Her name was Rufus, and for nearly seventeen years she was my best friend. For most of that time I simultaneously feared she would die and believed she would never die.
My cat died a year ago today.
For three weeks she deteriorated. One moment we were watching Star Trek. The episode was titled “Second Chances.” Rufus tried to jump onto one of her favorite chairs. She missed. She would never jump again.
I’d noticed her wobbling as she walked to the chair. I watched her go. I watched her jump. I watched her fall.
Her back leg was giving out. I don’t remember which leg now, and for that, I feel awful. But I’m sure I have it written in a note somewhere. All the notes for those three weeks are tucked in a box in the storage room, along with her diapers and food dishes. The box is labeled, Rufus. But it is not Rufus.
The next morning the vet accommodated us. They believed Rufus had a fibrocartilaginous embolism. An injury that took time to heal, but she would heal, probably.
We did exercises and massages. Three times a day. She couldn’t walk around, but she tried to. I made nests for her. Luckily we have lots of blankets. I’m always cold, and my mother crochets.
I tried to carry her to the litter box, but there were accidents. And then everything was an accident and we returned to the vet.
Well, it depends how dedicated you are. I am very dedicated. Her name is Rufus, and for nearly seventeen years, she has been my best friend. The vet showed me how to express her bladder. We bought her diapers.
Now we did exercises and massage four times a day, and I squeezed her bladder and changed her diaper. We also did laser therapy twice a week, and she got to wear little goggles. The laser therapy maybe promoted healing. We were going to try six sessions over three weeks. We did less than that.
When I tried to sleep, at bedtime, I put her in a crate, all cushioned up with blankets. At first I closed the door, and she did not like that. But then I left the door open, and she was satisfied. She’d perhaps always wanted a room of her own, but not too much her own.
She couldn’t walk, so she stayed in her nests. I flipped her every four hours to prevent bed sores. She laid on the couch and slept. I put on PBS Kids. She didn’t watch it, but I pretended she did.
I work from home, but I could not work. I flipped her every four hours. She couldn’t sleep in the bed anymore. Sometimes I slept with her under the dining room table. Sometimes I slept with her on the couch. But only for four hours, if that could be managed.
Her other leg gave out. It wasn’t an embolism. We tried to get her into physical therapy and scheduled her for an MRI. It probably should have been done sooner. No one had insisted.
I carried her around the back yard. She never had roamed outside before. We looked at birds, at the sky, at the grass. An old Ukrainian lady laughed at her and called her a baby, because she had the little diaper on. Another neighbor said she was a fine-looking animal.
She was fluffy, and she had a little nose.
After three weeks of all this, she stopped eating. It was Friday. The vet gave us emergency food. At first she gobbled it up. But then she didn’t. I squirted some liquid food into her mouth with a syringe. I regret it now. She didn’t want to eat. But I wanted her to get to the MRI on Monday.
On Sunday she stopped closing her eyes. She stared into space. She was no longer there.
I wanted some of her fur. I cut a piece off. Her skin was so stretchy, it gave away like nothing, it disintegrated like a thin piece of injera. I accidentally cut off a piece of her skin. I thought it was fur. She flinched. She bled.
It was the worst moment of my life.
The vet would come to do an in-home euthanasia. But we had to wait until the evening.
It’s so peaceful. They go to sleep. Everyone said it. The vet said it.
It wasn’t peaceful. The vet sedated Rufus. Then he gave her the dose that was to kill her. But she knew it was happening. She lifted up her head. She meowed.
Meawr meawr meeee-aa….w….r.
I saw the moment she died. I heard it. It was loud and confusing for both of us.
She may have been scared.
I try to remind myself that she is not still scared a year later. The fear lasted a moment. She doesn’t remember it. She doesn’t remember me.
I adopted Rufus when she was six months old. I was twenty. I was lonely, anxious, and wanted to die.
At first she was aloof, and spent much of the time hiding. It took two years for her to warm up. It took two years for her to crawl up and sleep on my legs while I napped. We were very different. Rufus was brave and loved to be squeezed and hugged and kissed. But one thing we had in common was a love of naps, and especially taking them with a friend.
When I was saying goodbye to Rufus, I thanked her for saving my life. I’m not sure that was entirely accurate. Because what she had done was save life more generally, she spread out the corners of the sun, like readying her afghan for naptime. I believed that without her little paws to keep the ripples of light spread, day would collapse.
But her paws are gone. The daylight isn’t. I’m still here without Rufus, but so is life. She must have done more than spread the sun-blanket. I’m thinking it was a covert long-term project, and when I thought she was just scrunching and situating the folds before our naps, she was actually knotting a pattern in place. So now the sun is fixed; her paws are no longer necessary. And when I wake up from a nap and look at the afternoon, at golden light crocheted into every fluttering leaf, every second-guessing squirrel, every anchor of the day, I remind myself: Rufus did that.