I live with two cats.
They get along fairly well and enjoy one another’s company — though they both frequently like to pretend the other one simply doesn’t exist.
They have even convinced me to arrange the bedding so as to help them maintain this pretense:
Today is Hildi’s 20th birthday.
In human years, this would put her at roughly 97. She reminds me a lot of my Gramma Ruth, another nonagenarian who remained stubborn, opinionated, and fiercely loving right up to the end.
One of Hildi’s strongest opinions is that any part of my body can — AND SHALL BE — turned into a lap if she just manages to sit close enough for long enough:
Of course, sometimes she’s happiest if I simply cede her my chair:
Hildi enters what will likely be her final year still as one tough old broad, now mostly concerned with eating dinner early and having her head gently stroked.
Just like my Gram.
Nathan, on the other hand, is a big ol’ softie.
The effects of his first, traumatic year of life — abandoned twice as a kitten, a long winter spent fending for himself on the streets of West Philly — lingers, even after more than a decade spent with me and Hildi. He wants very badly to be loved and accepted by everybody. . . and he’s not entirely sure he will be.
So he offers to help with housework, like dusting:
He always keeps me company in the bathroom (and by “always,” I do mean ALWAYS):
His greatest pleasure in life comes in the moments that he convinces Hildi to let him sit close to her, when she’s already sitting close to me:
In fact, although Nathan pretends not to notice Hildi just as often as she pretends not to notice him, I suspect that for him it’s not about real disdain or annoyance. Or even indifference.
He’s just imitating her, hoping she’ll like him better if he does.
Last weekend, Nathan got sick. Very sick.
Even though I could tell he was scared, he handled the vet’s office — and later, an emergency animal hospital FULL OF DOGGIES — like a trooper:
Truth is, he may have been getting sick for some time, and I missed the signs. Hildi’s long, slow battle against the kidney failure that will take her life has already lasted months longer than either the vet or I predicted (I did mention she’s stubborn, right?), and I have grown accustomed to weeks where suddenly less food is eaten, the litter box used less, and I am cleaning up more vomit than the week before.
Whenever it began — by the time a doctor saw him, his condition was life-threatening.
Yesterday was harrowing. I couldn’t afford the additional two days of hospitalization the vets recommended, and so I brought him home with many pills, liquid medications, and a ream of directions — knowing that now, it was all up to him and me.
Thanks to repeated shopping trips, a phalanx of Facebook friends with suggestions, and Nath’s own willingness to at least sniff at each new dish offered him, I am pleased — and cautiously optimistic! — to report he finally began eating by late afternoon…
…then drinking water, and otherwise showing very promising signs.
[An unexpected benefit of Nathan’s wishing-to-please personality? As long as I can pop the pill in and get his mouth shut fast, he will swallow it. Stubborn Hildi often fakes me out: cheeking pills for many minutes and only spitting them out once my back is turned.]
“You up yet? Please be informed that I am quite ready for my breakfast now.”
The prospect of losing both my companions, one right after the other, hit me pretty hard this week. That is not something I have prepared for.
Doesn’t mean it still can’t happen.
Always provisional. The only certainty, impermanence.
They are gifts all the sweeter for existing only in the present.
And so, for today: I am happy to be with my furbabies. Happy they are both alive, both here, both pretending very hard not to have even noticed the unusual closing of the door that shuts her in one room (with her oldlady health food) and him in the other (with a smorgasbord of hopefully-tempting junky treats). If this is all the three of us have left together, it will be enough.
And if we have more time? I will be happy for that too.
I’ll even let everybody celebrate with a little ice cream, a treat Hildi adores and Nathan sees as a delicacy mostly because he believes Hildi’s enthusiasms can’t be wrong — and her enthusiasm becomes downright predatory whenever ice cream is near:
Because the Ritual Licking of the Spoon is the closest he ever gets to her kisses:
Who are the furbabies — or other nonhuman family members — in your life?
Tell me their stories, and I’ll be sure to share them with Hildi and Nathan!