about to let anyone in on his territory.
When I think about how cruel he was to Rusty and Merrick, I just think about how much that damned cat loved me.
I was going to spend a week at my boyfriend’s apartment while my bedroom at my aunt’s house was being renovated. For the first couple nights, Stella was fine. He obviously missed me, but I was there all during the day, ripping up the old hardwood in my room. Then on the third night, my aunt called me at about 3:00am. I had to come home, Stella was having a meltdown.
Stella had been crying at the top of his lungs all night long. He would not let my aunt pick him up and when I got home, there was poop in the hallway. Stella had a frantic look on his face and ran to me when he saw me. I slept on the couch that night, with a very traumatized cat.
He loved me so much. I have had problems with sleeping for years now. I toss and turn. This keeps most cats and dogs off my bed. It annoys them, they learn to sleep somewhere else. Not Stella though. I had accidentally thrown him off the bed several times. He would get right back up and sleep snuggled against me. I could pick him up and put him wherever I wanted, and he would fall asleep immediately, so long as he could feel me. This happened several times during the night. I would grab Stella, and move him to the other side and then rollover myself. He did not mind.
Whatever sleep I had was thanks to Stella. I am reminded of that many nights now, when I am going back and forth between the computer and television in the middle of the night, wishing the cats I have now could just lay with me like Stella did.
I figured Stella had caught me in the act. It made sense that he was under the dresser. I should have known better than to pet Merrick in front of him. I laughed and made a mock apology. I then got him out from under the dresser and put him back on the bed with me. He began purring immediately. I knew he could not stay mad at me.
When I woke up, Stella was not with me. I found him under the dresser again.
Stella’s heavy breathing, which made it seem like he was drowning out of water came later. I knew something was wrong immediately though, because he would no longer sleep with me.
I remember what my mom had told me when I was little. Cats like to go and find a place by themselves to die, when it is time. Stella was considerate enough to find a place nearby.
All my other cats would simply disappear after a while. If they had gone to find a place to die or if the coyotes found them, I never really knew. Well, I was pretty certain that Fat Kitty was killed by them. I found his tufts of fur all over the field behind my house. I still held out hope though. Maybe they just maimed him and I would find him injured, but alive? Perhaps it was another cat’s fur? He was not the only gray cat on the block.
I had always thought Stella would get really old, maybe live to be twenty, and one day I would wake up and he would have died in his sleep, snuggled up against me. This was actually a comforting thought to me, as morbid as it might sound. I did not look forward to Stella ever passing away. I would often think about a trauma that was far down the line.
I did not expect this young, seemingly healthy cat to find a place so near me and so far away.
Initially, his only symptom was that he was not sleeping with me. I took my cat to the veterinarian because he was not sleeping with me. He was diagnosed with an upper-respiratory infection. The veterinarian prescribed him some antibiotics. He was definitely in some pain, the doctor said. He had not been sleeping with me because of this. However, the medication would cure it within a couple days.
On his way out, the veterinarian said, “Well, it might be a good idea to run some x-rays, just in case. I know they will not show anything. I understand if you would rather not take on that added expense.”
“We might as well, he is already here,” I replied. I was not really sure what the point of them was, but if the doctor brought them up, they were probably worth doing.
The next day the veterinarian called to let me know that Stella was dying. Blood was filling his lungs. This could be because he had cancer or because there was a tear in his diaphragm. To find out, they would have to do exploratory surgery. The exploratory surgery could very well kill him and either way, it would be a long recovery process. He would have to spend a week at the animal hospital while recovering, at minimum.
I remember thinking that Stella must have been waiting for someone else to break the news to me. As soon as I got that call, his breathing became labored. Within a few days he went from sounding a bit winded to looking like he had just finished running a marathon at the speed of a sprinter.
Stella began going under the dresser with more and more vehemence. So I would sleep on the ground, with my hand against his head.
The veterinarian’s office was eager to schedule his surgery. They seemed shocked when I told them I was declining it. I had always paid for everything else they recommended. I wanted to know if he had cancer or if it was a tear in his diaphragm. I wanted to save him. However, knowing that the surgery might kill him was quite secondary to the grueling recovery I was told he would go through afterward. I remembered back to when I had had my room renovated. He was not able to spend more than a couple nights away from me, and that was with me spending all day with him.
Stella was terrified of everyone and everything. Even if all went well, and he survived the exploratory surgery, it might simply reveal that there was nothing the doctor’s could do. The doctor told me he was 30% certain that once they did the exploratory surgery they could save him.
I talked to Stella about it. I always had conversations with him. Not even two weeks before, I had mock apologized to him for petting Merrick. This time around, there was nothing mocking or humorous. I was pleading with him. I wanted him to know why I was letting him die. I wanted to let him know, that I would have the surgery done if I thought it was what he wanted. I just could not convince myself that it was.
It is weird. How much I wanted him to recover and how much I wanted him to pass peacefully at the same time. My whole life, I had just wanted the animals I love to die peacefully and with me. I know they have short lifespans. At least they would not be alone, at least they would not be food for some predator.
I suppose I should have been more specific about my wishes. Aside from his gasping attempts to breathe, Stella was quite peaceful. Though he could not sleep on the bed with me, he was not about to leave me either.
My cat was not supposed to suffocate to death as blood filled his lungs though. I was not supposed to have to say no to diagnostic surgery. He was supposed to fall asleep happy and contented one night and not wake up.
Stella was not always easy to care for. He was too damned easily scared and roused to jealousy. That is exactly what made him my baby though. When he was scared, I could say his name. I could just tell him to calm down and he would. I made him feel safe when no one else could.
So I scheduled his appointment for euthanasia about a week after hearing that blood was filling his diaphragm. Before we left I took him to the orange tree he used to like to lay under. I told him, that this was always going to be his.
On the way to the veterianarian’s, he peed in my lap. He was so calm doing it, for a moment I just thought I was imaging something very warm soaking into my pants. It occurred to me, that I was no longer able to comfort him. He was in pain and scared. No amount of comforting can reverse the effects of blood in your lungs. He was not going to let it show though. My little sissy kitty was putting on a brave face.
Later that day, when I was holding his dead body, I remember thinking that I knew what happened to Stella. My baby did not die alone.
I remember thinking how surprised the people at the veterianarian’s sounded when I said I did not want to do the surgery. This made me feel insecure. Maybe the right thing to do was to have gotten the surgery? What if it went perfectly and it turned out to just be a simple tear in his diaphragm that could be easily repaired? What if he lived another eight years into old age?
I let Stella down, because I had to make guesses with his life. I had to decide when I thought he would want to die. I wanted him to die with me when the time came. I just thought that I would know it was his time.
I have been nervous about writing this. When I think about him, I think about what it must be like to lose a child. Then I imagine good people being offended that I would compare the loss of my cat to the loss of a child.
Really, I have no idea what it is like to lose a human child. You have no idea what it was like to lose Stella. I am the only one who knew Stella and that is the greatest joy and the greatest pain that I feel when I think about him. I love Stella so much.