On Tuesday night I killed my cat. The fat little man who was always talkative, always answered with a surprisingly diverse vocabulary of chortles and yawps refused to squawk and would not move. The single affectionate member of my trio of remaining animals had seemed fine the day before, but lethargic on his last.
He’d always been fat. My memory is bad. He seemed thin, save for his giant stomach, but I thought this was a sign of age. Tiny limbs and a bulging stomach. I remember him with Boris, the cat who was with my from my seventh to my twenty-sixth year. I remember having my mother watch the boys while I traveled, while I went to college in New Jersey. I felt as if Brahm were so long a part of my life that divorcing him from my earliest memories takes a dedication to logical reasoning.
It didn’t strike me as odd, only slightly sad, that his spine had become pronounced. Old cats slump, their soft, broad backs reduce to pointed, knotty spines. It’s a physical, recognizable, sign of mortality, but it does not signal death. Only time.
Brahm was always affectionate. He’d been eating. I’d hoped his belly would reduce itself, that he might have chronic gas or that he’d been gorging himself on dry food and too much water. Maybe the bulging stomach was a visual trick due to his narrow shoulders and hip dysplasia.
The vet showed me x-rays of his abdomen, his stomach filled only with gas, his intestine pushed to one side of his body, the important things inside him dwarfed by what seemed a singular, ambiguous mass wrapped in a U shape around his belly, displacing all that should have been there, diminishing the good with the malignant.
Brahm had lymphoma. The word caught with me. My own selfish thoughts on personal suffering threatening to make this about me, a compressed flashing memory of six years of chemo, radiation, and antigens.
Brahm would not be getting those. Treatment wasn’t suggested, wasn’t offered.
We went with a cat and left with an empty cat carrier.
Three years ago, in another September, I’d taken Boris to the same vet, no carrier, him wrapped in a purple thermal blanket, already unconscious from the second stroke.
Both times I held my cat as the vet overdosed him with sedative.
Both times I felt a kind of rushing panic, bewilderment at the idea that the right thing was to do the opposite of what on any other day would have been right. Biting my teeth, I watched the vets depress the plungers and thought so hard “wait,” and to myself said, please, and thought hard “stop,” but I couldn’t say any of it. The jolt was the same both times, my silence shameful, dutiful.
I tossed the empty cage into the back seat. No weight, no delicacy.
At home I took two alprazolam with whiskey. Whiskey is, and always will be, something that makes me sick. It’s medicinal, a mourning drink.
Thereafter, I drank vodka with water and the rest of the night faded into what I wanted: a blank tape spiked with moments of cooking blind, vomiting, and refilling glasses.
I woke up early on wednesday to walk with Mary before taking her to work. I hadn’t slept much, but what sleep I’d gotten was that which only comes after hard intoxication.
We drank coffee and talked little.
At home, alone, I put off packing and planning to pack to go numb in plant maintenance. I emptied pots and mixed new soil. I watered and cleared the remaining plants, then went back through, re-potting maple trees.
I found trees I thought I’d lost growing green shoots from surviving stems. I cleaned and re-potted them. I found prodigious growth on all my geraniums; long sections of stem with short inter nodes, this denoting good health, all good candidates for cloning. I found soft, green leaf buds on the maple tree meant to replace my neighbor-stolen decorative one. I found squash. No longer just a thick vine and the hope of some decorative fruit to celebrate fall, but knotty, yellow, green, orange stripped gourds.
My western growing spaces, despite neglect, produced. There was life.
Four hours spent with dirt under my nails had made for a kind of meditation. Better than the ones enforced by kung fu, this was kinesthetic. I have little memory of the anything between the start and the finish. I had dug in the soil and filled my pots and thought of nothing but the tasks at hand.
Brahm was dead. The plants were alive. There is no reason and no greater philosophical conclusion to be had.
I drove seven hours, sleepless and exhausted, arriving in North Carolina just before five a.m. Then I slept another thick sleep.
Today, I rode at the bow of a pontoon boat and saw hawks and eagles and felt a balance between breeze and sun, and for those forty-five minutes, I was happy.