This wasn’t supposed to be this hard to write.
I’d thought about writing this weeks ago, and it all seemed to flow so well. That was before emotion got involved. See, emotion can be a blessing and a curse. It can tie your reader to your story and get them involved. But it can also cause the author to not want to write. However, I have to write this; because it will give some measure of… ending? Closure? I’m not sure. But here goes.
Three weeks ago I said goodbye to one of my best friends. That he happened to be a cat might seem odd to some. It still seems odd to me.
This was not my first loss of a pet. I’ve grown up with nearly every animal you can imagine on a farm, and then some. Being in close proximity to a country road, many pets were killed by cars. One dog was shot by a neighbor. Another dog just disappeared. So loss was something I thought I was accustomed to.
And then came Bertie.
Full name: Bertram Wooster Cat, named after P.G. Wodehouse’s inimitable Bertie Wooster. He came to us four years ago, from a friend who had to get rid of him because she was moving. She mentioned he was a little odd. At first my wife – who had never before had a pet – and I weren’t sure. Then we met Bertie and his oddities, and decided we were very sure. Bertie had been hit by a car when he was little, so one eye didn’t work, he had a snaggle-toothed smile, and he was always in a perennial state of desiring closeness.
It was the latter that drew us to him. Bertie didn’t believe in personal space. If he could be on your head, he would attempt it. And if he could sit on both humans – well, that was just the best. After he had taken up his position of occupation he would proceed to purr: loudly, proudly, and raucously. We were his humans.
Soon after we got Bertie, I got orders to go to Afghanistan. Deployments are difficult for service members, but it’s what we sign up to do. For spouses, the loneliness, worry, and uncertainty of it all can be overwhelming. Which is why I was glad that my wife had a small furry friend to look out for her the year that I was gone. He would commonly wander into our Facetime conversations and try to sit between the camera and my wife, filling the screen with his impassive face. I can’t ever thank him enough for being that warm thing my wife could cuddle up to in the long darkness of the night, for being the one who provided some source of comfort.
When I came home, I went through all the normal sort of redeployment things: jumpy at loud noises, restless, grouchy, confused. At times I would feel somewhat lost, or uncertain, or I would wake up in the middle of the night after incredibly vivid nightmares. Those were the times where Bertie would know to flop himself down in the crook of my arm, place his paws on my chest, and blink kindly at me. It was as if he knew what was going on inside my head, as if he could somehow relate because of his trauma. My little PTS buddy.
I was in France working on a documentary shoot when my wife took Bertie to the vet because he seemed to be losing weight. She was loving enough to keep the news that he had cancer until I came back. He was given a month to live. He lasted two. Because he just loved a lot.
By the end, he was staying in our bed all day, occasionally leaving for the necessaries of food, water, litter box. When we would come to bed he would snuggle up to us and the deep, warming, comforting purr would begin. As it did on the day we said goodbye.
I am a selfish person; I had hoped he would die in his sleep while we were at work, or during the night. Instead, we had to make the decision of whether or not to put him down. It is rare that you have to make that kind of decision for something you love. And no matter how many times it happens, no matter how many times the vet tells you that it is for the best – that it will prevent suffering, that it is in fact the kind thing to do – it still tears away a piece of something inside you.
Bertie slipped away peacefully, on my lap, the drugs just making him think that he was out for a doze. We buried him out by the lake, in the dark shade of the woods – an irony, as since he was declawed, he was never allowed outside.
There is a part of me that is so angry at myself for feeling the kind of ridiculous emotion that I have right now, because if you think there’s not that aching feeling in the back of my throat that indicates a powerful feeling of sadness, you are wrong – but there’s another feeling that is stronger: that if some creature can love so profoundly, unselfishly, and wholly, then does it not deserve that same love in return?
I think it does. And I know that somewhere, Bertie does too.