It was a day I have dreaded for years. You can say, even mentally and emotionally prepared for. It came. And none of that mattered. When my wife and I took our 16-year-old feline lady of the house, Sadie, to die at the West Milford Animal Hospital, it took pieces of me I don’t believe I’ll get back. I have never decided that something so dear, so seminal in the ecosystem of my family needed to die. She suffered these past few weeks, but even until the last moment I wrestled with this and thought how can any human do this, never mind willfully hunt and kill an animal? Because they don’t name her and live with her and cuddle her and sing songs to her and watch her capture the essence of your daughter from the moment she slept in the crib with her, and then on the day she dies, Scarlet, now 13, tearily says, “She was my first friend?” Then you can kill them?
Well, good luck to you and your soul.
It took everything in me not to grab her little, barely breathing body and run for cover. Let her die at home, naturally. But that is selfish and stupid and very human. She did not deserve another long night of pain. She deserved peace. She gave that to us for 16 years. We had to give it back, in the most horrible of circumstances.
Sadie was, as I wrote when her brother, Salinger died six years ago, a “two-for-one deal that my wife, of course, talked me into – little black cats jammed into a box together, licking each other and snuggling and biting and fighting and being a classic duo.” They were our Little Pishers, who breathed new life into things around The Clemens Estate after the untimely and mysterious death of The Gueem. We were unsure even then that Sadie would make it through that first year, making so many days to an animal hospital up in Newton, that when Scarlet was born, in a “people hospital” up there, I got to know that run so well, it was a snap.
Sadie led the way.
This made more sense, as very soon, she and Scarlet would be inseparable. Nothing made my daughter laugh or gave her such joy. These last few years Sadie roomed with her. She had to. The invasion of the once feral cat, now a member of the family, Bukowski terrorized her, and she found refuge there. Every morning when I would wake a grumpy Scarlet for school, Sadie would be at attention meowing, doing her thing. I would implore her, “Wake up your baby sister already!” She would look at me as if I were mad; “You know who this is lying here, right?” I could almost hear her say. “She hates school and loves sleeping; good luck to ya.”
Sadie always found a way to communicate to us. I know I have waxed poetic in this column over the past 25 years about the passing of our cats (the aforementioned Gueem, Salinger, and our beloved Queen of Vernon, Mazzy), but none of them had the communicative inter-species talents of Sadie. The second you were in her space, if you approached her, or you did not get that she needed water or maybe a treat, or the desire to sit by her cherished fireplace (Man, she liked it warm – watching her turn her face to the sun in summer was a transcendent experience), she’d let you know it. There was very little guessing with Sadie, there was within her, as Ernst Hemmingway once mused in his cats, an “absolute emotional honesty.” Papa should know. He owned dozens of them.
For instance, whenever you picked her up – and I loved to pick her up; she was so tiny it was as if she became part of you – Sadie would let you know. That quick, snappy meow, “What the hell is this now?” And, man, carrying her was a completely visceral experience; the shiniest, blackest, softest of coats. I can feel it now on my fingertips, pounding on these keys, the quintessence of her still there from the near hour I spent petting her the morning of her death on the bathroom floor. She purred, I think, just for me, despite her suffering, to communicate her love and care, and also the pain and fear of what was happening to her, of what was happening to us with her rapid deterioration. Yeah, she would tell you something, anytime. She did not hide.
A key aspect of having a cat for 16 years (a record around here) is that there is a pure lineage to it. For instance, Scarlet did not know a world without her, and just this morning my wife said,” When I lost Gueem, I had Mazzy, and when I lost her, I had Sadie, I feel like I don’t have any comfort now.” Of course, I argued for the boys, but Mo, our gray cat of 13 years and the new guy, Bukowski, do not make themselves available – they are in and out and all around, disappearing to do God know what. Unless food is in the offing, other than that, it’s freewheeling. Sadie was our constancy, our north star. When we went away, she would have that look that let you know you were leaving her and the home, and when we returned, she had that pissed countenance, like, “How dare you?” But she would be here waiting. Patiently. To be Sadie.
I was doing what I call “cat math” with my extended family this past weekend in Syracuse and I have come to some harsh conclusions about how many of these felines I have left in me. If I get a kitten this year – and you can bet your ass it will be a black male that I have been waiting for since Salinger ditched me – and if the little bugger lives as long as Sadie, I’m looking at seventy-fucking-six. And if I’m still writing this column then you can drive me to the vet and let me go quietly. There won’t be any goddamn eulogy for him.
Ok, it’s getting late, and I have to end this. But I don’t want to. I want to keep writing about Sadie – makes me feel less sad. It is, as my managing editor wrote me this morning, cathartic for writers to deal with grief. I’m reminded of what Charles Bukowski wrote about his cat, how “it walks with a surprising dignity” and think of how elegant Sadie was until the end, trying to be Sadie, as her body failed her. She never wavered from being her.
But I guess I’ll leave you guys now and keep writing and talking and celebrating the 16 special years we had this magnificent creature.