Friday, February 1, 2013

For Mitten

I'm sitting in the small community college library. I've been reading the latest issue of Good Housekeeping and Southern Living. The entire issues mind you. I can't tell you the last time I've done that. Just sit down in a quiet space with magazine and read it cover to cover. No worries, no work... just the quiet hum of the air conditioning and the occasional ring of someone's cell phone (despite the mute-it sign.) It's peaceful here and I've needed these quiet hours for weeks. Weeks. Libraries are in many ways my "church", my safe place... I seek them out constantly even though I work at one. I accompanied my husband to his work this afternoon to spend a few hours near him. We needed to be close.

The past 24 hours have been a blur. Really though, the past 6 weeks, 6 months have been a blur. Michael and I are happily married with no children, but we love our furr-kids. I don't desire children like many women my age do. I've struggled with that for much of my adult life, people seem to find it very wrong for an adult woman not to want children. Don't get me wrong, I love kids. I love YOUR kids. I love kids that I get to give back! I love being an aunt and a neighbor who bakes cookies... but I don't have a desire for my own 24/7 kids. So my kitties? They truly are in many ways our "kids." We have had four cats all uniquely special and we have a tight bond with each of them. They are all rescues. I don't believe in buying pets (even hamsters! Check out your local rescue organization, they nearly ALWAYS have small "pocket" pets that need good homes!) and I love animals so much I've bordered on being a vegetarian/vegan the past several years. I can't bear to see them hurting or hungry.

Six months ago I shared about the scare we had with Mitten. My first furr-kid as an adult. I was a year out of college and living with my sweet friend Betty (you've seen her recipes around these parts) and I was getting ready to move into my very own first "apartment." It was a small (maybe 400 square foot) renovated part of a home. It was tiny, but it was mine! And Mitten came along with me. He was only 3 weeks old when I adopted him from a family who's "something + Persian" cat had just had a litter of kittens. I only went to look, but the lady's sister immediately came to the front porch with two kittens in her hands and just said "which one do you want?" Flustered, I just grabbed the one with longer hair and held him. He nuzzled my hand and sat quietly on my palm. He was tiny. I had had NO intention of taking a cat home. I hadn't officially moved into the new apartment yet and Betty didn't want any more pets. But the next thing I knew, I was sitting in my car with this flea-covered long, haired white kitten sitting in the brand-new cat carrier I had bought for the FUTURE cat in my FUTURE apartment.

I remember sitting in that car looking at him and panicking... what the heck was I going to do with this cat? He just sat quietly in the carrier looking at me contentedly. I was sitting in the parking lot of the Piggly Wiggly in a tiny little town called Elm City, a few miles away from Wilson, where Michael's family lived... I called Michael's mom and told her I didn't know what to do. I was too scared to tell Betty I was bringing home a cat, but I had to do something with him.

She told me to come over and we'd figure it out from there. So I drove to Michael's parents house. We took him to the bathroom first thing and washed him with Dawn, no less than 3 times to get all the fleas off and then took him into the kitchen. Carol (Michael's mom) was weary that SHE would end up having to take care of this rascal, as I had tried and failed to take care of a hamster, which Michael wouldn't let me donate to an elementary school. Instead he took the hamster named Sunny, tamed it, and he lived happily for 3 years on their dining room buffet.

After talking with Carol, I called Betty and asked her to meet me in Wilson at a Chinese restaurant for dinner. I drove over and when I saw Betty in the parking lot I asked her to come see my car. I showed her the cat and with a wry smile she said, "Well I guess you have to bring him home..." Crisis averted. I still had a month with Betty before I was going to move into the apartment.

So "Mitten" came home with me. I don't even remember how or why I named him Mitten... it just seemed appropriate for some reason. And after that, all of our future cats had names that started with an "M." Betty named all her animals with an "S." So I followed her tradition.

The first night Mitten was there I put him in the bathroom. Immediately he started howling. I thought he would stop after a few minutes, but he didn't. After 10 or 15 minutes I decided Betty was not going to be a happy camper if she had no sleep that night, so I moved the cat, the litter box, and his food and water to my room. A few minutes later, I heard him clawing his way up into my bed and the next thing I knew he was curled up next to my face on the pillow. He fell asleep in minutes. And that's where Mitten slept until I got married. Either on the pillow or right next to me. Every night. He would nuzzle into my back, or in my hair, he would squeeze my arm in a hug with his paws, purring gently, and fall asleep.

Mitten was with me through countless "firsts" as an adult. First pet. First big expense (hello vet bills and cat food!), first companion in my first apartment. When he was little he loved riding in the car, he would walk on a cat leash, and he managed to squeeze himself into the smallest possible places and get stuck. We "rescued" him from behind a washer and dryer (at least twice), from the top of the refrigerator too many times to count, from behind a bathroom WALL (that's a whole 'nother story in itself!), from being lodged shut in a drink cooler, and who knows how many other places.

Mitten was also deaf. We didn't realize this for about a month. I just thought he was insanely stubborn. I could say NO until I was blue in the face and he went right on doing whatever he wasn't supposed to be doing. I could shout it. I could sing it... nothing worked. Clapping didn't work, shouting didn't work, NO didn't work... and one day it finally dawned on me that he couldn't hear me. I took him to the vet and they confirmed it. We had a deaf cat. Which immediately meant he was even more special. I had a special-needs cat.

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Over time we developed a kind of sign language. He learned a flat "stop-sign" palm and a hard stomp meant NO. We learned to step into a room and lightly tap the floor, so it would send vibrations for Mitten to feel so wouldn't be startled when he woke up. We learned to talk to him when he was laying on our bellies or on our chests, he would start purring as soon as you started to talk to him. If we patted our chest with our hand, he learned that meant it was okay to come up into our laps. Mitten was a true "lap-cat."

Mitten was one of the most non-aggressive cats I've ever known. He didn't have a "mean" bone in his body and when our other cats joined our family through the years, he always welcomed them. He was the first to sniff and welcome without being afraid or mad. The other cats are a different story! If he ever got mad about being brushed (he hated being brushed!) or being snuggled too long, he was over it in about five minutes and was purring and back for more. Some cats can hold a grudge... we have two in particular who are very good at this... but Mitten never did.

Mitten loved to snuggle. You could hold him in nearly any position, and he didn't care.  He would just sit there and purr. He would nuzzle, grab you hand, and squeeze with his paws until they shook. It was his was of saying "I love you." He loved a paper bag. He would push it over and crawl inside, and then try to dig his way out the bottom. He didn't know (or care) how loud it was, but he loved it. He loved to sleep in tiny boxes. We caught him sleeping in a casserole dish on the counter once. When he was younger, he would climb anything he could. He ended up on top of the kitchen cabinets, up on a shelf in a closet. We never could figure out exactly how he did it. He could sit and look up at something, and you could tell he was planning out a way to get to the top of it. He loved to look out the window.  If the blinds were closed, he'd stick his head in between them. Once he figured out that this wasn't allowed, he learned to tap on them to tell us to open them. He liked to play with flashlight spots and lasers. He was shy around strangers, but he loved Michael's parents. He was full of joy.

So six months ago, Mitten had a major scare. We came home one day to find his nose and ears blue and he couldn't breathe. It sounded like he had fluid in his lungs. Turns out he did. But got through it. He was okay... for a while. Over the following six months, we had at least 3 visits to the local Emergency Vet for related medical issues and slowly Mitten's health continued to decline. A few weeks ago we realized that his remaining time with us was probably short.

What do we do? When do we decide? DO we have a right to decide "for" him. It was a continuous struggle. It caused many an argument and a frustration over vet visit after vet visit. Over daily medications that just didn't seem to work, over a poor cat who wasn't the same cat he was a year ago. It had probably been a year since he was seriously interested in playing. He slept a lot more. He didn't volunteer to jump up onto the bed or chairs as he once did so easily. We played much of it off... we teased him and called him the "grumpy old man." But in my heart I was afraid he wouldn't be around much longer.

But finally, on Wednesday January 30th the night had come. He was showing signs of increasing pain and a true struggle to breathe, he no longer had the energy to into the litter box (this poor boy NEVER had litter box issues, he seriously was the most well-behaved, down-to-earth, low maintenance cat ever) and we both knew it was time.

I won't go into the hard details of last night. It's too hard to write at this point. But our boy gently moved onto a pain-free life in Heaven. I miss him more than words can describe. I always will. I know that "time" generally does heal, the sun will keep on setting and rising as always, and that life will get easier.

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Right at this moment though... I'd do just about anything for one more of those white-pawed arm squeezes from my beloved friend.

It was an absolute joy and honor to be your human parents my sweet boy. We love you Mitten. We always will.

-- Michael co-wrote this post with me. 

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