When I was fourteen, I went to live with my father in Scotland for a month. He had been stationed there for some time, but this was my first trip to Europe. I was beyond excited to finally go to a country that I had romanticized since birth.
Being a moody fourteen year old that was prone to poetry and rambling walks, I often rose while the mist was still burning off of the lanes of the tiny village where we lived. I would walk down to the river, through a graveyard littered with historical signs boasting about the medieval round tower on the church. At the river, I had ducks for friends.
I was only visiting. I didn’t know a soul in town. And it was a small enough place that a month wasn’t nearly enough time to get to know anyone new. And so I would walk and visit with the ducks and watch the other people, as they walked their dogs and played with their children. It was lonely, but it was a very peaceful loneliness.
I have been thinking about that place a lot and wishing to visit it again, even though I suspect that it would not at all be the same to return there with the knowledge of an adult. But metaphorically, my heart is there because, unbelievably, I put my other cat to sleep two weeks ago.
No, not the one I just blogged about at the end of March. The one that survived her, my beloved, wonderful tabby Nevyn, who has been my constant friend for the last 20 years. Nevyn of the sweet and fearless personality, who was once held for ransom (I paid!) and prone to wandering into the arms of strangers and making them fall in love with him.
So here I am again, writing a post that I have no heart to write, because I don’t really know how to be an adult without him there in my life. I have never had to do it before. We have been together that long. Now, I dread walking into my house, particularly when no one is home. For the first time, the house has no life on the floorboards, no soft feet pattering around behind me.
No one cares about you like your cat does.
It has been hard. Perhaps it has been harder than it should be. It’s been two weeks since I took him to be put to sleep because it’s taken this long to be able to look at the pain of losing my cats with any kind of insight or eloquence. There’s a distance needed before words can form. I’m not sure I’m there yet, but it’s a little closer today than it was yesterday.
Although it is brutal to lose two animals so close together, it is comforting to know that they weren’t without each other for very long. They had been together for 18 years and I am certain that Nevyn felt all of the grief that I did when Morghan died. His illness – kidney disease – began to progress more rapidly. Suddenly, the cat that everyone exclaimed over as being unbelievably young for his age became an old man. He spent more and more time napping on the couch and lost most of his interest in going outside. He absolutely refused to stay upstairs, which is where Morghan had slept until her final illness made moving her closer to the litter box a necessity. When I carried him up the stairs, he immediately ran back down them, in a burst of energy that was becoming rarer and rarer.
I’ll never know if taking him to be put to sleep was what he wanted. I’m told that it was the right decision by everyone who saw him in those last few days, but I can’t help but agonize over it. The vet told me he might have had a few more weeks, if we tried to keep him going. I know they would have been lonely.
But I miss them both terribly. I know that there will be other pets in my life down the road, but right now it feels like I’ll never love again the way that I loved these two. In some ways, it is like a first heartbreak, before experience makes you put your guard up the next time you fall in love. You can never again not know how much loss hurts. They weren’t the first cats that I’ve lost to time, but they are the first cats that I raised myself. I paid the bill when Morghan was spayed. I took them every year for shots and check-ups. I worried for them when they were sick and I held them when they needed to be held. And now they’re somewhere else, in a place where I cannot hold them any more. I cannot protect them, which was my job for so long. It feels like failure.
All I can do for them now is remember them. I brought them both home and put them in our front yard, wrapped in blankets and lying side by side under the Japanese maple, just as they were always doing for all of those years that we were all together.
Now they return to the earth. And, somehow, the rest of us go on, drinking coffee and walking to the train, sitting in the office and doing what we always did for all of those years. Squirrels run up and down their tree, looking for lost nuts in the mulch that covers their graves. Songbirds — cardinals and robins and sparrows and starlings – fill the air in the garden over their bodies. And I walk past the final resting place of my kids each morning as I emerge again out into the world.