Last night while cooking dinner, I had the sudden urge to step outside. Our house is designed to block sound from the freeway which is not so far away and I had heard nothing of interest. Yet, something was encouraging me to step out and so, with Maya at my heals, I opened the front door and stepped onto the deck.
I was stopped in my tracks by the housemates tiny dog who was standing just off the deck screaming. I cannot describe what she was doing any better than that, it was screaming. Next I head V, my housemate, also screaming and adrenaline flooded my body as I finally figured out what she was saying, "GET INSIDE! INSIDE!"
Mark and I used to live near this elderly Vietnamese gentleman who, every time we took Maya out for a walk, would yell out, "Hello! Dog, Yellow!" and then laugh and clap. He delighted in our silly pooch and while his scooter scared her, sometimes he'd haul himself up and walk carefully towards her for a pet. He died before we moved away but Mark and I still sometimes think of our Maya dog as "Dog, Yellow" and call her that when we're thinking of him.
Since Sunday's loss I've been finding myself in hundreds of little moments of, "this is when...".
This is when Millie would come curl up on my lap and steal a few moments of love.
This is when Anya would wave "HI KITTY" and then jump away when Millie batted at her.
This is when Millie would be getting under my feet and yelling at me for food.
This is when I would be giving this bit of salmon juice to the cat, instead of giving Maya a double dose.
There are so many ways that cat fit into my life, some of them wonderful and some less so. You don't realize how deeply someone has become part of your everyday until they are suddenly gone. My lap is so freaking empty at night and my bed too quiet without her motor running at the end of it. And Mark is firmly in the "no new pets" phase, insisting that the next animal we get will produce eggs. I'm OK with that, most of the time. Then I feel the silence in my bedroom and vacuum up nothing but flat stands of dog hair, rather than the rolling bits of fluff that used to annoy me and yet where so perfectly Millie. Those rolling bits of fluff were all that Maya and I found of her Sunday morning, really and when I find one hiding under the bed I am almost loath to let the vacuum anywhere near it.
I gave away what was left of her food and gathered up her bowls to clean. I laundered the bedspread. I dug up photos of her when she was tiny and set them by the scanner, but haven't had the time or emotional energy to actually scan them.
Yesterday when we went to Grandma's house Anya went up my mom and with a huge grin on her face said, "My kitty got eaten!" My mom hadn't caught up with this blog in a week or so and was shocked to hear the news of Millie's death.
How long will I be grieving her loss, I wonder? And when will it be OK to pull down the metaphorical black curtain? What is too soon and what is crazy-cat-lady? I guess I just have to ride this bit of the river and see where it takes me.
What if she wasn't already dead when I closed the slider at midnight? What if she was being chased, tried to get back in and found nothing but a solid pane of glass I had closed?
What if she was hurt when I noticed her missing and since I didn't go looking for her right then, died alone, frightened and in pain?
What if she was fighting for her life and wondering where I was?
What if years of pushing her away while I nursed a small person or needed moments without someone ON me made drove her out into the moonlight and she never even tried to run?
What if my annoyance at her lately covered her in the scent of rejection and called the coyotes in?
What if all the drama around here sent her looking for some quiet, peaceful energy and instead, she got this?
I looked up the five stages of grief today, curious to see which one I was in:
- There was never denial, I knew from the moment she was missing that she was dead. I could feel it within me and instead, crawled into bed to sleep. Maybe that is denial? Maybe the fact that I didn't go looking for her proves that I thought her still being alive was possible.
- The emotions I can remember having today never included anger. Sorrow, shame, fear, I had those banging around. But I never raised fists to the sky and yelled, "DAMN YOU, CRUEL GOD!" I just dropped to the ground where I found her fur and cried that I was so sorry, over and over again.
- Never once did I bargain with anyone. I didn't notice her missing and say to the room, "If she turns up tomorrow, I promise I'll never eat meat again." I just don't see that as useful here.
- And while I sank deeply into my sadness, I wouldn't have classified it as depression. Yes, I drank some rum & coke and made minute rice for dinner because I didn't have the wherewithal to plan ahead for the good stuff. But I did remember to thaw the sausage and soak the corn for the barbecue, so the hopelessness that depression so often typifies was simply not present.
- That leaves me only with acceptance. Have a spent the last 24 hours there? Have I simply known that this was coming and made myself ready? Was I too ready to accept that she was gone?
I know in a few days the pain will lessen and I'll start to move through each day simply remembering that beautiful cat who used to live here. I remember how shocking that sensation was when my last cat died; how quickly I let him go. Of course, he was only four and Millie spent eleven years purring in my lap. She was my baby before I had babies and frequently showed up in my pregnant dreams; I remember especially vividly the one when pregnant with Lily where I woke to announce to Mark that I had been dreaming about nursing Millie.
I feel guilty knowing that it won't hurt so much soon. As though being without pain is somehow a betrayal. Silly. And yet, there. Mostly I feel guilty for devoting so much grief to a cat when all around me people are dealing with big bad uglies like cancer, unintended pregnancy, babies in the NICU (he's home, by the way) and while Anya is getting sick and Lily is on the verge of Kindergarten and here I am, this sobbing emotional mess who can't seem to work through to the end of anything and let it go.
And yet, I am still OK. I am cancer free (and always have been), not unintentionally pregnant (and never have been), never had my babies hospitalized, know Anya's cold will pass and that Lily will take Kindergarten by storm. My marriage is solid, even when it's not and my home still stands, even living in Southern California. My life is strangely good, even with all this.
But I miss my cat. And she's not even gone yet 24 hours.
I got home late last night from an Opening at the theatre to find Mark asleep on the couch and the girls tucked into bed, passed out. The house was quiet and my brain over active, so I stayed up for an hour before heading downstairs to bed. Mark had crawled into bed with Lily by that time, as she was waking up a bit and having a rough go of it.
When I got downstairs my cat wasn't waiting for me, as she usually is. I closed the slider to the canyon that had been left open all day, checked to make sure the cat door was unlocked into our bedroom and sat down on the bed. No cat. And somehow I knew there wouldn't be.
This morning I took Maya to the edge of the canyon, just yards off the back of the house and said, "Go find the kitty."
And she did. What was left, anyway. All we found was fur and a bit of bone and my heart broke on the spot, tears streaking down my face and sobs pushing out of me in great ragged breaths. I knew it and yet, I needed to know it for sure. I followed Maya a bit further into the canyon but when we reached the thicket where the coyotes sometimes den up, I couldn't take another step. There was no more to see. I just couldn't.
Climbing back up the steep hill to the house, I could hardly breathe. Mark wrapped his arms around me when I came into the house while Lily and Anya tried to figure out what the heck was going on. We explained it, the best we could, talking about how Millie was a hunter who would catch lizards and birds and this time, something bigger than her was the hunter and had caught her. They got the concept, but not the emotion as Millie had never liked the kids, despite Anya's repeated attempts to make friends. They knew I was sad and for that I got hugs and some pretty lame, but welcome, 3 & 5 year old style jokes. Anya wiped at my face with a rag, catching my tears and then blowing in my eye... I'm thinking she was just trying to get me to stop.
Maya lay on the floor nearby, silently watching all of this. I went and lay my head on her chest and whispered thanks to her for giving me the evidence I needed to not be sitting in wonder for the next week.
The thing is, Millie had been giving us such trouble lately. I'd started calling her, "that damn cat" when I'd find that she peed on the dog bed or scratched Anya again as she tried to make friends with the disgruntled cat. The only time I loved having her anymore was when she'd come cuddle on my lap at night and I'd wiggle my fingers in her soft fur, getting her motor up to speed as she rubbed her face against my hand. I can't help but wonder if she was meant to move on and yet, I am so very sorry that it had to be in a moment of terror. I never wanted anything so awful to happen to my girl.
Eleven years ago she was so tiny your could cup her in a single hand and search around for the cat under all that fluff. She loved sniffing armpits, especially after a hot, dirty day. She would sleep in the bathroom sink, fitting perfectly into the roundness of the bowl and drink from the faucet if you set it on a slow dribble. She once set her tail on fire. She could leap from the balcony to the roof of our old home and sometimes would barely make it, grabbing on with a single claw and hauling herself up to safety. She hated most people who were not me, but for me she poured nothing by love and devotion into my waiting hands.
God, I'm going to miss that little shit.