Sunday, July 28, 2013

Nine Lives

Valentine's Day, 13 years ago, a tiny gray bundle of fur made her way into my life.  Lily.  She was my companion, even traveling with me to law school and staying for about a month, before her practice of clawing my roommate's couch earned her a ticket back home to my parents' house.  When, on Valentine's Day eight years ago I celebrated the holiday with the discovery of Sean's dead body and a brief police interview, Lily was my comfort as I tried to make the best of a grizzly day by celebrating her "birthday" with her.

"I didn't even know you had a cat," someone mentioned recently.  After she got the boot from my place in Costa Mesa, Lily never left my parents' house again.  Some might say she was no longer my cat; but she was always my cat.

It became evident a few months ago that Lily wouldn't be with me much longer. She'd suffered from stomatitis, an inflammation of the mucous lining in her mouth, for which she was treated with periodic steroid injections.  At what I thought was a routine visit for an injection just a couple of months ago, the vet warned me that the injections were becoming decreasingly effective.  The injections no longer held her over for months at a time, but one month, and each time she came in she weighed less.  She recommended I have Lily's teeth extracted, but at a visit last week for yet another injection, the vet informed my dad, who had kindly taken time off from his vacation to take Lily in, that it was time I start "considering Lily's quality of life."
Those were exactly the words I didn't want to hear, and exactly the kinds of considerations I wasn't ready to make.  The tears poured from my eyes.  She couldn't have many more injections - the next one could kill her, as she was requiring them closer and closer together.  She couldn't undergo surgery - that could kill her too.  Her nine lives were exhausted.  Lily was at my mercy and I was at a loss.

I'd joked for years that if anything happened to Lily, it would send me over the edge.  People would say, "She was always so strong. . . Until Lily."  This would be it.

For a week we observed Lily.  I knew the decision to put her to sleep was impending, but I also didn't want to deny her a few more good days.  On Wednesday night it was clear that Lily was ready for me to let her go.  I spent the night at my parents' house, slipping in and out of sleep and trying to check on Lily, to make the last hours of her life as comfortable as possible.  Wrapped in a towel and my arms, we rode over her vocal objections as my dad drove us to the vet's office.

"It's kinder this way.  You know that though, don't you?"  I sniffled and nodded at the doctor, my hands still stroking her bony, feeble body.  Lily, who had always had a kittenish look to her, suddenly looked old and weary.  She'd been my solace for so many years, but now it was time for me to comfort her.  I whispered into her ear simply, "I love you."  

The procedure was over very swiftly.  I cried until I ran out of tears; I cried the tears I didn't cry and hadn't cried for things maybe I should have cried for sooner.  I emptied myself of a great deal of grief over the soft, lifeless body of my Lily.

I noted a missed call on my phone.  "My Boyfriend Marcos."  I'd so labeled him in my phone because I was so excited by our developing relationship.  My faith that maybe, maybe life had more in store for me in the romance department had begun to waver when we met.

Sometimes I feel so stained by my past that it's hard to imagine there's a normal life left for me to have.  The innocence of an animal's soul is unquestionable to me, and so it is our duty to be kind to them and not break their pure spirits.  But throughout our human lives we have experiences that chip away at our innocence and bend our spirits.  There have been times and events after which I was not quite sure life would go on - Life certainly did NOT go on as it had before, it was changed, and I was marked by these events.  These painful events, like the assault; these beautiful events, like the day that Victoria was born; and the beautifully tragic life and death of my son.  Still, the human spirit is a resilient, amazing thing when we're willing to pick ourselves up and make the most of our nine lives.

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