Aw, dammit. “Okay.”
It’s our cat, Charles Wallace.
I get in the shower since our daughter’s not home from the YMCA yet, and I think about the past month or so. Chaz Waz’ hearing loss – Jenn actually bought him a little I.D. Tag with his name, our phone number, and “I Am Deaf” engraved on it, even though he hasn’t been outside unsupervised in months - and facial nerve damage were symptoms of kidney failure and masses throughout his body. He never lost control of his functions, still slept with us for part of each night before heading to his restful spot on our back room couch, and relished going outside to walk slowly through the grass, nibbling blades and sniffing the air.
But Jenn still had to feed him mashed food through syringes and keep him hydrated with fluid from IV bags, and we knew he was slowly dying. We wondered if we were the ones being selfish, wanting to keep him around because we didn’t want to face this decision.
Last weekend, on the last night of summer, we all walked across the street to visit my brother and sister-in-law and our nephews, and we took Charles Wallace on his little harness. When we got home, it was dark, and I stayed in the front yard with him and watched him roam a little bit, stalking a toad, twitching toward the small rustles in a pile of leaves. I realized then that it was probably his last summer night, and I didn’t want to come back inside.
I hear my daughter come home, and a minute later, there’s a knock at the bathroom door. “Dad? Can I make my lunch?”
Dammit, dammit dammit I don’t want to do this. “Go ahead – I’ll be out in a minute, I don’t want to carry on a conversation yelling from in here.”
I get out of the shower, dry quickly, throw on shorts and duck into my bedroom before my daughter can ask if I’ve heard from Jenn yet. When I go downstairs a few minutes later, she’s on the couch watching TV but hasn’t made her lunch. Doesn’t matter. I put a hand on her knee and tell her that we need to go to the veterinarian’s office.
I can’t say a single word. I don’t even know if I manage to open my mouth before she realizes what’s going on and she just bursts into tears with a “No!” and falls into me.
And then we’re in a little room with Jenn and Charles Wallace.
Our vet’s office is an old converted house that’s tucked up against a woods, and this room we’re in is part of the original kitchen, so there’s a comforting feel to it, at least. It’s not cold or sterile, with its wooden cabinets and pantry and the old white sink sitting beneath a window that faces into those woods.
The window’s open, and Charles Wallace is perched on the sill, batting slowly at cobwebs, looking out at the trees and weeds and branches. It’s his kind of territory, like the woods behind our house. He’s always been the exploring type, most likely to come home at night with a few new scratches and a “don’t-even-ask” attitude. (He had the perfect look for this, too, jutting out his chin like an old cartoon gangster.) Came back once with a tiny, hard white thing poking out of a lower eyelid. Turned out to be a motherfucking TOOTH. No blood, no infection, no sign of a fight or any other injury, just comes back with a freaking tooth in his eyelid and a big feline “Whatever.”
Now he’s looking out there, the pupil in his left eye blown to full dilation because of the blood pressure and his kidneys failing, and he’s already got his front left paw wrapped in a bandage with the tiny catheter port poking through.
I don’t know how long we waited for the vet. We got in our hugs, our petting, our scratches behind the ears. He was so skinny, and his spine bumps felt sharp and close to the surface. Truth is, the last few nights, Jenn and I had told him it was okay to go, hoping that maybe he’d just curl up on the back couch and drift off rather than suffer through the inevitable vomiting and diarrhea and pain and disorientation.
That’s what’s coming, the vet told us. Coming soon, not pretty, and he’ll be in misery.
I’ve never had to do this. I remember our family dog Punkin
getting sick when I was a little kid, but I didn’t go to the vet when they put
her to sleep. And Tabby, the cat we had from 20 years, did, in fact, just get
old and fall asleep at home one day, but I was living in
And then the vet’s there, and Jenn’s got Chaz Waz in her arms, and our daughter’s snuggled in there, too, and I’m petting our cat’s nose and his forehead and Jenn’s sobbing and she’s saying she can feel his heart stopping and then it’s over and they leave us alone for a while longer.
It’s a few minutes before I can look at Charles Wallace, because I’ve already stared out the window and imagined him padding slowly off into the woods, bent low to the ground, eyes wide and focused, ears pricked, following a trail I can’t see.