Saying Goodbye

My heart hurts this morning.
.    .
Ten months ago I would wake up to a cacophony of cat voices. Shirley had a loud and demanding meow (befitting a Queen who was not being served properly), Ender’s giant cry of woe for the empty food bowl, and Azrael’s insistent trilling. I would open the door to the bedroom and all three would come bursting in to investigate what the meaning of this empty food bowl bullshit was. There was much biting of my toes by Ender. He and Az would weave their furry bodies around my legs while Shirley would flop just out of reach and wonder why I wasn’t rubbing her belly at a time like this.
Before Az came along, Shirley and Ender were quite the pair. Neither ever wanted to sit on your lap. Ender would squish himself up against the side of your legs and Shirley would sit on the back of the couch near your head, sometimes. Mostly she hung out on her perch on top of cabinets behind her raven. She also came down to nurse the sick. If anyone was sick in the house she would be right there, staring with giant eyes, putting a paw on your chest to remind you to just rest. I always knew I was getting better when she left my side  and went back to her perch. The two of them would groom each other until Shirley got  annoyed and attacked Ender, then he would lumber after her until she gracefully glided up to the top of the cabinet. Definitely the Queen and her Brute Squad. (OMG, I never thought of all the ways Ender was like Andre the Giant. Now I think I need Ender has a Posse shirts.)
When I moved out of the apartment that Bryan and I shared, I only took Shirley. At the time Frankie Sinatra del Gato was still alive and he and Ender had a serious bromance. One day the two of them busted out of the apartment. Frankie came back less than 24 hours later unscathed, but Ender was gone for a period of time Bryan was afraid to divulge to me. What I do know is that he called me and asked if I would help with the vet bill. Ender had been wounded on his stomach and B “hadn’t noticed.” B then allowed Ender to hide under the bed for three days until he started smelling like death at which point B took him to the vet. Three pounds of gangrenous flesh were removed. For any other cat, three pounds would have been 1/4 of their body weight, but Ender just looked like he had a little tummy tuck. The bill was astronomical. I agreed to pay it with the intention that he would never get the kitty back. The vet knocked half off the bill in exchange for my promise to never give Bryan back the cat.
That wasn’t his last brush with death either. One Summer morning, while I was living on Amherst, I was dropped off at home late and drunk. I didn’t latch the screen door well enough and my little dumb dumb pushed the door open and strutted into the yard. That yard also happened to be the hangout for three wonderful dogs, who loved to chase cats. Ender ran hard and escaped into a hole in a two sided fence where, due to the fact that he was a substantial cat, he got stuck. He didn’t answer back all day as I walked the neighborhood looking for him. I gave up on finding him at night and went to a party. Returning home in the cool quiet morning I heard Shirley and Ender distress calling each other. they kept calling while I followed the sound of his voice and found him. We had to remove a fence post to get him out. Another time, at the same apartment, he decided to strut out the door as I opened it, directly into the pack of dogs. Dave and a neighbor heard me screaming as I kicked and punched the dogs to try to pick up Ender. Both came running and I was able to throw Ender into the house. I was the only one hurt that day as Ender bit through my finger in the struggle.

I think if he wasn’t completely cross eyed he might have been quite a scrapper. When I adopted him the agency told me he was “part domesticated lynx” and, while I’m still not 100% sure what that was supposed to mean, there was definitely something different about him. He was big, muscular, fast when he wanted to be, and he had the most amazing claws. As Addamatic will tell you, he loved to show off those claws. He had a habit of walking up to people he liked, stretching out one arm, popping out all the claws on that paw, waiting until you noticed, and then doing the same thing with the other side. I always imagined him saying, “Look at my beautiful claws.” When he was done he would go lay down on a blanket and go to sleep knowing that you knew he was beautiful and dangerous. One time Jenny and I decided to try to find out what Lynx sound like in the wild. Apparently they’re super quiet and the only thing we could find was a recording of a cry from a distressed mama Lynx looking for her baby. Ender responded desperately and immediately. It was the most heart breaking thing. I snuggled him mightily that afternoon.

This is the part where I’m crying again.

Those cats were with me through some of the toughest times of my adult life. Grad school, the long drawn-out horrible end of my terrible co-dependent relationship with Bryan, picking up the pieces from that, and more grad school. So many late nights of writing were punctuated with cat snuggles.

When we all moved in with Dave (that guy I like) they liked him right away. Some nights I would wake up to find Shirley gently smelling the top of his head and looking like it was the most soothing aroma therapy she could find. Ender would bite his toes too. Dave would tell me daily of some new weird quirk that he had discovered that I had known about for years. His heart is broken too.

We could not have imagined, five months ago in an exam room where we decided to make sure that Shirley wouldn’t suffer, that we would have to make the same decision for Ender. Her cancer was easy to see filling up her throat and mouth. Ender hadn’t eaten for 48 hours when the vet discovered his cancer. Throughout Thursday and Friday his diagnosis escalated from a rotten tooth and a heart murmur, to end stage kidney disease (untreatable) or maybe a kidney infection (treatable), to cancer. The ultra sound the vet had expected would show shriveled kidneys instead showed enlarged shapeless kidneys, full of cancer.

When Shirley was put to sleep we were taken to a room that was designed for the purpose. Dave called it The Platitude Room, I called it The Rainbow Bridge Room. Neither of us could stand to go back there. Twice we were offered the room again for Ender’s last moments. We refused it both times and attempted to explain that, while we wanted to be present for his death and we were comfortable with it, that room was not designed for our experience. It turns out another couple was in the exam room next door having the same experience. We ended up hugging in the parking lot.

I realized yesterday that Ender was everyone’s favorite cat, but Shirley was my favorite. I expected Shirley not to live long though. She was elderly at 9, at least in attitude. In my mind I had decided she was 18 or 19 when she was actually 13. I expected Ender would live a long long time. In retrospect he had been losing weight for months, we knew the food was not disappearing from the bowl, he started eating pumpkin when previously he thought it was the most gross thing ever and left his portion for Az. We even told him how good he was looking slimmed down (an important reminder never, ever to say that to anyone, ever). He was dying. During the part where we thought it was kidney disease the vet said something along the lines of, he’s probably been drinking extra water for years due to the disease and I felt so guilty for not noticing. I feel less bad that he had cancer. I know he suffered, but not for very long.

The house is quiet, too quiet now. Az crawled under the covers and quietly purred at Dave and I this morning, only trilling once to announce that I needed to lift up the blanket so she could crawl in. She needs a companion soon.

Shirley and Ender, if there is an afterlife, I hope you two are enjoying your favorite things together now. I miss you.