Thursday, August 30, 2007, I came home from work, and that day she didn’t even get up. For a week she hadn’t eaten much, and was getting weaker by the day. Her head wobbled when she sat still, and when she walked, sometimes she fell down. Sometimes she fell in her food, pathetically attempting to eat, and failing miserably at it. I had emailed my stepmom, Michelle, talking about the situation, and she told me I would know when it was time.
Mecca was sitting in the rocking chair when I came home, the one my mama rocked me in when I was a baby, barely moving. Usually she came up to me, demanding with her now-scratchy meow that I feed her immediately. Today, however, was different. Starting to panic, but still unready to throw in the towel, I picked her thin frame up from the pillow, and for once she didn’t protest. My girl didn’t like to be held much, and usually getting picked up meant going into the kitchen and being force-fed three or four pills. Today she didn’t fight.
I carried her limp body into the bathroom and opened a can of cat food. She looked at me, resigned and listless, trying hard to sit up straight. I spooned a lump of cat food into her plate and she looked at it, then looked away, as she always did if the food presented to her was not up to par. Usually she wolfed it down. She shook her head and fell chest-first into the food, righting herself slowly and painfully, and it was so pathetic, her soft downy ruff of fur covered in food, as if she were an invalid, as if she were on her last leg, desperate and filthy. I cleaned her chest off and tried not to cry at seeing my baby girl like this, finally debilitated enough to be worrisome.
So I got a spoon of the cat food and tried to feed her. She would nibble and lick, and when it came to a clump of cat food that was bigger than a morsel, she would chew it as if it were beef jerky, half of it falling out of her mouth, and after that bite was swallowed, she would give up again. So I sat in the bathroom with her, tears soundlessly rolling down my cheeks for an hour, trying to get food into her. If I could get her to eat again, I bargained, she’d be OK. If I could get her strong again she’d live forever.
I gave up on that can and decided her food was not delicious enough. I started boiling chicken in the kitchen flavored with fish stock, but I started to doubt she could handle that if she couldn’t get the soft cakey wet food down. I ran into the kitchen and got a can of Friskies. Friskies gives her diarrhea, but if I could get some nutrition into her, I thought, I could help her. She’d be stronger and be able to get through this. I opened the can of Friskies and she proceeded to lick all of the gravy up and none of the meat, none of the food. I thought about what Michelle had said, about knowing, and I broke down, trying not to cry and scare her, and I left her in the bathroom there as I paced the hall, back up and down this long hall that divides my house, trying to make sense of this.
I called the vet in a dramatic gesture (surely it’s not really that bad yet) to get some comfort from him, to hear him say let’s keep trying I know this will work. I asked him if there was any reason we couldn’t put Mecca to sleep the next day at her regular appointment time. Instead of talking me down he started talking to me about how I was the best friend she had ever had and that I knew what the right thing to do for her would be. That we’d tried everything, and that sometimes we just need to let go.
Not prepared to hear this, no sir, not at all. It was a major blow to me, that he, the tireless healer, would say that to me. It was possible now that my baby could be at the end of her life. I called everyone, my mother, my sister, my husband, to try and sort this out. Everyone said they would be here as soon as possible, no one tried to talk me out of it, everyone came as if to a wake. It was snowballing into my reality that this was possibly (no, yes, really) the right thing to do. Instead of taking her to a blood test the next day I was taking her to her death.
I called my boss, an eternally understanding woman, and told her that I would need to be home the next day, that I would have to put my kitty to sleep and, well, call me if you need anything. How do you say that sort of thing, when you’re a real person? I felt very surreal, trying to staple together my courage and face this concept. I had told my coworkers about this, that she was sick, very sick, and all the work we had to do to try to make her better, how hard it was to me to pry open her mouth as Tony held her down and stuff medicine into her, forcing her to swallow it dry before popping yet another pill into her. I didn’t discuss the hard part about it, how my fingernails would scrape the tender pink of the roof of her mouth sometimes, how her eyes watered, and how I rewarded her with food afterwards out of guilt and attempted comfort.
This is so hard to talk about.
My family came over and rather than letting me do my thing and cope with this enormous burden we had to feed them dinner and keep them company. Jie was sleeping on the bed and I was lying with her when they came over and they wanted to go sit in the living room, why don’t you bring her in there with us? Well, people, because she wants to sleep on her favorite spot, that’s why. I am obviously of two minds about that whole evening, and yes, their presence was a distraction, keeping me from worrying about her, but I didn’t need that distraction, or at least I didn’t want it. I wanted to pet my girl. They left that evening late and I went to bed with Mecca on the foot of the bed, exhausted from keeping up the show.
The next day I woke as Tony shut the door, and the reason I wasn’t at work flooded into me. I got up and decided to make it the best day she had had in a very long time. I went to the store and got her three cans of Friskies. If she wants gravy, she’ll get gravy. I fed her fish flakes (they make her sick, too), I fed her steak, I fed her more gravy. We walked outside for a while, me following her with the camera, shooting every step she took. I was recording the last moments of her life, the last time she would sleep under the pampas grass, the last time she would soak up the sun on the porch. Now I can’t even look at those pictures, so emaciated she was and so miserable.
When she was lying on the patio, I thought sleeping, I heard her make little mewing sounds while her eyes were closed. Little pleas for something, little desolate cries under her breath. I knew I had to help her sleep, and I dreaded the moments as they passed, though they passed without my permission and without my notice, an entire day eaten up. We watched DVDs as she slept in a pool of light on the couch, and somewhere in the middle I fell asleep with my head next to hers, in a daze. My phone rang and jolted us out of our sleep. My mother was coming to take us so I wouldn’t have to drive.
Drive where? Oh.
I decided to put on some makeup to make myself presentable, to appear human, to appear in control, even though my grip on my sanity was loose and rattling. I felt that if I just let go a little, if I let my mind wander off in that direction, that I would start screaming and never stop. I paced the floor, pausing to put on mascara while I fought back the tears that would make it impossible. I didn’t want to scare Mecca, I didn’t.
My mother came and the time finally came when I had to pack her up in the cat bag, for the last time. I would return home with an empty bag.
Too horrible to think about, no forget it, just put her in there, it’s what she wants. It’s what’s best for her.
She cried in the car until I put my hand in the bag, until her mama was touching her, and then it was OK.
At the vet, they asked me to hold still, they were testing the digital camera they had just bought and needed someone to pose for them. I faked a winning smile for the camera, confused, yet unable to talk about the decision I had made, to have to explain it to them. We waited in the waiting room for about an hour past our appointment time, and in that hour I struggled to keep myself jury-rigged, duct-taped, not to cry and panic my already nervous baby. Then Chris came out and said he’d take the little squirt back there for her blood tests, so we wouldn’t have to wait much longer.
No one told them we were doing this today. The vet knew but no one else knew.
I had to choke out in my best social voice that that wasn’t necessary. He looked confused but then he understood. I think he asked me if I am sure, or something like that, but the tears that blinded me must have told him the answer. My mom and husband just watched me sadly and I blinked to try to clear my eyes and maintain, seeing the disappointment on Chris’ face. He’d cared for her when she stayed there that month long, pilled her every day and talked to her, and she’d talk back. He saw me come in every day and pet her, sing to her, hold her for the hour or so that they’d give me until the office closed. We all had hope when I brought her home, but hope isn’t enough.
They ushered us back to the surgical room, the lights bright, the air cold. No soft-chaired waiting room today. It is a kind of blur, that additional time while I stood and talked and held her then put her down and acted like I wasn’t about to smash everything I the room with my bare hands. They kept saying it would be OK to cry, but I knew that if I started crying it would be uncontrollable, and it would scare Jie. I did it for Jie. That’s how I did it.
And I did pretty well until they injected her with the first two solutions. He said she felt good, that they were hallucinogens, that she would feel no more pain. I asked how this whole process worked, and he said through tears of his own that this wasn’t the euthanasia, that this was just to give us some extra time with her. My sister came in, finally, we were all there, and she looked like she needed a hug, but I was holding my kitten as she descended into hallucinations. I didn’t think it would be like this, I thought she would chill out, but she was reaching for unseen things with her paws, and with her eyes wide dilated like black river stones, she continuously licked her lips over and over, drooling and foaming. I tried to sing to her, to comfort her, and Tony told me I had to sing to her, for her, but my throat was tight and I was trying so hard, I just couldn’t sing for her, and I hate myself for that. This process was going on and I didn’t stop it. I shouldn’t stop it, and now probably couldn’t, but it was getting more and more final and more and more possible, and ever more done.
The doctor came in and asked me to put her on the table, and his assistant came in and held her down. He got the needle and the assistant held her head back, talking to her the whole time. I was surprised, wondering what was going on now, which step this was in the process. He told me I could touch her, and so I put one hand around her tail, and one hand on her tummy, staring at her foot, trying not to look at what they were doing. They kept whispering to her that she was such a good girl, and it dawned on me that this was it. I took a breath and flinched back and then the assistant set her head on the table. Her eyes were glassy and wide, and her little tongue stuck out just a tiny bit, pink against her dark fur. Oh my God.
I asked Tony if she was dead, what a stupid question, really, but I didn’t even know it would be like that, so very very fast. Everybody knew it but me, I was the last to know. I saw her dead eyes. I saw her lifeless, one minute perhaps in pain (else why say “good girl” and hold her head back like that?) the next a shell of lifeless nothing, limp as a forgotten doll. I kept asking Tony if she was dead, and I realized it in its fullness, fell against him. Vaguely I was aware of the doctor trying to pat my back, to console me, but he was crying too, and left the room. There were suddenly too many people around, I had to get out of that room and I couldn’t see her, I couldn’t. I walked out into the hallway between the rooms and tried to be cool, to act like it was all good, like I was OK with this. I knew I was going to lose it, only I wanted to lose it at home, not here. Mama ushered me to the truck, and Tony took care of the arrangements, and I left in a daze without my girl.
Since that day I have tried hard not to think of that image. But I will never forget it. Now my little 天使 is a box of ashes.
It’s a tiny box, about half the size of her body, and very very light. Insubstantial. Impossible to believe that she is in there. I have yet to look in there. Who knows if I ever will. I still can’t bring myself to think much on her blank expression and the way she lay there alone. How I did it. For real. How I left her there, alone, dead and cold. I went home with an empty carrier, and it will get easier to deal with that fact, but it will never be easy to know.
She left at 6:30 pm on August 31, 2007.