Almost exactly twenty years ago, my roommate’s cat went trampin’ around and turned up pregnant. She had four very sickly little kittens and the residents of a ramshackle rental house suddenly found themselves on round-the-clock nursing duty.
The kittens were impossibly small and delicate. For a pack of slacker college students, we were remarkably diligent about the almost hourly bottle feedings. Neil, the wonderfully weird roommate, would carry the tiny things around his shirt pocket to keep them warm – and, well, because he could.
I fell in love with one of the more pathetic ones, a little buff-orange boy I named Opie.
Around that same time, the cat-owning roommate (also my boyfriend) and I were at the tail end of a seriously bad relationship - the worst of my life, without question. One of my earliest memories of Opie was of him sleeping peacefully on my shoulder as Crazy Boyfriend pounded on the bedroom door and shouted death threats at me. I ended up hiding tiny little Opie in a dresser drawer when it sounded like the door was getting ready to give in, just in case I had to go out the window.
It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
In his early years, he was known as “Opie Commando”, named for his habit of gamely attacking my much larger but very neurotic cat, Norman (“Come on, old man, you know you ain’t got no BLADES!”). Opie Commando’s main pastime – no, his mission in life - was Knocking Things Off Of Other Things. Seriously. He would look you flat in the eye as he stretched out on the coffee table and oh-so-deliberately knocked your water glass on the floor.
He was a holy terror and the inspiration for Pony Girl’s poem – ostensibly written for a class – titled “That Furry Piece of Shit,” which included this passage: “I mandated the painful removal of his claws and nads, and he will have his revenge!”
In the words of Bette Davis, Byron couldn’t have said it better.
Opie saw me through the aftermath of Crazy Boyfriend, my transition from college life to adulthood, at least 5 cities, and more apartments than I care to name. He has known many of my friends and aggravated many of my roommates. He terrorized a lot of dates too. He once pooped in a boyfriend’s coat the first time he spent the night. (That’s kitty for “Dis’s MAH house”)
I met one of my best friends in New York one day when I came home from work and found her stuffing food under the door to my apartment. Opie had a habit of howling when he was bored, hungry, cranky, or, well, awake, and she thought maybe someone had died in there and the poor cat was starving. Hardly, the fat bastard.
Opie has been with me for the last twenty years, literally half of my life. I have obsessed about his well being as if I had pushed him out of my own loins. I wrote poetry about this cat (in quite a different vein as the previously mentioned piece). This cat outlasted my marriage.
By now, Opie is ancient; a feline Methuselah. I can’t comprehend how his little body keeps going. He has wicked arthritis and is in advanced renal failure. My friend Lisa described his coat as looking like “buffalo fur”. I give him shots and subcutaneous fluids on a regular basis (someone should really make me an honorary vet tech). Mostly he sleeps on his little heating pad and follows me into the kitchen to grouse at me until I give him chicken baby food. Then he goes and poops it out on the basement floor right next to the litter box.
This past weekend, on the day between my birthday and Mother’s day, I was taking in some much-needed girlfriend time with one my favoritest favorite girlz, OTJ. We were on the way to the little Vietnamese nail place for mani-pedi’s when my cell phone rang. It was XS. Before he even said a word, I could tell by his panicked breathing that something was terribly wrong.
I... I was… well… Feeney… we were…
XS was watching the animals for me. This is no small job. My first thought was that my foster dog, who is such a terrier, had gotten away from him and blithely run off into the the big world. I was half right. She is a lovely, silly thing who adores people, but cats are a different matter. I should say right now that I love her and I don't blame her a bit for being what she is.
Somehow she got away from XS as he was taking her outside. She ran back into the house and got a hold of Opie.
When XS called he was on the way to the vet. Opie didn’t look good. His eyes were glazed. His tongue was hanging out. There was blood. XS would call me back when he knew more. Finally, he called again and put the vet on the phone. She was very kind. She described his injuries, the worst of which was a broken jaw, and proceeded to explain how they could wire the jaw up until they could do the first surgery and
I stopped her.
I think we need to let him go.
I could actually hear the doctor’s posture change. She exhaled. Yes, that would probably be best.
I wanted to know if there was any way that they could keep him comfortable until I could get home (I was three states away) to say goodbye. He’s in a lot of pain. she replied.
In recent months, I have been coming to terms with the fact that Opie was going to die, probably sometime soon. But it never occurred to me that I wouldn’t be with him when it was time for him to go.
XS, for all his faults, loved Opie too. He held Opie’s little body and cried for a long, long time after his heart stopped beating.
I recounted a kid-friendly version of all of this to my son as we were driving home on Sunday. He took it well. He wanted to know if we were going to get Opie back in a box, like the class hamster who died a couple of weeks ago and was solemnly buried in the preschool flower garden. Then he said Mommy, it’s OK to be sad. Tell me if you need a hug.
When we got home, Opie’s heating pad was still warm and his medicine was sitting on the counter next to the jars of baby food. Who would have thought that a house with six animals and two people in it could feel so empty?
My heart has a big cat-shaped hole in it.
(he of the pooped-on jacket, after achieving security clearance):
E-man's picture of mommy's garden and Opie in his box, with flowers on top:
Goodnight, Mister Kitty. And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.