When I lost Ninja this week, I realized that the worst thing I could do would be to wander away from my writing – whatever form that may take.
So far, the thought of getting back to the page has been a comfort, a scaffold around which to rebuild “normal” life. It’s a comforting, healing act.
Ninja had been sick since the summer. I didn’t know exactly what was causing Ninja’s high blood pressure and kidney problems until Halloween, when she stopped eating and began hanging out in a laundry basket in the closet. She was never a box or basket cat. Our new vet rolled in the sonogram and the ultrasound revealed what we were all dreading: polycystic kidney disease, stage four kidney failure. It explained the bulging out of both kidneys: her kidneys were full of cysts. It explained the toxins in her blood. It explained her gradual wasting away. November 2014, Ninja weighed 14 pounds – slightly overweight for a cat of her bone structure. By the time she died, she was easily 7 pounds. In retrospect, I’m glad for that extra padding – it very likely bought her extra time. Aside from keeping her comfortable, there was nothing else we could do. PKD is a genetic condition and incurable. Most likely, Ninja was born with those things inside her.
Since Halloween, knowing what we were up against, I began giving her subcutaneous fluids (a needle under the skin) and anti-nausea medicine. And she had a good five weeks. Ninja was a forgiving cat. She didn’t like the needle going in (who would?) but she never bit me in retaliation. She’d wiggle away and migrate to another of her comfy spots in the apartment. I crushed her pills into unsalted butter, which she loved, and I fed her chicken, her favorite food. Friends asked me if she was in pain, but if anything she was tired from the nausea and the dehydration.
She was happy. She didn’t know what was happening. I’d check on her – looking through the doorway – and she’d offer me tell-tale, contented blinks. A slow-blinking cat is a happy cat. I took to translating those blinks into phrases such as, “I’m fine, thanks for asking”; “Thanks for the chicken, mom”; “I love you, Jillian”; “I forgive you for pinching me with that needle.”
In the last days, she was a skinny creature and had become too weak to climb her kitty tower and sit on top of the bookcase. She no longer jumped onto my bed. She did still manage to climb into the bathtub, one of her favorite spots. Her primary spot was a pile of blankets in front of the radiator, smeared with butter from my attempts to get her to take her medicine. On Thanksgiving, after our turkey feast, I curled up in a blanket, and she sat with me. We listened to the next door neighbor singing and playing her ukulele. A week later, she stopped eating for the last time. She stopped grooming herself, too. She had not meowed in days.
It took me a few days to get the message. I had it in my head that she had a least a few months to go. Maybe she needed more blood pressure meds. Maybe I needed to give her more sub-q fluids. But no. It took a community of friends to ease me toward the inevitable conclusion that it was over. Ninja was telling me “I’m done. I’m tired.”
Her last day was peaceful. She was tired, but not in pain. She was kneading on her pile of blankets, as happy cats do. She had a cozy ride in my lap. She went quickly and sweetly, while a friend and I cried for her. The veterinarian assured me that I’d done the right thing. Her kidneys were done – a terrible fate for an 8 year old cat.
She is buried where I grew up, in the backyard which was the backdrop of so many childhood games. She rests beside Jesse-cat, who died in 2003 at the ripe old age of 21. She is in good company.
Buoyed by prayers and messages from friends, I’ve made it to Friday. It’s oddly quiet at home. I feel strange talking to myself. I rearranged the furniture now that the cat tower is in the basement and out of sight, and like it better. I’ve cleaned and scrubbed the apartment. I found a dozen rubberbands and hair-ties hiding under the trunk I use for a coffee table. I’ll be finding drifts of her fur in hard-to-reach places for a while. It’s on the shower curtain – she used to walk between the liner and the curtain while I was in the shower. I think of her antics as a younger cat and find comfort in the memories. I know deep down that there will be another little feline living here some day.
I remember a cat who lived a wonderful life. When I moved into a house with roommates five and a half years ago, she chose me as her special person. She performed gravity defying feats: leaping from the dishwasher onto the top of the refrigerator, anchoring herself by the claws and hanging upside down from chairs in the kitchen, sneaking onto the counters when we weren’t looking, tossing her toy mice in the air with her back feet and rushing to catch it. She would leap onto my bed, rubbing against me sweetly to lull me into a false sense of security and then chomp down on my arm. She had a dark sense of humor.
She loved the dark labyrinth of the basement. The neighbors would see her in the window, watching the world. She had no front claws but she was an excellent mouser. She brought a mouse up from the basement, passed my roommate who was in the living room, to my bedroom. I had to crawl under the hide-a-bed to rescue it.
She’d wait excitedly in front of the door as I came home, calling my name in her cat language. She’d race me upstairs to my bedroom, her tail crooked at the end.
Five years ago, a dear friend sent me the poem Pangur Ban, written by a 9th century Irish monk about his cat. It sounded like the adventures I was having with my new-found friend, Ninja. I share it here with fondness for my Bangur Ban.
I and Pangur Ban my cat,
‘Tis a like task we are at:
Hunting mice is his delight,
Hunting words I sit all night.
Better far than praise of men
‘Tis to sit with book and pen;
Pangur bears me no ill will,
He too plies his simple skill.
‘Tis a merry thing to see
At our tasks how glad are we,
When at home we sit and find
Entertainment to our mind.
Oftentimes a mouse will stray
In the hero Pangur’s way;
Oftentimes my keen thought set
Takes a meaning in its net.
‘Gainst the wall he sets his eye
Full and fierce and sharp and sly;
‘Gainst the wall of knowledge I
All my little wisdom try.
When a mouse darts from its den
O how glad is Pangur then!
O what gladness do I prove
When I solve the doubts I love!
So in peace our tasks we ply,
Pangur Ban, my cat and I;
In our arts we find our bliss,
I have mine and he has his.
Practice every day has made
Pangur perfect in his trade;
I get wisdom day and night
Turning darkness into light.