This is one of those rare posts where I talk about something personal. Not about the tram, Continuum, local politics, events, oddities or whatever has so far propelled this blog to a rather worrying amount of reads.
I have done this before: when I recently got married the elation of the event, with the community love we received, made it impossible not to set it down. As anybody who knows me will attest, I have a condition that is a form of ADHD: I don’t concentrate on anything well, unless I find it fascinating: thus, my focus is a butterfly, flitting from subject to subject, everything a distraction I have to be excited about.
It’s great for running all things Beestonia, but crap when I have to do stuff structurally, such as invoice people on time or tell my long-suffering designer on the magazine what we are doing this month. My garden is testament to that. A riot of weird flowers that have sprang up since I mixed together several packets together and sewed them willy-nilly. Careful planting, potting, arranging in rows never happens with me. I get distracted by a passing ladybird, or some other fascination. Random sowing ensues.
My head swirls. Writing is the only way I can grab those thoughts and structure them. When something great happens, I can only work it out by grasping a butterfly net and pinning those dashing, chaotic thoughts to the page. When something awful happens, likewise, but with greater need.
Two weeks ago, one of my cats died, hit by a train. We didn’t find her body ourselves: the council did, microchipped, she was easily identified. My wife came home from work, floods of tears. Tess was the runt of the litter, with a tiny physique and a lazy eye. I didn’t intend her to be my pet, I had selected her larger, more confident sister, Leila. I only set out to get one cat. Yet as I lifted Leila into the carry case, Tess tried to climb in. I picked her up and moved her away, and was about to leave when she made another forlorn attempt to follow her sister, losing her fluffy footing and rolling away from the carry case with a pitiful pathetic ‘marrrrrmmm’.
‘Is that a she?’ I asked the kitten-seller
She picked up the tiny desperado, and checked ‘Yes, yes she is’
‘Is she available?’
‘Oh yes, very much so’.
I left with 100% more feline than I intended.
It was one of the best decisions of my life. Being together settled them into life with us more readily; they played together, ate together; and would curl up next too each other when they wore themselves out. It was quite blissful: my wife, our house, our little cats. They won over all that met them, both strutting up to visitors, checking them out, and consenting to ear rubs in return for a scent marking. They were much loved from the off.
Leila was lost when Tess died. She would check out all the places Tess would hide. She’d wait before eating for Tess to arrive, before giving a bemused look at me and tucking in alone. Although small, Tess had always been the hunter, the bruiser, the climber: Leila now ventured out with a bristly trepidation.
This morning, our neighbour, Rob, came round, upset. He’d found Leila in one of favourite places, a shelf in his greenhouse, in a very bad way. Ellie, my wife, ran upstairs where I was just waking up ‘Got to go to the vet. Leila has been in a fight, and has a serious gash on her leg’. I jumped out of bed, dressed and headed to Rob’s. Ellie phoned the vet. Rob was in tears. The kits had been his favourites too, and they’d stop off to say hello daily, sometimes even sleeping in his house. You never truly own cats, you just become an admire they consent to grace with their presence. Rob, along with my wife and I, and no doubt several others on the small crescent we live on, enjoyed that privilege.
Leila was a lot worse than I’d expected. Whatever had happened to her, this was no scratch, deep, wide or otherwise. Both back legs were effectively destroyed. Her eyes were terrified: Rob had carried her from the greenhouse to his car, and she was confused and meowing pleadingly, occasionally slipping into panic. I wrapped her favourite blanket round her, lay her in her carrier and we sped to the vets on Wollaton Road. I sat in the back. Leila had been my little familiar: since Tess had died she’d been increasingly clingy to me, sitting on my shoulders, following me, daily waking me up with an impatient head-bump and mew. I stroked her ears and chin, she stared at me, her eyes lacking the clarity cats have as a given.
The prognosis was bad. One leg damaged, a cat could have a reasonable, if massively compromised life. Two legs gone: and the vet confirmed they were most definitively gone, then there was only one humane thing to do.
Ellie and Rob left the room, I stayed. As the vet prepared the consent papers, I stroked my dying pet and comforted her. A paw was shaved, the syringe inserted and drew blood with the chemical that was then shot back into to stop her tiny heart. Her eyes closed and her head fell into my palm. I rested it on the blanket.
‘Only a cat’, I know. I shy from mawkishness, from overwrought emotion, of false grief that masks a deeper vanity. I have met people this year who have lost children, spouses, lifelong friends. In no way do I think this compares to that. My gran lost three kids, all young. Nothing compares to that loss.
Yet as humans we only live through definition of our relationships: all else is mere existence. Those two cats were little innocent, reckless spirits. My wife and I, like every pet-owner in the land, would never truly understand them, never truly feel that deep empathy one can have with other humans, but it was every bit real in breadth if not in depth. We fashion a working, amusing compromise with our animal companions, one that has real magic in those shaded areas of the animal mind/human mind Venn diagram.
I cannot thank the kind words people have sent to us over the last few hours: whenever I have offered condolence I feel a shade glib in it’s very inadequacy: but no, never feel that, they helped, my gratitude. Yellow roses arrived from my good friend and colleague Tamar. They stand in a vase right now, resplendently drinking in sun with an absurd butter glow.
I walk to the garden, the semi-tamed jungle my mini-panthers loved to prowl in. The accidental plants that I apparently sowed a few months back hum and buzz with life, tiny wasps, bees, damsel and dragon flies agog with the scented nectar bounty. Life teems, indifferent and endless.