By Sarah James
Sometimes, as I’m feeding her or petting her or tossing one of her many toys, it occurs to me that my cat will die. I don’t encourage this thought but, alas: I can’t stop it. It’s like when you realize your grandparents have sex, or how many calories are in a steak burrito. I don’t want to think about these things which horribly makes it impossible not to think about them. I have a cat, and one day I won’t.
I can’t control it, but I still feel guilty for this thought. Not because I think the powers of my brainwaves will kill her (although my brainwaves have singlewavedly kept many airplanes in the air, so they are potent) but because I feel I should be enjoying every moment she is alive.
I know, logically, that most cats have many moments of life, but during my squishy impressionable youth I had a lot of bad cat luck. Two of my childhood cats died in rapid succession. I grew up thinking it was difficult to keep cats alive.
The first was my uncle’s girlfriend’s cat, and he gave it to us after she dumped him. He couldn’t bear to look at the cat anymore. Poor cat. It wasn’t her fault. Then she got feline HIV and died.
I remember telling my mom after Katy died that I’d seen her around the house. I remember seeing her round the corner from the hallway into the kitchen, her tail flicking then disappearing, but the time I caught up with her she was gone. My mom said I was imagining things, because Katy had gotten feline HIV and died. I don’t think I was imagining it. I have a good imagination and I like to think I could come up with something better than “my own dead cat.” I think that maybe because I was so young, I had a connection to another realm that has since closed off in my age. The other realm being cat heaven. I was four.
We got a cat to replace Katy and named him Maxwell. He died at eight months from feline leukemia. Someone at my school had human leukemia and she had gone bald, so I thought Maxwell would go bald too. He didn’t. He just died. I was six. I didn’t ever see Maxwell’s ghost. Too old.
When we got my next cat, I didn’t want to name her because I was scared she was going to die. This is why her name is Kitty. When Kitty lived over a year, I was shocked. I thought it was rare for a cat to live so long. I was ten.
Now I have another cat (Lucille) and I’ve learned that keeping cats alive is relatively easy. In my personal experience it is easier than plants. You give them food and a little box for poo and everything’s pretty chill.
But one day it won’t be. Someday Lucille will get feline pneumonia or feline Alzheimer’s and someone will recommend that I put her to sleep. That I end her suffering, or some other euphemism.
Like an embarrassing memory of calling your teacher “mom,” I dwell on this moment, this decision. Whether or not I’ll be able to make it. Whether or not I’ll want to be there when it happens. It will hurt so much to see this tiny stupid thing who has brought me so much love and joy pass away. Die. But she has done so much for me that I feel like I owe it to her to be there. But she doesn’t know she’s done so much for me, so do I?She doesn’t even know she’s going to die one day. She is a cat, so she doesn’t often grapple with existential crises. I have to grapple with them for her. I think about this decision and it makes me cry.
My cat is from Chicago, although I put her in a bag and moved her to Los Angeles almost two years ago. My cat is now better travelled than some of my relatives. One time I asked my mom if she thought Lucille missed Chicago. My mom said that she probably didn’t remember it at all. That made me cry, too. I’m less clear on why.
I think it’s because Chicago was so important to me that I want my cat to remember it too. This is very dumb. It’s not like we could talk about it. Our conversations are largely based on her requests for me to throw things. Also I remember Chicago. And that should be enough.
But then again, do I remember Chicago? “What’s the zip code associated with the card?” a seventeen-year-old cashier at Ann Taylor Loft asked me about a month ago. And I had to think. What was my zip code when I opened this card? How can I remember the way my dead imaginary cat flicked her tail rounding a corner and not remember five numbers?
I went to Chicago about a month before that. Walking down streets I used to see every day, I realized two things: that I am so at home here, and I can never go back. That even if I moved back it wouldn’t be the same. Lives have gone on, buildings have been torn down and built back up into unfamiliar and awkward shapes.
I felt the push of time and the rush of it moving forward and forward. I hate that time passes. I hate that I can never seem to enjoy it while it’s passing, I’m too busy worrying about steak burritos, and the day my cat’s life will end. If I’ll be able to make the decision, if I’ll be able to comfort her at all.
I have a cat, and one day I won’t.