Did it cross my mind, as I sat cross-legged in my underwear on the floor of the house we rented in Maui, cradling you like a baby, crying because I didn’t know if I would figure out how to get you home, that one day I could be holding you the same way as life seeped out of you?
In 2007, in A sleepy Maui village called Hana, there were a few friendly stray cats hanging out on the lanai of the guest house we rented. There was fluffy, sweet marie, who were regulars, and a few others, who came and went. On our second day on the island, a little grey tabby showed up, and followed us around. We decided to call him Reverend Jaime, or The Rev, because of a little patch of white on his neck. I have no idea where the Jaime came from.
The Rev could be seen staring up at trees, and analyzing plants. Whenever we came “home,” he would come running. He would sit on the edge of the hot tub. The other cats hated him, and he feared them, because he was a wimp. When the house owner came over to mow the lawn, The Rev got a flip flop tossed at his pointy little head for no good reason. It was then we decided, if he came into the house and brought fleas, we wouldn’t feel so bad.
Did it occur to me, the years we slept, spooning together, that I would feel the warmth leave your body? That the gums you strangely liked having pet would one day no longer feel the breeze of your breath?
The Rev slept with us at night. Any time we were on the property, he was at our side. Neither of us had work lined up when we came back- I was freelance and Dave was between jobs, and I had just spent $800 that I didn’t have on my car, so naturally, our next step was to spend more money bringing a cat home.
Getting him home took a lot of time out of our vacation. Because of some landslide, no local vets were open. We found a vet near the airport with a red Afro and a vanity plate that said TD BEAR, but we knew that if the vet didn’t clear him to fly, we would miss our flight back returning him to Hana. Thankfully, he was all cleared and ready to take his (seperate) flight to LGA.
Did I think about it, ever, when people stopped what they were doing and remarked about your size that one day you would waste away to a much smaller cat as your kidneys failed?
We met him in the cargo area of LGA, having had to walk in the snowy slush in flip flops on a busy road with practically no shoulder. Less than 20 hours after his first car, van, and plane ride, he had his first subway and bus ride. The bus was the “drunk” bus to bloomfield, the last of the night. It was packed and he had to rest his carrier on the lap of a very nice Spanish lady next to me. We walked the last 1/2 mile home, just over 12 years ago to the day, and started our lives.
The Rev soon became Nerms, after Garfield’s nemesis, Nermil. He was the sweet to our other cat, The Mayor’s, sour. He took himself very seriously and was the most unintentionally funny cat I knew. He had no awareness that he was goofy, and walked around with a Sherman Helmsley-as-George Jefferson-like swagger.
What about that time, close to the end, when i tried to record your purring sound so I would never forget it, but you were laying on my throat so it was punctuated with heavy breathing? Did I know I wouldn’t get a chance again to hear you purr?
Anyone who met him said “whoa, that’s a big cat!” We we’re so used to it, we never noticed. He dragged corn cobs off of your plate and sucked off any remnants of vegan butter. He waited patiently at your feet for greasy chinese takeout bowls. He stuck his nail in your pizza if you didn’t share it fast enough. He pissed with his tail hanging out of the litter box.
His favorite spot in the bed was smack dab between our chests, the more squished, the better. In the sun, he looked like a reptile. By indoor light, he looked like one of many Rankin-Bass protagonists. At some point in his life, he lost his left fang and started to look like Elvis. He liked to bite, not to break skin but to crush bone. And then he would gently lick you. He was the alpha cat of the 5. He demanded to be taken outside, and would sometimes try to get under our bikes as we brought them out of storage. If he didn’t greet us at the bottom of the stairs every time we came home, he most certainly would be at the top.
Did I bask in the moments you were stealing food, or pigging out, knowing that someday you would stop eating, despite clearly wanting to?
His favorite thing was to roll around on the sidewalk outside, bathing in the sunlight. He also liked to play gingerbread man- running around in the yard so that you couldn’t catch him.
He was healthy most of his life, but every time he had a medical issue, it coincided with vacation plans. It made sense- he came into our life screwing up our vacation, and he went out that way.
After his initial foray into trying to be friends with 4 ferrets and his feline sister, and failing, he decided that he hated all other animals, and spent the rest of his life letting them know. He also hated vets.
Once, he got into our kitchen cabinet and found a bag of xantham gum. He chewed it open, licked it, and then cleaned himself. He ended up looking like a stegosaurus.
Despite the very cool personality he developed over the years, Nerms had heart. He had a nice, warm purr, and he was soft, and cuddly when he wanted to be. Even up to the end, if I carried him outside, he would relax and dig his nails into my shoulder, flexing each of them alternately, sniffing the air, watching the birds, the squirrels, the bugs.
One October, he was sunbathing on our deck and he caught a bird and brought it in. I ran out to see what the commotion was just in time to see it leave his mouth and fly into the shower (while Dave was showering) and out a window. He wasn’t much of a predator otherwise. He was as shocked as we.
The last day I took him outside was a sunny December day. I had been thinking we were at the end but he was having a good day and he rolled on the sidewalk, scraping his skull in the sun like he loved. And then it rained for a few days and I knew in my heart he would never roll in the sun again. I took him outside, at night, in the Christmas lights and the weather was mild and he relaxed in my arms as we walked around, He sniffed some mud, chewed some grass, cheeked a tree.
I cried into his fur and told him I was sorry I couldn’t fix him at the same time that I signed the paperwork for the procedure. He hated the vet, I was starting to regret not getting an at-home euthanasia.
The vet quickly gave him the sedative before he even noticed, and slipped out, leaving me in a chair, with him, looking out the window and rocking him. it took him awhile to fall asleep, and he did so on my chest, comfortably, seemingly happy to be snuggled in. Each time his eyes closed, it took a little longer to open until he was fully sleeping, an arm up on my shoulder. We spent about 5-10 minutes without the vet in the room and it was nice to just be present with him.
They came back and and I gently laid him on the table, on a blanket. They gave him another shot while I put my face in his face and he was gone in mere moments.
He didn’t look different dead. I pet his tail, it felt the same- his nose no different, his nails came out and retracted the same as they ever did when i gently squeezed a paw. His bunny legs moved just like they ever did when I carefully pushed and pulled them. He was simultaneously totally there, and not. At that moment, I understood Schroedinger’s Cat.
A lot of people have messaged us that he was so lucky that we took him home from Hawaii and gave him a life as a spoiled housecat. But it was us who were the lucky ones.
If love could have saved him, he would have lived to be a crotchety old 25 year old man. I wish.
Its hard knowing his life had to end. Even harder though, is knowing that it goes on mostly the same, without him.