I wasn't going to blog about this. But then I read this and felt I had permission to use a blog to pay tribute to my feline companion of 17 years.
This weekend I lost my childhood cat, Cera, who in cat years, lived to the ripe old age of 85.
Named after the tri"cera"tops from the 1988 animated film The Land Before Time, Cera and her sister Nicky were born on Ash Wednesday, March 4, 1992. This was 8th grade for me, and the first year of three living just outside of Jacksonville, NC, otherwise known as the arm pit of the south. My family and I had left the friendly lemonade stands and cul-de-sac/block party neighborhoods of VA for the roach-infested, judgmental and insiders-only trailer parks of NC. It was an extremely hard adjustment for me and my three siblings made only harder when all four of us got the chicken pox right after moving in that summer followed by the death of our beloved dog Beau that winter. My parents compensated by getting us a new dog, a beautiful red haired gold retriever named Tucker, and by granting my childhood desire of getting a cat. That cat was named Tiger Lily (we really loved those cartoon movies!). Tiggy, as we called her, was an indoor/outdoor cat and quickly became pregnant with a small litter of four. We must have been four sad kids because my mom (dad was away on a 6 mo. float) let us keep two of the four kittens.
Tucker, Nicky, and Cera became the superhero trinity of our family and eased the hardships of moving 3 more times before the family finally resettled back in VA, by which time I was in college. These three pets became a leading example of what it meant to get along and stick together, something we kids didn't need reminding of as our sibs were usually the only other people we knew at each new school. Tucker was a puppy when Nicky and Cera were kittens, so the three bonded the way only babies seem capable of. Nicky would groom Tucker's face, Cera would rub against his legs, and he would be gentle with the two cats who never grew very big and always slept together in a big ball of fur. They were an integral party of our family. Tucker would sleep on the foot of our beds, and Cera and Nicky would come running whenever my sister played her guitar to sit in the guitar case and listen. They cuddled with us, they sat in our laps, they loved us when we often alone and misunderstood.
When I moved home after college to teach locally and save money for grad school, Cera readopted me. By this point the Fenton menagerie had grown to include a second dog and third cat, both rescued from the deserts of CA. Cera was a bit overwhelmed by all the animals in the house. Always a bit of an attention seeking diva cat, she hung out in my room where I could shower her with rubs and she could snuggle into my sheets. When I left for NY, I left behind Cera with Nicky, taking only Annie, the third cat of the Fenton clan who was, according to my dad, "my" cat as I was the one who brought her home from the Yucca Valley Wal-Mart after a little boy convinced me she would die in the desert if I didn't. When I went home for Christmas that first winter in NY, I found Cera sequestered in my old bedroom, afraid to come out. By now, poor little Tucker had passed away and there was a new, wild golden retriever appropriately named "Rowdy" who unwittingly terrorized Cera. My heart broke and when I returned to NY that New Years day, Cera was with me.
Cera LOVED New York. It was just me, the most laid back west coast kitty Annie, and Cera, the princess cat in a tiny 2 room studio with no dogs in site. Cera quickly established dominance, which was easy as Annie didn't really care as long as she got fed. Cera entertained herself by sleeping on my pillow, hiding behind the litter box and jumping on Annie when she came out, and sitting on my lap while I tried desperately to compose for hours on end. I have endless pictures of her sitting in front of my computer as if trying to figure out the best way to orchestrate whatever happened to be open in Sibelius at the time. She just as often jumped on the keyboard to offer up her suggestion of where the melodic line should move to. She was always with me, keeping me company, keeping my sanity.
I must admit to not knowing Cera's birthday until tonight's google search of "Ash Wednesday 1992." I could never remember her age because she always seemed like a kitten. People were shocked when I would slowly do the math (8th grade was which year again?) and reveal her true age. She did not seem old. At least not until this past week. A friend visited and commented on how much weight she had lost. I hadn't noticed, you never do when it's incremental. Within days of my friend's visit, Cera's behavior changed pretty drastically. I realized I never saw Cera eat, though I couldn't keep the water bowl filled long enough to satiate her thirst. She wasn't being quite as needy and seemed to be losing weight by the hour. By Friday I realized I couldn't rationalize her weight loss or behavior change any longer, and took her to the vet.
To make the last painful part of this story short, she was diagnosed with irreversible kidney tissue damage. She was retaining waste and suffered from lack of appetite. She was literally wasting away. I was assured by the very nice vet that she was not suffering, that this was the natural way cats conclude their lives, and it was really a very "graceful" way to die. So I began to prepare myself for the what we all know is the inevitable. Saturday night she could barely walk. She tried to cuddle with us on the couch, but was too uncomfortable and opted for her favorite kennel instead. It broke my heart. I couldn't see her like this when only a week ago she was running around the apartment, jumping in my lap and trying to lick my plate. Early Sunday morning, when she again refused food, and missed a jump to the couch, I came to the painful decision that every pet owner dreads. By Sunday afternoon, I was drowning my tears in a Height's margarita, knowing I had entered a new chapter of life that was defined by the absence of Cera.
It's now Monday night, and Annie has spent the day going from room to room crying. I think she finally feels the loneliness that Cera rescued me from. I'm now in a very loving relationship, and am no longer lonely. Perhaps Cera knew that her job was done, that she no longer needed to be my protector. I can't help it, but it makes me smile to think of Cera hanging out with Tucker somewhere, looking for a new set of kids to keep company and love and protect. And it feels good, for the first time in days, to smile.