This weekend is a hard one. I don’t want to dwell on it or drag anyone else through it, but…. Well, here goes.

One of our cats has passed away. We called her Nita. I knew we’d lose her one day, but this isn’t at all the way I wanted it to happen.

Nita was a dilute tortie, basically a calico where all the colors in her coat came out in smears instead of patches. It was as if God had painted her in a fit of passion– slapping handfuls of red, black, and white on her–and let the colors run. She was with us, demure and loving, for over 5 years.

She was born practically in my lap, on the floor of what was then my home office. Seeing it happen right in front of me changed my world. Dragged down in the drudgery of moving to a new place, I watched a kind of magic. Mina, her mother, chose to give birth close to me and Jamie when she could’ve run for cover. She shared that moment and her newborn children with us. I had never been invited to share a miracle before.

After several days, Jamie and I picked out names for Mina’s kittens. Nita was named after Nita Van Sloan, the tough girlfriend of a pulp hero called the Spider. Like her namesake she was loyal and cautious, guarding her secrets very closely.

She didn’t talk much, but when she did, oh man. What a wail. It sounded like she’d taken some lessons from Jimi Hendrix and got herself a twang bar. Her voice had range.

Unlike the Spider’s main squeeze, she wasn’t a social butterfly. At the first sight of strangers, she’d run for cover. Her siblings liked to scrap and play around, but not her. She’d have sooner slipped off to a far corner, sought out a warm lap, or snuggled close to someone she knew (often her mom, sometimes me or Jamie).

So you can imagine how thrilled she was to go to cat shows. We tried it for a while, but she was downright terrified. The slightest change in her lifestyle made her nervous. And when that happened, she got sick. She just couldn’t handle stress.

It became a real problem when we brought Kyouju and the other Japanese bobtails into the mix. Before she knew it, she was a token introvert in a house of feline extroverts. They loved her. She hated getting picked on.

A year ago, Jamie and I decided to put her in my home office. As long as we kept the door shut, she could eat or sleep without getting pounced on. It did help her mood, but it triggered a new batch of problems. She couldn’t get as much exercise in the office, so we got fat really quick. We switched her to diet kibble, and that worked a little. And if the smell of her litter box wasn’t enough to put me off my work, Nita would sit on my hands. She wanted affection and lots of it. Maybe she got lonely in there.

Nita became more talkative, more demonstrative. If I leaned back too far in my chair, she’d jump onto my lap or my chest and sleep. (Bloody catnaps….) And when she wanted attention, she learned quickly that if she turned up the kcat talk, she’d get plenty.

That all changed Friday morning. I walked into the office and found her spitting up and drooling, tense and miserable, but not moving much. Jamie and I discussed it on the phone. We didn’t have a lot of cash, but we had to take her to the vet. That was how we got the bad news. Fatty liver disease. She hadn’t been eating, so her liver was going into overtime. Our vets kept her overnight to work on the problem, but they were upfront. Nita’s condition was severe. They weren’t sure if she’d even survive the night. Jamie and I sweated bullets. It took us a while to sleep.

Saturday morning, Jamie got the call from the vets. Nita had died in her sleep. There was another infection, possibly the reason why her liver failed. She was responding to preliminary treatment, but she just didn’t have the strength to keep fighting. The vets reassured us we had done everything we could’ve done. Nita hid her ailment very well, as most cats do, so there were no warning signs for us to catch.

But I keep going over it in my head, even now. Did I do enough? Why didn’t I see this coming? Maybe the warning signs were right in front of me the whole time. Or I could’ve found more time to spend with her–played with her, held her for just a minute–instead jumping right into work.

You can see how easy it is to button up the little things and tuck ’em away.

Jamie and I have decided to cremate her. I don’t know if we’ll keep her in a funeral urn (the thought of which feels a little weird for me) or bury her ashes in our garden.

Nita’s death was completely the opposite of what I wanted. I had set my hopes on her dying fat, happy, and with us at her side. She had lost at least 5 pounds. In unspeakable pain. And alone.

Every time I walk into a room, part of me wants to tear it all down. Another part makes me weep when I don’t want to. I want to move on. I don’t want to carry this. But it’s like a halo of sadness right above my head. Just when I think I’ve got a handle on my emotions, I shed some tears and feel some despair.

Jamie and I are coping with the loss. Or trying to. Every once in a while, we start to talking about it, comparing notes on what happened. Then we’re back where we started.

On our way out to get some breakfast somewhere, a song came on the radio. I couldn’t bear it. Jamie couldn’t either. One day I’ll hear again and it won’t hurt as much.

One day, losing Nita won’t hurt as much.

Come down on your own and leave your body alone.
Somebody must change.
You are the reason I’ve been waiting all these years.
Somebody holds the key.

But I’m near the end and I just ain’t got the time
And I’m wasted and I can’t find my way home.

Steve Winwood
“Can’t Find My Way Home”

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