Wednesday, May 08, 2013

What Bonnie deserved to know: a letter of love to a beloved cat

What can I tell you about Bonnie? What can I say about the things that mattered? What would I have said to her, if only she could have understood?

Dear Pumpkin Girl...

1998 was not a good year for me. My working life was late to the gate, and its engine sputtered for years. It taxied, and stalled, and taxied, but never took off. That whole year saw me living in the basement, sunk in despair, ready to give up on ever having an independent life. But unbeknownst to me, somewhere out there, you were born.

I'll never know what your first couple of years without me were like. I hope they weren't all bad. Judging from your sweet nature, you must have had some good people in your life, however it was you came to be in that cage. My couple of years before we met were years of slow but steady improvement. My friend Jay got me out of the basement and into a solid job. It wasn't enough to live on, but by the time I left it, it was about to be. What took me out of it was a better job. One that got me out of my parents' house and into a place of my own at last. I got the job in March, and moved out on May 6, 2000. Thirteen years to the day before you died.

And then there was you.

For a long time I thought we met in June, but looking at the papers I got with you thirteen years ago, I see now it was July. July 12. The papers don't tell me much about you. I don't know when you were born. They just say you were two years old. They say you were just 7.9 lbs when I got you, which astonishes me... were you really that slight back then? They say you were fostered in March, and then given to the shelter in April. Somewhere in all that, you got pregnant, and, presumably, had a litter: the folks taking care of you did tell me all your kittens had been placed. I remember you still had your little breasts when I got you. I wish you could have talked. I would have liked to have heard what that was like for you.

I already had a cat, Jenny, whom I'd had since she was a kitten. Where we lived before, there was always company. Me, my parents, a rabbit for a while, a dog, and after him another dog. Jenny didn't have another cat around, but she always had someone to interact with. When I moved out, it was just me. P-Doug remarked to me that a cat needed another cat to be a cat. I understand that... what would it be like to be a human alone in a world of just dogs, or just cats? There'd be companionship, but not that connection to all your own nature and faculties. So, with that in mind, I decided to look for another cat.

I found you where I shopped for Jenny's food, at the Petsmart in Markham. Later, I would also find Max there. I don't remember now just how I settled on you... what brought me to your cage, or how we made that connection. I do know I was partial to torties... I guess that gave you a head start. But whatever it was, I'm glad, so glad, so grateful I took you home. It was easily the best $70 I ever spent. I hope you would have agreed. One thing I remember is that I really didn't fancy the name "Bonnie" back then, but I've never believed in actually changing a pet's name, so it stuck. And you went on to make it one of the very sweetest words to pass my lips. Bonnie. Bonnie.

I remember  you tested me at first. You used to wait till you knew I was briefly awake in the middle of the night, and then pee on the bed beside me. I remember I used to leap up in a rage and chase you around, terrifying you. I don't know why I did that now. Immaturity? Power? The desire to shock and awe you into not doing it anymore? I am so very sorry for that. Do you remember the last time I did that? How I finally cornered you, and you were crying to me, begging me to stop, not even fighting back to defend yourself, and I hauled you into the bathroom and ran a cascade of cold water on you in the tub? How I left you flopping, soaked, on the porcelain, and then locked you in the dark there, cold and wet, for the rest of the night? I sure do. I used to wonder what parents meant by "this hurts me more than it hurts you". I sure know now. I've hated myself for that ever since. You slayed a monster that night, Bonnie. It burned out any capacity in me to ever do that again.

There were other times, maybe a half a dozen over the years, where you tested me like that again, but you remember that from then on, I simply told you to get off the bed, and insisted you leave the bedroom. I would not let you in again for a couple of nights. I would pretend, for the next day, not to "see" you. I can remember you playing for my attention. Trying to apologize, maybe, or set things right. You always broke me down so quickly. But for all the power-gaming I did at first, I'm proud that I never gave up on you. When, a few months after I got you, I complained about your antics to my manager, he said to give you back. No, I said... it was my idea for you to come and live with me; I had to stick by that. And I did. Thank heavens I listened to the better angels and not my boss. You trained me, Pumpkin, and tamed me, and taught me. You are the reason that Twinkle, who tested me far more than you ever did, got her chance to make of go of life with me, though tragically short it proved to be.

One time we had it out and I ignored you for a couple of days and finally it just broke my heart, and I remember actually apologizing to you... in English, out loud. And I went out with P-Doug and G to a jewelry market on the Golden Mile and found you an ornament... Jenny had worn turquoise set in silver. I got you a glorious amber half-sphere in silver, and you wore that for the next ten years or more. You were wearing it when you died, and it will grace your urn until I do, and our ashes are mingled. You completely owned my heart, Pumpkin Girl.

I'll never know what you were trying to tell me with the peeing on the bed thing. A specific complaint? Simply testing my limits? Trying to get a rise out of me? Just a strange compulsion even you didn't understand? I'll always wonder if that's what lost you whatever home you had before mine. But in the long run, it didn't matter.

I don't think Jenny was every truly happy you were around. She was 11 when you came to live with us, and hadn't ever had to share digs with another cat. But, you both got along well enough. Like you, she developed a thyroid condition, though we managed hers better and longer. I don't remember now exactly the day she died... it was in August of 2002. I came out of my bedroom to see her lying on the floor of the spare room. She didn't respond to my greeting, and I went over, and realized, with a crushed heart, that she was gone. What I'll never forget was the sight of the fur of her hip, licked the wrong way. She couldn't have done that. That could only have been you. You had been with her at the end. You perfect little angel.

Two months later, we got Max, your friend, grooming companion, and wrestling partner for the next 10 years. Eventually, many years later, we added my roommate Larry for a couple of years, and Twinkle for a little while, but essentially the core of our little family for the next decade was formed.

After Jenny passed away, you took over the role of sleeping by my head, and you kept that vigil for the rest of your life. I'll always be grateful to you for that. Oh, I know you'd drift away after a while, probably because my snoring was intolerable, but if I were falling asleep, or drifting back to consciousness, or waking up, you were usually there, or would suddenly appear, for many years leaping on the bed with that mother cat "brrrrt!" greeting. Do you remember how, for a while, you got into the habit of taking the claw of the middle toe of your right front paw and picking, picking, picking gently at my lips when you knew I wasn't actually asleep? I wish I knew what that was about. Wanting attention? Just a fascination with something different? I didn't like it, but I adored it... if you understand what I mean.

You were, really, the one I was coming home to all those years. It was you who was nearly always at my elbow or beside my head when I was home. It was, more than anything, you I was anxious about when I was away too long. You sort of took over that role from Jenny. For a long time, I assumed that, one day, Max would inherit that role, after you, for at least a couple of years. But he never really got his turn. I don't think he minded. His needs were different.

I have an early picture of you on the couch, on your back, with your mouth open in what I think was a silent meow. I also have a picture of you, even earlier, with one eye closed in a blink. I didn't know what those meant then, but I learned, early in our time together, that winks and blinks are something like kisses, and silent meow, which you and only you have ever given me so far as I can recall, is a great and rare token of love. You and I traded thousands of both in our life together, and I'm so glad I learned to "speak" enough of your language that you knew my love for you was boundless and overflowing, and I could hear it back. Yes, that's the sweetest thing of all.

Bonnie, you're gone now, and that day had to come if I lived long enough. It's a deeply bitter thing to have all that sweetness you filled my life with taken out of it. My life will never really be the same without it... just like it would never have been the same if I hadn't had it in the first place, and for so long. Your life with me pretty much encompassed my entire fully-adult existence, up until now. You were the living symbol of my achievement, and its sweetest dividend. Every time I looked at you, every time, you were a tiny infusion of joy.You'll never know what you truly meant to me... but I guess I'll never know what I truly meant to you, either. But I believe I know how you felt about me, and I guess that's enough. It has to be, for any of us, between cats themselves, and even between humans.

I wanted you to know that, Pumpkin.

No comments: