James Bailey header image 1

Farewell to a great friend

June 20th, 2011 · No Comments · Blog

Beavis

Beavis

Beavis is dying. I know it and she knows it. I lie to myself and give her a two percent chance of beating this, of somehow getting up and walking across the room again. She embraces it, understands that her time has come.

She’s 17 and has lived with diabetes for six years. Twice daily injections of insulin have kept her glucose levels in check. Never has she fussed once about getting these shots. The perfect patient. She’s never liked getting her blood glucose checked, though, and as she’s been so stable for so long I haven’t bothered pricking her ears in forever. So long I forgot how to use the meter.

On Tuesday, she destroys our dining room with a tornado of every bodily waste a cat can muster. The urine won’t come completely out of the carpet, which has been slated for replacement “some day.” That doesn’t really matter somehow. I take her in to the vet and her blood sugar is dangerously low. So low the meter reads simply “LO,” as in off the charts, no-number-can-do-it-justice low. The doctor gives her some fluids and a dextrose solution, then gives her an antibiotic, guessing maybe a bladder infection triggered this.

At home, she rallies. She eats some dinner and stretches out on her favorite blanket to sleep. At a quarter past midnight I wake up to the sound of her retching and rush downstairs, fearful that the loss of food will kick off another precipitous drop in her readings. I coop her up in the bathroom on a heap of blankets, just in case, and sit with her for nearly two hours, starting the good-bye process. Finally I test her blood and shes up to 94, which would be a lovely number if only it would ever stay there instead of rocketing up and back.

She wasn’t my first choice, not that I can recall anything about the cat that I fancied over her back in November 1994, when my then-girlfriend and I went to the animal shelter in Chapel Hill. She champions Beavis—yet-unnamed, or possibly named something else, no one can say for certain, because the sign on her cage doesn’t explain how she came to be there—and I come around. By the time we can pick her up three days later I am beyond sold.

Painfully shy, she runs out of the room any time we stop petting her, hiding under the bed, which I literally have to move to pull her up and bring her back to play. I come home from work most afternoons to find her crawling out of her hiding spot on the lower mattress of a trundle bed that serves as the couch in my one-bedroom apartment.

Beavis’s adopted mother and I plan to move in together, but the strain that places on an already weak relationship hastens the inevitable end. We break up long distance on Christmas Eve, which is awkward because not only is she the cat-sitter while I’m visiting my family, she’s my ride home from the airport. When she drops me home, the apartment has been emptied of her stuff, but I get to keep the cat.

The following October, Beavis and I move to Seattle. On her first and only airplane flight, she rides under the seat at my feet. We settle in and wait for our furniture, which won’t arrive for two weeks, sitting on borrowed chairs and sleeping on the floor. When I spread the morning classifieds out to search for work, she lies down and spreads her big frame out. “Don’t read, pet me,” she says. I take to decoying her with other parts of the paper and eventually find a job I hate.

Within two years I’m in discussions with my former employer back in North Carolina about moving back. When nothing materializes, I decide Beavis needs a friend and adopt a kitten I name Clifford. She hates him. For three days she does nothing but hiss and swat at this annoying little punk of a cat who won’t leave her alone. Finally she accepts him, taking to him like a mother, bathing him with her tongue. He rewards her kindness by swiping at her when he’s had enough, but she does it again the next day and the next and helps me bring him up.

The following summer the job comes through and we pull up stakes for N.C. No way am I going to try to fly with two cats, so instead we drive, through the heart of a hot, humid, 90-degree-plus America, in a car with no AC. Every night I set up a litter pan and let them out of their cage to terrorize me as I try to sleep. Five days later, we arrive, back at the same apartment complex Beavis and I lived in before we left.

Three years later, we’re on the road again, taking off half a day ahead of schedule in an attempt to beat a snowstorm up the East Coast, the cats and I in the car, our possessions in a U-Haul driven by my dad and a family friend. I smuggle the cats into the motel and we’re off again the next morning. We buy our first house and they love it. From early spring to late fall I leave a window from the living room to the enclosed front porch open and they climb out and spend the day in the sun, watching birds land on the feeder.

In September 2004, just after Beavis’s tenth birthday, I get married, making Jill a permanent member of the household. Beavis is more accepting than Clifford, who begins “spite pooping” on the floor near the litter box, a habit we never break him of, though he and Jill become friends in time. The following spring we move once more, to a much bigger house. The cats have never had so much room to roam.

That September, concerned over a fairly dramatic loss in her weight, I take Beavis in to see the vet. I’m outside shooting hoops in the driveway when Jill calls me to the phone. The diagnoses: diabetes. It’s very treatable, they say. Beavis nearly convinces me otherwise shortly after we begin on the insulin injections. I find her lying in the hall, too weak to move, staring up at me with glassy eyes. I decide it’s not worth torturing her and consider letting her go. Another trip to the doctor, but this time we leave encouraged and she begins to regain her strength and adds some of the weight back.

In November 2009, fifteen years after Beavis joined my “family,” Jill and I welcome a son. Beavis, who has ferreted out some creatively impenetrable hiding spots over the years to avoid virtually every child who has entered our home, doesn’t seem to mind this little guy, because he can’t move and is thus no threat. As he grows, she shows amazing patience, allowing him to pet her and even clutch at her long fur. She’s too slow to outrun him, so she accepts his attention gracefully. We teach him to be gentle with her and she never snaps at him.

Friday night, after my son goes to bed I sit with Beavis and try to get her to eat or drink some water. After seeming to recover the day before, she has slipped. She drags her right rear leg with her when she hobbles from one blanket to the next and won’t stand long enough to use the litter box. Friday night is my writing night, the one night all week I can stay up late and work. I cut things short and hang out with the Beav, knowing but not wanting to know that she won’t recover this time.

After a poor night of sleep, I wake early Saturday to find Beavis in the same spot as I left her, still slumbering peacefully, or so it at least seems. By Sunday morning, Father’s Day, I’m half wishing to find her non-responsive. She hasn’t eaten for two days already and won’t drink. How much longer can she survive? I want to get excited when I finally get her to eat a few morsels Sunday afternoon, but I know there’s still too much against her. By evening, I’m doing the math, with X a variable dependent upon when I can get an appointment for her on Monday. It seems almost pointless to harass her with glucose tests, but I’m more diligent now than ever in the previous six years, pricking her poor ear so much it looks like an addict’s arm.

I sit up with her until midnight, sifting through old photographs, a visual record of our shared time together. She watches listlessly, every so often lifting her head or stretching in a manner so reminiscent of the looks and stretches she has done for nearly seventeen years. If I didn’t know better I’d think she was just napping. But I do. I tell her how much I’ll miss her and she goes back to sleep.

Another bad night for me, and I come downstairs and try to gauge whether her chest is still rising and falling under all that fur. She lives. If I let it go like this, she might make another week, but eventually, one morning she would finally cease to breathe. Though she has never once complained, I know I can’t let it go on. The time has drawn near at last.

We get a ten-thirty appointment and it’s down to the last two hours, the last hour, the last thirty minutes, hoping against reality for some miracle cure I’ve overlooked, but knowing there won’t be one. Jill comes home from work to drive with us. The doctor confirms what Beavis and I already know. I hold her until she’s gone and walk out into an otherwise beautiful day carrying a much-too-light cat carrier, the same one in which she flew across country sixteen years ago.

Good-bye, Beavis. Thanks for the friendship and the memories.

 

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