I just made the phone call I have been dreading for weeks. Months even.
I called my vet and made my little cat’s last ever appointment with him.
I’m not sure exactly how old he is. But I think he’s 21. If I count it back, my husband and I got him when we moved into our first house. My house, technically. We were moving out of a rented apartment, and into the house I had bought years before, and rented out. I kicked the tenants out so that my ex-husband (then boyfriend – how stupid that sounds now) and I could move in, and enjoy the domestic bliss of being able to put nails in walls to hang up pictures where ever we pleased and do whatever we wanted to the garden. And accommodate his drum kit, complete with fully sound proofed jam room.
And have pets. I wanted a cat.
He didn’t much, he was a dog person. But I talked him into taking a look at a litter of Orientals. I wanted a Siamese, I had always wanted a Siamese. But Orientals have the same personality, are wonderfully affectionate cats, and are very dog-like in their behaviours. My cat used to love to play fetch. And he loped around the house like a miniature lion. Except he had the attitude of the full size big cat. He was loud and insistent and his harsh yowl when is his dinner was late was impossible to ignore. He also involved himself completely in whatever we were doing, and would tell us what he thought about it. Loudly. The house was never quiet with him in it.
My ex-husband warned me that he didn’t like Orientals. He thought they were ugly. We talked about it, researched the breed. Looked at pictures. He agreed, they had lovely natures, just like a Siamese. And so we decided to go take a look at the litter. Ok, I begged him. I was so sure, once he saw the kittens, he’d realise how gorgeous they are, all huge ears and eyes and paws.
Because we didn’t want to let on to the breeder our thoughts, we agreed on a password. A passphrase, really. I knew I was going to love the cats, and would just pick my favourite.
My ex, on the other hand, wasn’t convinced. So we agreed that if he really did NOT want one of these cats, he would utter the phrase ‘Don’t forget we’re due at your Mum’s at five’. Which would be my cue to thank the breeder and tell them we weren’t interested.
Piffle. HE would see all these beautiful kitties and want them ALL, nevermind just one. I was that confident.
We arrived, and were shown into the room where the cats were. There were about five, I think. And because they are such outrageously friendly creatures, as soon as we sat on the couch, they all made a beeline for us, and started climbing on top of us, purring, rubbing their heads against us and talking as only Orientals can talk to you.
I was in heaven. I immediately liked one best, but I couldn’t tell you why now. He had massive ears, was all skin and bone and gangly, awkward cuteness. And he had these long toes on his feet that looked more like fingers than paws and claws. So that was his name – Fingers.
Yes I had him all picked out and named him and, in my mind, back home already.
And then he said it. My ex-husband said ‘Don’t forget we’re due at your mothers at five’.
I was completely dumbfounded. Shocked. Pure disbelief. He was covered in three cute kitties, each on trying to love him more than the next one. And he was saying the passphrase! Impossible!
Was he made of stone???
So I told the breeder I was going to wait for a litter of Siamese (she bred Siams as well) and we left.
And I was disappointed, but I was OK. No point getting a pet that my partner didn’t adore as well. He said he really preferred Siamese and was happy to wait until we could find one of those.
But an hour later, at home, he asked me if I was OK with it. And I said I was. Which was true. I’m not the hissy fit type. I’m not the cry-to-get-my-way type. And I definately don’t do the silent treatment. Or emotional blackmail. If I was upset I would have said so. If it were that important to me, I would have discussed it further. I was just a bit sad.
Then out of the blue, he says he wants to go back and get the cat. I have no idea why. He knew I wanted the cat, I guess. Or maybe those little purring sacks of bones got to him in the end. I don’t know. I just went with it.
So back we went and Fingers came home. Passphrase be damned.
And spent the next 21 odd years with us. He cost us a fortune a few months later when he was hit by a car, but he made it through that, and the extensive surgeries afterwards. He moved house with us seven times, including across the Nullabor to Perth and then back again. He endured the addition of a dog to our little family, and a cat. And (horrors!) two children. And another cat. And another cat. And then another dog. (I collect strays.)
And he has remained my affectionate, funny, loud, chatty mini lion. Who keeps the German Shepherd Dog in line.
But he has grown very quiet lately. His paws are twisted with arthritis, and I know how much that hurts. Sometimes he is standing and can’t quite lower himself down, to a comfortable position to rest in. Sometimes he wants to get up, and I can see the agony that walking causes him. And his rear legs are starting to give way sometimes.
And then he will suddenly come good, and be playing like a kitten again, with my other cat. Which is what makes it so hard. He’s still enjoying his food, and playing.
Except for the last few days there has been no more playing. He hasn’t been making it to the litter tray. And he spends all day sleeping. He still loves his food, and a good chin scratch. And to curl up on my warm lap when I’m trying to write.
But its time. He’s ready. He’s telling me as clearly as if he could speak. He’s ready to go. It’s me who’s not ready to let him.
He has always been my favourite. I know you’re not supposed to have favourites. But he’s from the very best time of my life. I was the happiest I have ever been at that point in time. It was the sweet spot between bookends of pain. And that’s how he’ll stay in my memory. The ugly kitten with the too big ears who looked like an alien. And the story of the ugly kitten passphrase became legend in our extended families.
But now, he’s got just over 24 hours of life left. And now I have to go open a can of people tuna, because that’s his favourite treat. And prepare myself to say good bye to my little cat.
And my ex-husband is coming over to say goodbye as well. He has even offered to take him for me, because I cry just thinking about it.
It’s kind of him to offer. But wrong. I will take Fingers. He has always been my cat. I’ll be the one to hold him when the time comes, and I will be the last person he sees. And I’ll cry. And I think my ex will too. Because Fingers turned him into a cat person after all.