When I heard the scramble in the dining room, I recognized it as a mouse attack and figured Lance was at it again, trying to play keep away with his mouse, but it turned out to be Triscuit with a bit of mouse leg and tail sticking out of his mouth. Despite problems with diabetes and inflammatory bowel disease (two problems whose standard treatments conflict with one another), Triscuit seemed the happiest and healthiest he’d been in a year or more. Only later did we figure out that our cat had a bucket list.
Item One: Catch a mouse. Check.
Nothing about this cat should have been surprising if we thought about it. There had always been the sense of something beyond coincidence from the moment we met, the moment a kitten made me wonder about things like synchronicity, destiny and reincarnation.
We were going to visit some friends late one evening when this tawny fluffball rushed across the street bounding side to side the way young animals do when especially excited. His body language seemed to shout, “Where you been? I’ve been waiting for ages.” It was like meeting an old friend after years apart. Maybe we weren’t imagining it.
Ginny reached down to pet him and discovered that his tail had gotten in the way of some unhappy bowels. “Eww.” The kitten who would become Triscuit licked himself once, looked up with his tongue out and clearly echoed the sentiment. I borrowed papertowels from our friends to take care of the unfortunate tail, and we went inside figuring that in this residential neighborhood the kitten’s home was not far away.
When we came out a few hours later, around midnight, there was a chill in the air and a kitten on the stoop. That suggested a homeless cat. It should have also told us just how patient, more precisely how stubborn, this creature could be. I picked him up, and he quickly moved up to my shoulder where he began kneading against my head, nursing on my hair, and purring in my ear. The matter was settled.
The next day, our vet told us we’d been conned. That nursing on hair routine is something that Siamese breeds tend to do. Triscuit soon proved her right, and as a kitten he took almost every opportunity to snuggle close to an ear, knead and purr. Since those claws could sometimes slip through my hair, and since this stubborn cat could keep this up for a long time, I pretty much broke him of the habit with me, and he concentrated on Ginny. Silly me.
Item Two: Spend Some Quality Time With the Folks
During the two months before he died, I would have said Triscuit was feeling better than he had at any time in the last two years. When he was on the back of the couch where he could get petted by anyone passing, each stroke resulted in a broad stretch of a paw. When he was lying on the floor, he would fairly often do a full-body stretch, smooth and easily, then role onto his back with his front paws tucked against his chest in the position we called “baby seal” (also known as,”Isn’t someone going to rub my belly?”). He even played a bit with a string once or twice, which had become quite rare.
His frequent visits when I was at the computer became almost constant. He would sit beside the monitor fairly quietly until he just had to get petted. Then, he would shove his head under my hand, typing be damned, and usually manage to step on the keyboard. He was especially good at deleting e-mails, and he sometimes made the screen change in ways I’ve never duplicated.
Anytime I was horizontal, bed or couch, he was there, starting on my chest, kneading against my neck, always managing to pull down any cloth I used to protect myself from those refined points of his. Soon, he would move to a spot on the pillow beside my head and begin to knead there while purring in my ear just as he had as a kitten. I didn’t know how short our time was, but I wasn’t going to try breaking him of the habit again. Whatever else I was supposed to do, except feed the cats, could wait.
This sweet oasis made no sense medically. He wasn’t eating right, but that wasn’t really a new thing. We went through that for various reasons every few weeks. Sure, we were going to have to go in for some tests soon just for the usual checks, but he was clearly happy most of the time, so there was no sense of urgency. We had time to sort out this new eating pattern.
If we had taken him in a few weeks earlier, the treatments might have bought us a little extra time, but there would surely have been some discomforts to go with it. We would have gained time at the expense of quality. Worse than that, I think we would have been rejecting a gift as well as keeping Triscuit from finishing his list.
Item two. Check.
Item Three: Talk with Glyph About His New Responsibilities.
Perhaps the oddest parts in all this have been the changes in Glyph’s behavior, changes that could almost convince me that Triscuit had talked things over with the youngest family member to get him ready. In the weeks since Triscuit died, Glyph has taken on, with his own variations, a number of Triscuit’s habits. I can almost imagine the conversation.
“Listen, kid, you’re going to have some extra responsibilities around here soon. This guy takes a lot of watching. First, when he takes a shower, you’ve got to be there.”
“I haven’t a clue, but we’ve been doing it for years. Sergeant Major taught me, and I’m passing it along. With that much water, a lot of things could go wrong. Just be careful when he gets out. He drips.”
“Next, there’s the kitchen. When you hear the refrigerator open or plates clink, you’ve got a minute to be there rubbing his ankles.”
“But I don’t like people food. Well, except tuna.”
“Doesn’t matter. This one’s just to keep him paying attention. Also, don’t do it every time. It’s good to keep him confused. I’ve noticed you’ve got a talent for that.”
“The last thing is that computer. Don’t let him spend too much time staring at it without some distraction. Jump up on the desk beside the monitor, and make him pay attention to you. Every now and then, step on the keyboard and see what happens. Drives him nuts if you hit the right key, especially delete. Oh, and whenever you can, purr.”
Item Three: Check.
Item Four: Confound the Experts
Triscuit was never simple. He ate the specialized foods for different problems when that’s the food we put in his bowl, but he seemed to get whatever the food was supposed to prevent. When the diabetes and a kidney infection were first diagnosed, the numbers said he wouldn’t make it past a few days, but it took years for the numbers to catch him.
In those last two weeks, we had vets in three states working on the problem. For better or worse, the test numbers never seemed to go in the direction expected, and his physical appearance usually contradicted the tests. Everyone was sure there was some underlying problem, a lymphoma that the tests didn’t show, something that kept skewing expectations, but no one could figure out what or where, certainly not why it caused the peculiarities.
Item four: Check.
Item Five: Say Goodbye
At one point in his treatment, it looked like Triscuit had a chance. Test results looked better, and he was more aware of his surroundings, but there was always that underlying issue that the tests couldn’t seem to find, probably lymphoma. However, when we went to see him that Thursday afternoon, we knew we were getting close to the decision we didn’t want to make, maybe a day or two.
He was good enough to go off the IV for a while so he could curl on Ginny’s lap, nestling his head near, then on, her arm just enough to show that he knew we were there, knew and was happy about it. I’m not sure who was consoling whom. He was also starting to show discomfort, not from the medical treatment but from the sickness itself. Before we left, we switched orders to put him on the “do not resuscitate” list. It was the only fair way if something happened, but we expected a declining point when we would have to intervene.
We had only been home a few hours when the call came. “Triscuit just stopped breathing.” Somehow, the expected still comes as a surprise. You hear stories about people holding on for some special event and then going quickly afterwards. Those who study the statistics claim it isn’t true, but I’m not convinced. I really think that our visit was his release. Just because he couldn’t speak our language doesn’t mean he couldn’t say goodbye.
Item five: Check. I guess his list was complete even if ours still had years of things we had hoped to check off with him.
Most of life still puzzles me, so I’m not ready to make many claims about what happens next, who we may meet, when, or where. I like to think we’ll have more time. He might look completely different, or maybe, just maybe, a tiny, tawny ball of fluff will come bounding up saying, “Where you been? I’ve been waiting for ages.”