For the last 16 years, this had been my signature hello after entering whatever abode we inhabited. I would call out to her as she meowed back, scolding me for leaving for any length of time. I once used this soothing comfort to entice my walking ball of fur to stop in her tracks as she crouched on hot asphalt on the side of Interstate 15, halfway between Las Vegas and Los Angeles. She was punishing me for the Jeep’s crappy air conditioner as we crossed the Mojave, one of many stops in our 10,000 miles around the country.
She was born to be a traveling kitty.
A tiny, blonde Siamese with the bluest eyes, she was four weeks old the first evening she wandered into my casita in Cuernavaca, Morelos in 2004. The landlords, whose backyard was my front yard, bought her for their grandson who was visiting from el norte. Except, los dueños did not allow pets to sleep inside the main house. I tried to explain that she was too small to sleep outside alone, but my español was still in its infancy. This was how I learned gatita meant kitten, and how one sweet girl came to sleep in the curve of my neck in those first weeks of our lives together. Within a month, I graduated to owner status when we learned of the grandson’s allergies; and as Gatita grew, she progressed from my neck to spooning alongside me. After two colorful years of living in Mexico, I purchased an international pet passport, complete with a photo of her young face, and I flew my girl home to Texas with me.
She understood “No” in two languages.
A third world cat living in a first world suburban neighborhood, Gatita adapted to north Austin and eventually south Austin and a deep-voiced Hook. For the next four years, she had two humans scratching her cheeks, brushing her hair, jumping to attention at the first sound of any whine. And we lived in that cocoon for a short while– Allan, Gatita, and me –until she was the sole reason I crawled out of bed in those mornings after he died in 2013. It was only Gatita who plopped onto my lap every time I wept for Hook or molded herself into my S-shape body when my crying ended in a nap. Her firm head butts were her love language and what she used to wake me up. These were followed by a rolling onto her back, exposing her belly for a nice long rub. In this way, she healed us both.
Ever the traveling cat, Gatita was my road warrior companion, as I placed her in the Jeep for our year-long, road trip around the United States. Now, three different vets and four years later, I was struggling to make sense of what was happening in front of my eyes. In December 2019, I took her in for an annual visit to a new veterinarian, one closer to our condo.
She’s been sleeping a lot more.
They reassured me that she was a healthy 6.85 pounds, hers a small frame, and nothing of concern. The new vet had called the old vet for her records, but none of the paperwork indicated her weight. Had I been a better cat mom, I would have dug through my own harried files to read that Gatita was lighter by an entire pound from the previous year, and almost two pounds lighter from her normal weight of 8.69. Even for a healthy super-senior feline, weight loss is not normal unless there is a problem. Within three months, I was back at the new vet’s office; the hair on Gatita’s back looking ruffled as if patted down the wrong way, a sign of dehydration.
March 2020, 6.34 pounds. She looks thin to me.
April 2020, 4.88 pounds. She’s barely eating.
May 2020, 4.44 pounds. She keeps vomiting.
Sixteen feline years is roughly 80 human years and ‘lifelong companion’ will only apply to one of us. I know our time was nothing small, but it’s not everything either. I am greedy; I wanted more years together.
Possible obstruction; we feel a lump.
I tried to hide the appetite stimulants and the nutrient supplements and the anti-nausea medicine in her canned food diet. When that did not work, I squirted the medications down her throat, apologizing after the third attempt, promising never to do that again. Within two weeks of the May visit, she was only licking her food, rarely eating the morsels. Her sense of smell made every day a patch of guesswork as to what she might be willing to lick, chew, or swallow. From an all dry cat food diet to canned tuna and salmon to freshly baked cod, she nibbled at these hopeless gifts then coughed them back up. I had missed the signs– extra sleeping, hiding away, creeping weight loss –and she was so thin now; all bones, hungry, but unable to eat. I would not let her starve to death, and I would not force feed her. She hated that.
Time is leaving us.
The morning of Friday, June 5th, after a bleak breakfast, we walked outdoors so I could brush her cheek glands one last time. I was soft with the bristles as we listened to the coo of the Mourning Doves and the warbling sounds of the Vireos. She slept most of the afternoon outside in the shade, coming indoors twice to drink water. Her guttural cries let me know she was hungry, but after sniffing a newly opened can of liquified cat food, she refused to taste.
Make the best decision for her, not you.
I did for her the one thing I could not do for him. I gathered her bony body in the fluffy pink blanket she loved to knead, and I took her to the vet in the evening for the last time. And now, the Whys rain down: why now; why didn’t I see it sooner; why couldn’t we have fixed it. But I know these questions are pointless. And this morning, I greeted a quiet bedroom, not because I did not remember she was no longer here, but because I desperately wished she still were.
She was my beautiful girl, and tonight, my heart is broken.