This One's Sad. Read with Kleenex.

After I graduated from college, I moved away from home to take an accounting job in Charlotte, North Carolina. I had a month between graduation and my first day at work, so after securing an apartment, I went home to rest, relax, pack, and plan for the move. At some point during that month, my mother told me I would be taking the family cat with me.

Abby the Tabby was 12 years old and finicky. We got her the summer I turned 10, and she pretty much ruled the roost right from the start. We had a couple of dogs along the way - large Labrador Retrievers - but size never mattered to her. All 8 pounds of tabby cat were definitely in charge at our house. She had her moments where she loved us, usually involving a can opener, and quite a few moments where she was an outright terror. I'll never forget her nightly escapades where she chased my little sister down the hall or up the stairs to her room each night for bed. And then she would sit on the bed, right next to her face, and watch her fall asleep. My sister used to fake snoring just to get her to hop off the bed. I bet she was the one who suggested that I take the cat.

Anyway, Abby and I moved together to Charlotte that summer. The drive was excruciating - the first 3 hours she spent howling at me - and I know it was a huge change for Abby. She must have been miserable not having a whole family to boss around any more. But we grew pretty close over that first year, and I watched her turn from a bossy and demanding pet into a very loving and sweet cat. She followed me everywhere, and it was really nice to have her around. The next year, I made plans to visit the family for Thanksgiving. I was going to drive straight from work, and had left a big bowl of food & water for Abby to last all weekend, but I forgot my ATM card at home that morning. So I headed home to pick it up after work. When I came in the front door, no cat greeted me. I found my ATM card and then went hunting for her.

Abby was under the bed, panting hard and not moving toward me when I called to her. Alarmed, I dragged her out from under the bed and carried her to her food bowl. She sort of sat there, continuing to pant, but not touching her food or water. So I put her head in the water bowl, and she kind of sipped at it. I called the vet, who at that hour of the evening was already sending calls to the emergency clinic, but said to touch base in the morning if we needed her. I took Abby to the clinic, and they proceeded to do a bunch of tests. She wouldn't walk - I had to carry her. She just panted and kind of moaned once in a while.

After a lot of crying, I ended up leaving her at the clinic overnight for testing. I went home to tell my parents that I would not be driving home yet, and I cried a lot more that night. This was the one pet we'd had forever, and this was a very sudden change that I was not prepared for yet. I was so worried and upset. The next morning, the clinic couldn't tell me anything new. They'd checked everything and done a ton of tests - $250 worth, to be exact - and still no sign of what could be wrong. So I drove to the vet's office.

This was the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, at 8 am. If you've ever been to a vet on that particular morning, you already know that the parking lot was full and the line was out the door. Everyone in the county was dropping off dogs to be boarded. Me, I had a box lined with a towel, and a sick cat lying inside, panting and hooked up to an IV. To top it off, I'd been crying all night. So I went to the front of the counter and asked quietly if I needed to be in line, since I actually had an appointment to see the vet. The lady behind the counter said yes. She claimed there would be other people in line ahead of me who were also waiting to see the doctor. I told the last person in line, a kind older woman who was just down the steps outside the door, to please save me my place, because I'm going to sit in the waiting room with my cat in a box. And everyone shuffled slowly past me, some giving me sympathetic looks, others trying hard not to look, and a few brave enough to ask me what was wrong. It was pretty darn clear what was wrong. To this day, I will never forgive that lady behind the counter for making me sit there, and not letting me go sit in an exam room. Needless to say, not a single person ahead of me was there to see the vet that day.

The meeting with the doctor was short. We went over the results from the clinic. I vaguely recall having an x-ray for her to see. She couldn't see anything obviously wrong to cure, either. I think she had planned to take the long way toward a discussion of what was going wrong and how to best make Abby comfortable, but after that much crying over a long night, I had really come to the decision already. Abby was suffering and it was time. So I said goodbye and then the vet gave her the shot, and that was it. The end of an era.

I drove home to my family after that, crying the whole way. It was a 7-hour trip. My contacts were a giant layer of salt from all the tears, and I had to stop about 4 times to clean them so I could see through the blur. Really, it was one of the worst days I had ever had in my whole life. When I got home, my dad said that my mom and my sister were out shopping but should be back soon. I took my things up to my room, composed myself a little, and heard my mom & my sister arrive. I headed back downstairs. My sister rounded the corner with a tiny black kitten in her arms, and my mother right behind her. My first thought, which I did not say out loud, was "Oh, how incredibly tacky. I just put Abby to sleep this morning, and they want to replace her with another cat ON THE SAME DAY."

And then he looked up at me and meowed. Oh my lord, that meow. It was like sweet music. I took him in my arms, and I didn't put him down for 4 days. The rest of the trip was a blur. I'm sure I helped cook Thanksgiving dinner, but I don't remember it. Sometime that next day, I named him Max. I drove 7 hours back to my place on Sunday, and realized my family was really thinking about me. I didn't have to show up alone that night and see all the reminders of Abby everywhere - I had a little kitten to distract me! And I promptly found a brand-new vet, one with a staff that was awesome.

It's hard to tell what kittens will turn into. My mom and my sister wanted to get something that wouldn't remind me of Abby, so they bought a male black cat. He turned out to be a long-haired one. Who knew? Plus, he was massive - 13 pounds. But he was adorable and awesome and I basically doted on him.

About 2 years later, I moved back home with my parents, and Max promptly became their first grandkid. He'd wait for them next to the treat drawer whenever they appeared with grocery bags, and 100% of the time, he was rewarded for that minimal effort. Max went out on their screened-in porch nearly every day to watch the birds and enjoy the breeze and sleep in the sun. During the summer, tiny lizards used to crawl in between the boards. My mighty hunter was waiting for every single one of them. He got nightly pampering from my dad who had dubbed himself as keeper of the king-sized lap. They missed him when I moved out on my own again, so I brought him to visit Camp Grandma frequently.

As much time as I've spent brushing his fur off of every single thing I own, that guy is mine, all mine. He's the nicest cat on the planet. He put up with me bringing other cats home, and moving across the country and back, and switching apartments every 3 years. He put up with my late nights during my single years, and even later nights during the infant years. He patiently tolerates my children who yank on his fur. Last fall, he turned 15. I sent a couple of texts to my family and gave him a lot of hugs and thought about how fast 15 years has flown by, and kept on going.

There's a lot of kitty throw up that you tolerate as a long-haired cat owner, but daily for a couple of months is a bit much. He's gotten pretty skinny in the past few months. So this past Saturday, I took him to the vet. The vet did about $250 worth of tests (hmmm, I'm sensing a pattern here) - but the short answer is kidney disease. He's not getting good nutrition, and he's pretty dehydrated. There's a plan, not a great one (it involves pilling a cat - woo hoo), but it's a plan.

I'm not sure what to expect in terms of how long. Right now he seems fine. He loves everyone, and he plays, and he cuddles, and you would never in a million years guess that he is 15. But the vomiting is a problem, since he's not getting food or water to stay down long enough to keep him in good health. I can see where this is headed, much slower this time. I can stop and appreciate him and hug him and care for him, and it will still hurt like hell when he's gone. It dredges up awful memories and tears to think of that morning with Abby, and it was really just me handling it on my own. Thank god I'm wearing glasses while I'm writing this. I'm not sure another pair of contacts could take it.



Dad said...

Maxer Buddy is one awesome cat. He always finds my lap whenever I've seen him. I still have a mental picture of him headed up our stairs with a lizard hanging out of his mouth while you were totally doubting that he would eat a lizard. Too funny

Felicia said...

Favorite memory of Max is that tiny little meow coming from such a massive cat. He is a wonderful member of your family.

Mom/Neena said...

He does love coming to Camp Grandma--plenty of exercise chasing lizards on the porch. I can still see him in the pet shop reaching through the bars of the cage and meowing at Mandy and me to take him home with us. And of course the clerk said, "I've never seen him do that before…" He's a great cat.

ali said...

i remember the first time i met mr. max, it was at your apartment in birmingham. this was before i liked cats, and he changed that for me. he just hopped right into my lap and was the nicest cat i had ever encountered. still love max to pieces.

Sara said...

Jennie - Just getting around to reading this one. April has been crazy with mom and dad leaving soon. Kitty had a similar problem for a couple of years and Merrilee prescribed a compounded formula that I put on her nose and she licked off. WAY easier than giving a pill to a cat. So much easier.

Love to you.

Christine said...

two words: cat magnet
love the boy!