For the past few days, the only thing I’ve had on my mind has been my cat, Grrr. This past Friday afternoon, out of nowhere, he died. The whole episode lasted maybe two minutes from start to finish. I have been mourning my baby boy for more than three days; yet what’s worse is not that he died, but that it was so unexpected, and traumatic.
I can’t even remember the sequence of events from beginning to end. There are just little flashes in my mind of what happened that I’ve been trying to piece together. Initially, I remember him writhing in a strange way. He wasn’t giving any audible indication of something being wrong, but I could just tell that the way he was bent wasn’t natural. As I reached down to touch him, he let out a cry. Normally he was the cat who would bite or hiss when he was hurt, but he let me pick him up with no protest. I noticed he was nearly limp, with his right front leg just dangling. I remember him letting out another awful howl, maybe just as or right after I fell to the floor on the rug next to my bed, which is when it first dawned on me that he was dying. I remember desperately trying to call someone. Scrambling to find my father’s number in my phone, thinking if only the emergency vet weren’t all the way across town. I remember holding him in my arms, my phone in my hand, running up the stairs. He kept making noises that I later realize were probably the sounds I’ve read about before, the sounds that people or animals make when they’re about to die. I laid him down on the floor in the laundry room, and as he sat there on his side choking for air and howling I only remember telling him I loved him repeatedly, frantically repeating, “don’t die on me Grrr,” fumbling with my phone, trying to grab clothes out of the dryer in case we could make it to a vet, all the while trying to see through the tears. And as I leaned down to listen for a heartbeat, I heard nothing and all I can remember after that it blank sadness and rage as I sat there screaming “nononononononono” over and over on the laundry room floor, wearing only a t-shirt and my underwear.
It felt like blacking out. Like the only way I could cope was to not be fully present in the moment.
When it subsided, I put on pants and a sweatshirt – the one he always kneaded on every night. And then I scooped him up and walked out into the living room. I remember sitting in a chair, cradling him, rocking his lifeless body, for well over an hour, thinking all the while “WHY?” And when my mother drove me to the pet cemetery to have him cremated, I continued questioning “WHY?” until my brain got so overloaded that it just shut down. Instead, I stared blankly out the window, and softly caressed his paws, his little white gloves – which were now cold – because he never let me touch them for more than a few seconds when he was alive.
I still don’t have the answer, and I think even knowing wouldn’t solve anything. The fact is that he’s gone, and he was taken away from me with no warning. It breaks my heart, and even though I know I shouldn’t, I can’t help but replay it all over again in my head, in hopes of remembering something new that could explain the how or the why of it.
Grrr first came into my life in November of 2006. At this point in my life, a baby wasn’t practical, but I still had this innate desire to love and care for…something. All my cats before (the three I had then and still have, as well as my first ever cat, Zackary) were adopted or taken in from a very young age. Grrr was the first adult cat I’d ever adopted. He was born in a field in Sacramento: a feral kitten. Soon after, he was taken in by someone who lived nearby. Consequently, the first five years of his life were spent with his first owner, and she is also responsible for bestowing upon him his incredibly-fitting first name.
I was skeptical at first. I didn’t know whether I could grow to love a cat who’d been raised by someone else and was likely incredibly set in his ways. But he was an orange tabby (my favourite) and so very handsome.
It took a period of adjustment, but he fit in well in his new home with his siblings. And while it still took some time for him to be completely at ease, it was in the last two years that he really began to come into his own. Not only that, but we began to bond, to the point where he began trusting me as more than just the person who fed him. He was strong and unswerving, and he had these eyes that just knew things. He was definitely a street-smart cat, but it was more than that. He was always actively taking in the world around. He was inquisitive and precocious and so so smart. But while he was tough, and a definite alpha cat, he was also tender and sweet.
In our four years together, he was only sick a few times. One was when all four cats had a parasite and another was just after we got him and had to have a mass removed from his neck. Half of his neck was shaved and he looked so skinny and silly afterward. And then there was earlier this year, when he had a urinary tract infection, and I had to forcefeed him pain medication and antibiotics. He would fight me and resist me so hard, and I won’t ever forget when he bit down on the fingernail of my pointer finger… hard, unapologetic, as if to say “don’t mess with me”. I had a blood blister under that nail for months, until it finally grew out.
The biggest scare he ever gave me was on Halloween, 2008. I had just moved to a new house, and after securing my belongings and my cats in the new bedroom, I headed out to a party with friends. When I returned home, hours later, I found the screen was off my window and only three of the four cats remained. Of course Grrr was the one who’d jumped out and explored. While all my cats have always been indoor-only, Grrr was indoor-outdoor his whole life until I adopted him.
I quickly ran in the backyard and tromped through the mud, calling out his name. Nothing resulted from that, except my shoes were ruined. I then pulled on my rainboots and scoured the streets for hours. I couldn’t sleep most of the night, and left the back porch light on in case he came back. The following day I spent talking to the neighbors and asking if they’d seen him, posting ads on Craigslist, calling his name out, driving the nearby streets and crying uncontrollably.
At some point, maybe the 20th time, I went out in the backyard again. But instead of looking for him, I just stood there, defeated, and began to cry. And as I looked out through bleary eyes, I saw a little shape emerge from underneath the shed. “Grrr?” I called. “Brrrrrrrrrruuuuu” it called back. “GRRR!” I cried out louder. And the little orange and white creature trotted over to me, revealing itself to be my cat, albeit a very dirty, muddy incarnation of my cat. “You little fucker,” I exclaimed, as I picked him up in my arms and held him tightly. He just smiled that all-knowing cat smile, as if to say, “Why the fuss? I just went on some great adventures”.
Some of my favourite moments with Grrr were no doubt the tender ones. When I was sad, he often positioned himself in the crook of my arm as I laid on my side, blinking his eyes wisely and licking the teardrops off my nose as I cried. When I spent hours reading literary theory, he took over my lap, his paws hanging over the edge of my Indian-style crossed legs, as though he too were reading the book.
But there were also the crazy moments, like when he got a little too excited and started attacking his siblings. At times like these, I would intervene and mess around with him, picking him up so he couldn’t escape. I’d laugh at what I called his “jazz hands” – his little white paws flailing in the air as he tried to grab hold of me. I’d tease him in my attempts to kiss his head (something he especially hated when he was riled up) and laugh when he’d bite the air, and sometimes, me. Typically when I put him down on the ground, I’d have to be careful, and more often than not, he’d take off after me, chasing me and batting at my legs.
Grrr was especially keen on getting into trouble. That’s something I attribute to his feral nature. He couldn’t just settle down and sleep through the night like the other cats did. Instead, he had to wander and explore. He loved to jump on my dresser and knock things off of it. He’d claw at any and every thing – posters, books, the couch, cardboard boxes, the bulletin board. His favourite stunt was the knock the water fountain around on the floor when it was running low. He’d keep this up until I’d wake up – usually around 3 a.m. – and refill it for him. When I’d yell at him, or say things like “don’t be such a jerk” he always knew that he was being a troublemaker, but it never seemed to phase him.
His most recent trick was to chase me up the stairs and sneak into the upstairs of the house behind me. Most of the time I was aware of what he was doing, but every now and then – particularly when I was coming back downstairs – he’d succeed without me noticing. I’d then have to go back in the house and hunt him down. He was usually prowling around, slunk low to the ground, checking out various corners of the kitchen and the master bedroom.
Needless to say, he definitely taught me a lot about patience and understanding, even if I didn’t always appreciate the lessons at the time.
Grrr was always good at forgetting things too, particularly my low moments. Whenever he made me mad and I’d feel like wanting to wring his neck, I might hold him by the scruff and say loudly and firmly “NO!” He always looked slightly scared or ashamed. As soon as I’d loosen my grip, he’d run off. Almost instantly, I’d feel remorse for yelling at him, and the moment I’d call his name and rub my thumb against my pointer and middle finger simultaneously, he’d come prancing over, having forgotten that moments earlier I’d been mad at him. And then he’d butt his head into my hand, the sign that told me things were good between us.
I’m going to miss all these things about him and more. I’m especially going to miss laying down in bed and knowing that moments later, he would jump up on the bed, curl up in the rift between my two pillows, and start purring in my ear as I fell asleep.
While I know it doesn’t matter to him, it matters to me to know that moments before he started to die – whether it was from seizure, heart attack or something else – we had had one of our favourite rituals. I’d rubbed my fingers together and he had headbutted them. I’d then kissed him and told him I loved him like I did at least a dozen times a day, and he trilled, before springing up and bounding away.
I don’t know what I believe about cats and souls. I find it difficult to accept that cats are just pets who die and that’s it. While they certainly aren’t cognizant on a level comparable to humans, and I wouldn’t necessarily go so far as to say that I believe in animism, there’s something to it that I can’t quite place my finger on.
Maybe it’s like one of my friends says, that “Grrr is in kitty heaven grrring at all the other kitties”. Maybe he just died and that’s all there is to it. Maybe he has a soul that simply returned to the earth. Maybe he was reincarnated into another kitty. I don’t have the answer. But I’d like to believe that his soul found a new resting place: my heart.
Rest in Peace Grrr Doom de Doom Doom (May 2001 – December 2010)