I am terrified of writing this article. If it seems like this is still something I’m working through, you are absolutely right. But that’s why I need to write this, to share the story. I need to talk this out.
Junior year of college, I had just transferred to a new school. I had originally planned on living in the dorms, but I had a druggy roommate and the school refused to find me another room unless I spilled which of my 3 roommates was the problem. I’m no narc, so off-campus it was. I moved into a 3-bedroom apartment with 2 easy-going, unbelievably clean boys. This was my first time renting, and my first time living somewhere that wasn’t my parents’ house or a college dorm.
Here’s what was also going on junior year of college: I was deeply involved in a completely unhealthy and sporadic relationship with a person who at the time I believed to be the love of my life. I was so young, and there’s so much history. What you need to know is that I had lost touch with most of my friends from high school and the first college I attended as a direct or indirect result of this relationship. Yes, it’s true kids; an abusive relationship leads to estrangement from friends, family and society at large. I was very lonely.
Now that I was in a real apartment, without dorm restrictions and in need of serious companionship, the time was right to consider getting a cat. I went to an adoption day at a local pet store (I hope you all consider adoption when deciding to bring a pet into your life). I was immediately drawn to Bear, the only black and white cat in the litter. The lady working the table for the human society looked me up and down, said this was a “special one”, and asked me to promise I’d take good care of her.
She had no idea how special Bear would turn out to be, and while I did take the best care of her that I believe was possible, she also took so much care of me. I know people who consider their pets “part of the family”. I considered Bear an extension of myself. There were days, that year, when I only got out of bed because I knew she needed me to feed her, to play with her or to take her to the vet.
Subtext: This cat kept me alive. At a time when I couldn’t reach out to another human, when I felt impossibly trapped and hopelessly broken, Bear kept me moving. And after I had climbed out of that hole, and found my way back to reality, I was still not the same person I’d been before. It took years of therapy, and a cross-country move, to start reconnecting with other humans and repairing the relationship that would end up being my marriage with the most patient and forgiving man I’ve ever met (who waited out the soul mate bullshit). And through all of this, my love for Bear remained the constant.
I never cared if people thought I was a crazy cat lady. Because I loved Bear, more than I have ever loved a living creature in my whole life – and I’ve loved. This is why, when Bear was diagnosed with a heart murmur 3 years ago, I worried endlessly. I cried for days. Even though the vet assured me that all of my girl’s test results were good, and that the chances of Bear not living a full, healthy life were slim if we did the right things, I worried. I heard the vet’s warning about the worst-case scenario and in some ways, it probably never left the back of my mind. And in the two years that passed after Bear developed her murmur, I did all the right things. Blood work every 6 months. Ultrasounds once a year, despite the hefty price tag. And all signs always pointed to healthy kitty.
In late July 2011, I slipped getting onto the Metro-North to go to work one rainy morning. As with most things in my life, this fall was dramatic and what might have been a bruised ankle is instead a rare injury usually suffered by pro-NFL players, windsurfers and equestrians. I am none of these things except maybe rare. Because of the fall, I was home on very-bad-weather-days, and was able to spend extra time with Bear. I had no idea how much I would treasure that extra time, but even without knowledge of what was about to happen, I always wanted to spend days curled up in bed with her.
In late August, Bear started behaving just slightly strangely. She took to sleeping in the bathroom, a room she’d never shown any interest in before. She was eating and drinking, she was playing and jumping, but I just had a feeling. And so we took her to the vet. We ran every test. As always, results were good.
On September 8, 2011 I had an early-morning orthopedist appointment. My husband E. had planned to go into work late to accompany me. The night before, Bear had seemed a little more out of it than usual. I decided to take her into the vet again, and we both took the day. We did more blood work, they took a urine sample, and we brought Bear home. Bear always hated the vet, and so she eagerly jumped out of the carrier when we got back to the safety of our apartment. I gave her treats, a usual reward for having suffered the indignity of a vet visit, and I told E. I was going to take a nap. Bear jumped off the bed and went into the living room. I asked E. to go check on her.
When E. called my name, I knew. He said something was wrong. He said he was taking her to the vet, and that he’d call me from the car. He told me to stay in the bedroom. I was in a walking boot, and couldn’t quickly get ready to leave. And he already knew, too, but held out hope. When he called from the emergency animal hospital to tell me she was gone, I was already on the other line with my mom, shaking and crying on the floor.
I went the next morning to say goodbye. It was the hardest thing I have ever done, except for continuing to exist since that day. She was cold but she was her. I didn’t want to see her like this, but I needed to. I needed to see her again. I had things to tell her. And most importantly, I needed to know it was true that she was dead.
She was cremated a week later and we picked her ashes up in an urn. My baby is ashes in an urn in my nightstand drawer instead of a warm bundle of fur on my bed. It all happened so fast, so suddenly. One minute I was giving her treats, and the next she was gone.
And while I’ve heard from many pet owners who have lost pets, I’ve yet to find someone who has a story that resonates with my own. If you have one, please share it with me if you can. Thus far, the only person I’ve been able to talk to who “gets it” is my mother. My mother lost her best friend, a human, to breast cancer when they were both right around my age (28). And while years have passed, my mother has never stopped feeling this loss. She keeps a scarf from Andrea tied around her bedpost.
When everything hits me at once, and I can’t breath, I call my mom and we talk it out. We talk about how this never has to be okay. We talk about how I will always be angry that Bear didn’t get to live longer. That I will always feel robbed of those years she should have had, we should have had together.
And my mom tells me that one day, I’ll be able to let the good memories take over the anger and pain. I’m not so sure. A year later, I’m not there. Not even close.
I miss my best friend.
I have no constant.