Marko and Ketzel are not my only cats. The kittens (as I persist in calling them, even though they are now 5 and a half years old) have an older brother. He lives in a box on the mantle. He is dead.
And even after 5 and a half years, I am crying as I write those words.
He was what I called a morning coat cat - like a tuxedo cat, but grey and white, with a funny black spot on his nose that went all the way through to the roof of his mouth and the softest fur you could imagine. He was a regular American shorthair, but those grey and white cats all seem to have this very soft fur, as if they never really lost their kitten fluff.
He was with me for 13 and a half years. I got him as a funny-looking kitten about a half year after my cancer surgery, when I realized that my lonely recuperation would have been a whole lot better with some furry company. He was with me through the rest of my lonely marriage in a dark, lonely so-called city in southeast Michigan. I didn't work outside of the home, so he became spoiled by the dependability of my presence, and I became dependent on his affection. He was my child and my comfort and a soothing familiar. The depth of our bonding had only one down-side: the pain of losing him.
Ex-hubby #2 and I left the country for a year. I came back for a month, but didn't make it back to Michigan. I did phone, however, and left a message for the friends who were renting our house at a discount, since it included the cat. (Me, I thought they should have paid extra!) I later heard that the cat listened attentively when they played the message, clearly recognized my voice, and meowed and rubbed against the answering machine. He knew me and loved me, and then was so pissed off at my deserting him that when we finally came home he wouldn't come out of the basement and I had to go down, find his hiding place, and gather him into my arms.
There was never any question of custody. He was my child. He endured the drive east, and then a second move to the house I eventually bought. I like to think he approved of the house; it has lots of windows and plenty of squirrels and birds to watch and lust after. He was a mighty hunter in the old days.
And then he got sick. It was never quite clear what the cause was, and despite thousands of dollars and my newly nurtured talent for giving pills and insulin shots, I couldn't save him. (Damn, I'm having a hard time writing this... if this were paper rather than a laptop, the letters would be blotched by tears.)
The point of all this is that while I loved him more than I had ever loved anyone or anything before, I already knew what I would need to do after he died. I would need new cats right away. Two of them. Siblings. Kittens. Because I knew I would be desperately in need of an armload of fur and warmth and love and active little tongues.
It wouldn't mean I mourned him any less. But the pain would be too hard to bear all alone.
When the time came, it was clear. I couldn't ignore it any more. And when my best friend offered to go with me, and I held my feline son in my arms for the last time, he was so tired, he had had enough, I swear he asked me to let him go, he asked for the first time in his 13 and a half years to be put down on the vet's examining table. So I put him down. And I was there by his side as with every ounce of love I had in me I let him go.
It was a Wednesday. I had taken the day off from work and announced that I would be out for the rest of the week. And why. I let him go because I loved him, and for the rest of the week I mourned him, and cried till my body hurt from the violence of my sobs. On Friday I said Kaddish, even though it's not quite kosher, but who at a GLBT shul would dare deny anyone the right to mourn a pet with the same ritual they had mourned the friends and partners they had lost to AIDS. We were already out of the mainstream by our very existence. And love is love and loss is loss. And you do what you can to ease the pain.
By Sunday, I was still in pain but I could feel it was time for the next step. He was here in the house with me - he is STILL here with me and not just because of the wooden box on the mantle. He was always just out of sight, I was sensing him running by out of the corner of my eye. But I needed something more. I needed the languid warmth and furry bodies and scratchy tongues. So I hit the internet - thank you petfinder.com! It was early for kitten season but I finally found some and even had a choice and by Tuesday the house was filled with 2 lively loving balls of fluff who raced around the house and exhausted me and delighted me and filled me with an almost desperate love.
Yet I continued to mourn.
Marko did his best. I swear he channeled his predecessor, and grew as fast as he could because he knew that much as I loved their tiny kitten antics, I needed an armload of warm and weighty male cat. So he put his mind to it and sped past his little sister with a serious determination that just made me love him more.
I loved them so much, those kittens. I love them still, each in their own particular way.
Yet I still mourn. I still sometimes call Marko by the wrong name. I still see him go by, my old cat, just beyond the edge of my eye's reach. There are 2 pictures of him on the refrigerator and his ashes sit on the mantle in the box they arrived in. I had thought of burying them under an azalea bush, but couldn't bear to be parted from him.
I will never be parted from him.
Some people need to wait a year or longer after one pet dies to get another. I couldn't. I needed the comfort.
But I never stopped loving him.
I never stopped missing him.
And I still grieve his loss.