Mourning the loss of a beloved cat

by Amy Kingsley

A little more than two days ago, my boyfriend’s cherished cat Chester “stepped on a rainbow,” to use the favored euphemism of Texas troubadour/novelist/Texas gubernatorial candidate/cat lover Kinky Friedman. Mark took him to the vet on Saturday morning before he opened the bookstore where he works, hoping for a positive prognosis. He called me with the bad news about a half hour later. I drove to the veterinarian’s to say my goodbyes, and our other roommate Noah followed a few minutes later.

Things haven’t been the same around our house since.

Mark met Chester when he was living in a house about a block away from our current domicile. He was reading on his porch when this friendly gray tabby jumped into his lap, gazed up with those golden slits and started purring like a hemi. The cat, which belonged to an indifferent family down the street, visited frequently over the next couple of months and eventually took up unofficial residence at the house where Mark lived with his roommates.

The family, when they finally noticed the cat’s absence, offered him to Mark with a shrug. He wasn’t neutered, vaccinated or inoculated against fleas.

Animals like Chester gravitate toward the people they know will give them what they need. In Chester’s case, Mark offered the cat – who had textbook feline proclivities – food, shelter, care, freedom when he needed it and affection when tired.

There is a quote by writer Irving Townsend often offered as balm for the mourning pet owner: “We who choose to surround ourselves with lives even more temporary than our own, live within a fragile circle, easily and often breached. Unable to accept its awful gaps, we still would live no other way. We cherish memory as the only certain immortality, never fully understanding the necessary plan.”

As it turns out I need a little of that balm myself. I remember the first time I met Chester more clearly than my first glimpse of his owner. It was New Year’s Eve 2004, several weeks before Mark and I started dating, during a party at the famous Corndale house where Mark had moved after adopting the cat from Glenwood. This handsome tabby cat lounging under the table glanced at me with yellow eyes, a feline magnet bending the cat lover in me like soft iron. As is his wont, he scrambled purring onto my lap and rubbed his teeth against my jaw. It was love at first sight.

Chester barely lived at Corndale. It’s more accurate to say he made appearances. Often when I came by after sundown, Chester materialized from wherever he had been, meowing until I picked him up and carried him inside.

His roaming stopped when Chester and Mark moved in with me, my cat Che and roommate Noah. Since April, Chester had settled into the lazy routine of the domesticated cat, often interrupting his boredom with early morning attacks on feet, legs or any other part of the lounging body.

Unfortunately, Chester – with his naturally gregarious personality – did not hit it off as well with my surly and territorial (but strangely lovable) cat as he did with all the humans in the house. But he seemed happy, as the two moved about the house buffered by personal demilitarized zones roughly three feet in diameter. We spent many an evening together, with Chester sprawled across both of our laps and Che hunched vigilantly at the end of the couch.

It was sometime in July when we started noticing the problems Chester was having using the litter box, common to cats with urinary tract disorders. He fell ill and we took him to the vet. Her diagnosis the first time around was bacterial infection, and we treated him with two weeks of antibiotics he fought taking tooth and nail.

He got better, pulled out of his funk, and resumed attacking everything around the house that wasn’t Che. Both Mark and I had read about cats with chronic urinary tract disorders, but we were sure Chester’s first had been a fluke, something we could avoid in the future with a little more vigilance on the litter-cleaning front.

Last Friday, as I left for work, I noticed Chester straining mightily. Since the end of his antibiotics, I’d seen him struggling off and on, but he appeared healthy more often than not and I figured he’d be fine by the evening. He bolted into the basement and stayed there all day.

When I returned home, he sat at the top basement step and growled when I tried to move him. I called Mark, who was returning home from an out-of-town business trip, frantically an hour later when Chester crashed on the floor of our pantry moaning and growling.

By the time Mark got home, Chester had moved from the pantry to the darkest corner of a kitchen cabinet. When Mark beckoned, he stretched and slowly ambled out onto the tile floor, then onto Mark’s lap where, two-and-a-half years ago, Chester decided they needed each other.

As it turns out, Chester needed one more thing from Mark. After a couple years of companionship, Chester needed Mark to help him relieve the pain.

Cats don’t ask a lot of us, just breakfast every morning, preferably no later than 8 a.m., and the compassion to allow a breach every so often in our fragile circle. In exchange they provide grace, companionship, love and amusement.

Mark sang to Chester while they waited for the end. Yesterday, unable to get the made-up tune out of his head, he moved Chester’s bowl from its old spot on the desk to a high closet shelf.

I hope there will be a time when the breach’s jagged edges have healed, and Mark sees fit to allow another pet to enter his orbit. Until then, we’re both giving Che some extra love and hoping to hold the circle a little longer.

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