Thursday, June 2, 2011

G is for Goodbye, Willie

G is for Goodbye, Willie.

I am writing this while sitting at the ASPCA, waiting for our number to come up, to walk through those steel doors, to put my 88 year-old mother's 19 year-old cat to "sleep."

How I hate that euphemism. (Plus, remind me NEVER to use this expression around the boys or they may never sleep again.) But to say "death" is still just too harsh. And "down"? Too ambiguous. But maybe that's best.

The technical term "to be euthanized"? Too many shivers down my spine, images of Hitler's death wagons coming for people like my son to let that word trip off my tongue lightly.

But really, all this theorizing about language is the distractor isn't it? To keep me from thinking too much about the next few minutes; about walking Willie through that door.

Because I have already asked for the box of Kleenex, dripping snotty tears all over the poor reception clerk's desk as I filled out the forms that will make this come to pass, today.

Mom & Willie, June 1, 2011
I am writing this sitting in a hard wooden chair in a small room, redolent of bleach, with a raised steel table at the center. Lovely photographs of wild animals hang on the walls, I'm sure meant to soothe; to establish that this place is all about the animals.

But really, don't you think it's kind of cruel in this place emblematic of our ultimate control over our domestic pets' lives to taunt them with images from their ancestral memory, when their great, great (to the hundredth power) grandmothers were once wild and free?

I see owls and does, wolves and tigers all around me.

And this one little tiger, William "Tyger" Blake, alternately panting and wild eyed or serenely resigned and calm, waiting, contained, in the carrier beside me.

And in spite of the many pounds lost, the ravages of old age and kidney disease upon his once solid frame, his ribs countable, his fur clumped and patchy, he is still rubbing his large, now quite angular head against the fingers I snake through the bars of his cage to offer what little comfort I may in this strange place that smells of dogs and fear.

The veterinarian and technician finally enter the room, are lovely young women, kind and clearly compassionate. They reassure, tell me we're doing the right thing; rattle off the ways Willie's body is failing him, confirm he is on the brink of heavy suffering and that this is the just right time to do this, when the scales of pleasure and pain in his life are about to tip straight down into nightmare.

"You have loved him much, and are saving him needless suffering," they say.  And: "It's truly time."

And so, it was time.

An anesthetic held his body still while I pet him one last time, recalled to the gentle vet how handsome Willie was in his glory, the now matted fur sleek and full, the most glorious bushy tail I'd ever seen on a cat held regal and high.

I kissed the top of his head one last goodbye, waited for her to push the plunger with the final, heart stopping drug...

And then?

My damn cellphone rang.

Caretaker of so many, I had to glance over, and then, holding up my hand, requested a halt for a moment. It was the the driver of my autistic son Jacob's school bus. It seems the bus had broken down in the extreme heat and humidity while still downtown, miles from my home.

(People? You just can't make this shit up. It would be way too cliche: the phone ringing as the vet pulls back the plunger, just like in all those death row movies, the governor calling at the zero hour with a stay of execution.

But this is my real life. And there's a reason I called my blog "The Squashed Bologna": I am the meat flattened in the middle of the sandwich. I honestly earn my bloggy nickname and Twitter handle "SquashedMom" nearly every day.)

It was hard to get the details clear from Jake's driver. She's a lovely woman but with a thick Spanish accent, much more understandable in person than through the filter of cell to cell telephony. While we worked out the plan to get him picked up, the vet was growing impatient, worried the sedative was wearing off and Willie would begin to stir.

So I hung up on the bus driver, crossed my fingers that she had understood my intent to send a babysitter to get Jake rather than wait the possibly two hours it will take the bus company to get a new bus into position, and jumped back to the steel table of death.

And then? Quickly, so quickly, it is done. One last kiss, one last tear dripped upon his still warm but now lifeless body. The vet picked him up, cradled him lovingly as she carried him from the room.

And out I went, to wheel an empty carrier home to my mother in the sweltering heat. To tell my mother it is over. To take her to her doctor's appointment, the follow-up from last week's hospitalization, where we will at last have good news. And during which my missing-me son and my currently-in-Milan husband will call my cell phone simultaneously while the doctor is still talking to me.

Squashed. Always.

Willie was a vastly handsome, but an aloof, cat-like cat. He interacted with humans on his terms only, choosing to sit upon a lap or not according to his own arcane rules or whims. This earned him the affectionate sobriquet 'Willie, you mamzer" from my Mother.

But since my father's passing last March? Willie has stepped up to the plate, kept on knocking them out of the ballpark. He talked to Mom all day long, sat near and on her constantly, slept on Dad's side of the bed beside her, a smaller weight for sure, but comfort, nonetheless.

Now gone.

Willie's small furry absence will ring loudly, echoing the much larger one that looms over all, in my mother's life. His ashes, once claimed, will sit in their own little box, next to my father's, on their bookcase shelf.

My mother misses my father fiercely, still, every day in every way. They had a true partnership, a deep friendship; were mates, through and through. (We should all be so lucky.)

Now gone.

But never forgotten.

Someday soon I will walk into my mother's apartment bearing a sweet orange tiger, someone's beloved kitty that they just could not keep.  They will regard each other warily for a few minutes, then a head will be stroked, a paw extended, a lap occupied; purring will begin.

Embers will beget sparks, and the flames of love will start to dance anew in hearts once bereft and sundered.

Goodbye, Willie. You were a good cat, much beloved. You will be deeply missed. Rest in peace (and catnip).  

This post has been inspired by and linked up to Jenny Matlock's Alphabe-Thursday writing meme. I believe that G is also for Gah! Get me through this week! (Holding my breath to see what ripe new disaster is headed our way.)

I'm also linking this post up to Shell's Pour Your Heart Out linky at Things I Can't Say

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