I’m going to press pause on the storytelling for now because this past week I hit upon a milestone, although it’s not one of those milestones that you glorify and bust out the champagne for. This milestone was the loss of my little animal companion of the last two decades.
I remember going into the SPCA in San Francisco in 1998, focused and intent upon finding my cat. I walked into the very first room after the entrance, which was inhabited by an adorable, affectionate and spunky little white cat covered in calico. She had been on the streets and was still a bit malnourished and thin, so she had this cute little bowl-legged stance and tiny face with big green, alien eyes. She jumped right onto to me, crawling up to my shoulder and nibbling on my collar. I instantly fell in love, this was my cat. She already displayed such a strong little personality, standing on her hind legs like a circus kitty and trying to grab our attention. The woman working there even said that “she’s been putting on a show all day, trying to get adopted”. I was amazed that nobody had scooped her up. Before I could adopt her, I had to run home to get some sort of papers together before coming back to finalize things. I frantically called as I raced back to the SPCA, asking about my sweet baby girl. They told me that no one had claimed her yet, to my immense surprise and relief.
So that’s how Lolita came to live with me. She totally enchanted me during our first year of living together, whether it was by her helping herself to my pancakes with jam topping (which resulted in her making a startled escape and leaving a trail of little jam paw prints throughout the apartment), or by blatantly flirting with the male company (which is how I came to name her Lolita), or by perching herself on my shoulder and watching as I applied my makeup.
That tiny, nearly 20-year-old cat and I remained together for 19 of those years. She was by my side through the good, bad, happy, sad and just plain silly. She moved around with me between three cities and two countries. And she outlasted many relationships and lots of life situations. She was ever the little trooper and it’s hard to now imagine life without her by my side (even if during her last year alive she did require kitty Depends. But that’s old age for you).
When Lolita’s vet and I spoke last week about her kidney disease, which she’d had for some time but which had rapidly advanced, he said that she might have weeks left or she might have a couple of years. I of course was hopeful about it being the latter. But it just wasn’t meant to be. I witnessed the rapid transformation of her physicality before my eyes, but I think that I was just in some state of denial or disbelief. Her little hind legs started buckling, her tiny face became even tinier and I said to my partner, “Look at her, she looks so different than she did even a couple of days ago. She almost looks like another cat.” And then she lay listless and motionless during her final 24 hours, no longer eating or drinking, the signaling of the end.
On the day she passed I was filling in for someone on a day that I usually have free, so my partner took her to the vet for me. Despite everything, we just thought that she needed some fluids and that she’d be back home and on her way to recovery. Shortly after noon, I was told that I might want to drop what I was doing and get to the animal hospital immediately. As I was trying to flag down a taxi ten minutes later, another call came to tell me that she had passed. I didn’t get to be there for her final moments, which kills me. But I’m glad that at least Shane, who loved her like I did, was there for her. I still had to find a cab and get myself to the animal hospital, but I was a sobbing and hysterical mess as I flailed along the busy boulevard by the biggest shopping mall in the city.
Things were a bit of a blur, but I remember the kindness of strangers in the response of the woman carrying her Starbucks and walking her two tiny, fluffy dogs. She looked at me quizzically, and out I blurted with, “My cat just died!” as I sobbed. She gave me the biggest hug and all of her sympathy. When I finally did manage to hail a cab, the taxi driver who brought me to the hospital said some lovely things about how we’re so connected to our animals, and that he’s sure that we see them again. I believe that as well. When he dropped me off, he told me to be strong and said, “God bless her soul”. His kindness meant everything right there and then. I went into the hospital, where the doctor led me and my partner into a room. In this room I said good-bye to her little body, and then underwent the surreal process of picking out an urn for her ashes, which I’ll find a right moment and special place to scatter them in.
My little Lolita has been such a huge part of the fabric of my existence. She’s been present for so many life transitions. I loved that being with all of my heart, even during times past when I didn’t love myself so much. She was the embodiment of love, yet she was always able to suss out the odd character who’d pass through the house with less than pure intentions. Such a fierce little protector she was! Best damn cat in the Universe. I already miss her like crazy but I’m glad that she didn’t suffer for long. I’m also grateful for all of the lives she touched. I am still hearing from friends and roommates past, who are sharing with me Lolita anecdotes and expressing how much they were tickled by her. She really did love humans so much.
I made a promise to care for her, Depends and all, until she drew her last breath, and I stayed true to my word. As much as I loved her and anticipated this day, however, I still didn’t fully grasp what I was in for. It’s so weird coming home and not hearing her baby pterodactyl meows, or seeing her little self run to the door to greet me. In the last couple of days, I still pause when I pass a pet store and have an instinct to just go in and buy her favorite soft food. I miss all of her mannerisms that earned her a plethora of nicknames: Confused Tiger, Pooping Dragon (a combo of her slight senility and her tendency to defecate anywhere but inside the box); Wet Wise Chin (after she determinedly batted her water bowl with her little paw, she’d emerge with several droplets of water underneath her chin), and Skull Crusher on account of the way she’d stomp across our heads at night. It’s amazing how her tiny presence made a real home out of any abode.
I take long walks and cry my eyes out, I hole myself up in a room and cry, I look at old pictures of her or remember holding her and I cry. There’s going to be quite a bit of that for the time being. It truly is the end of an era and although life will most certainly continue on, nothing will be the same from here on in. No one can truly grasp the bond between humans and animals until they’ve experienced it, and everyone should at least once in their lives. Meanwhile, that great big cat house in the sky just gained a great one. I hope she’s stirring hearts and sassing ’em like she did here, and that she’s surrounded by just as much love. And I already can’t wait for our paths to cross again.