If you go back, way back to my very first livejournal entires, you can see wee little never, in her early twenties, living in the Concrete Bunker on Folsom Street, posting about her tiny black kittens, Ada and Perl. What you don't see in those entries is that I am in the grip of a black depression, and J has bought me these kittens because he thinks it will cheer me up. Everyone who knows me knows that I am desperately unhappy, especially J. I think that no one notices. I have been depressed for so long that even I don't notice most of the time. J says it's like living with a ghost.
Kittens do not cure my depression--my depression is vanquished by Prozac and school--ut Ada and Perl are delightful. J and I raise them together. We post photos of our cats to the internet, when posting photos of your cats to the internet was still a relatively new thing. We give them Friendster accounts. Ada is my cat, unequivocably. She is shy and sulky with strangers, while Perl is vocal and outgoing. Perl is J's cat, through and through. Perl claws J's face in the morning, demanding to be fed. Perl sits on J's lap when he plays video games.
When Ada got hepatic lipidosis, J and I learned about the Very Expensive Emergency Vet. We learned to force-feed a cat and give her subcutaneous fluids. When Ada got sick again, years later, and we could not get her pancreatitis under control, we learned to bathe a cat, to give a cat pills (Ada hated to be pilled), and how to quarantine a cat while she's recovering from surgery. Ada died suddenly. After surgery, she just never recovered. J came home and found her limp on the floor and brought her to the vet, and by the time he'd called me to tell me to come over, she'd had a heart attack and died.
Ada was my first pet. I'd never had any animal for its entire life. I could not bring myself to pick up her ashes for six months. I did not get another cat for two years.
Perl died slowly, at the age of fifteen. In her last weeks, we knew that there was nothing that could be done to save her and we could only work to make her comfortable. In her final days, we simply could not get her to eat. J pureed cat food with water and force-fed her using a syringe. We gave her subcutaneous fluids and B12 shots. We fed her so many pills. I went to the pet store and bought as many different kinds of cat food as I could find, hoping that one of them would interest her. But my hollow-eyed cat would not even drink water. And finally she was too weak to get up to use the litter box, and then she was too weak to get up at all.
We picked her up and let her sleep on the bed next to J, which was her favorite spot, with a towel under her. And in the morning, we woke up to a couple of yelps, then she shuddered, and wet herself, and died. I will not tell you how many times we checked her breathing and her pulse before we took poor Perl's body to the vet. You think you are a hard-nosed engineer, but suddenly you're some sort of idiot optimist and nothing has ever just shuddered and died in front of you and you just want your cat to still be alive.
Neil Gaiman references aside, I do not believe in a Death of Cats, or a Death of Anything Else, for that matter. I do not think there is a cat afterlife where Ada and Perl will claw furniture together and sleep on a blue velvet chaise lounge. It is terrible thing when an animal that has loved you and depended on you for its entire lifetime suffers. This is all we have, this very brief time together. So if you still read these things, if you have made it this far, find someone that you love and hug them close, even if it is a cat. Especially if it is a cat.