This is not about writing, this is about grief.
The last two days have been so hard. Friday I took my cat to the vet with a sinking feeling in my stomach. He had been coughing and hacking like he was struggling to breathe clearly. Somewhere in the moments where the vet questioned me about his condition I saw things turn serious and scary. I could see the concern from both the vet and the vet tech. When the vet came back I somehow knew what was coming.
“He has cancer in his throat,” the vet said. He explained that the tumor was blocking his airways and that they could try and give him steroids but it would be a temporary and possibly ineffective fix. Even as I waited for him to give me some other option, I knew there wasn’t one.
“You can take him home today and have a few days to gather your thoughts.”
It didn’t hit me what that really meant until the tech came back into the room and explained that she would be working the next day if we wanted to come back. She also gave me pamphlets for the emergency vets in the area, in case things turned dire.
She explained that the tumor would keep growing, probably very quickly. It hadn’t even been noticeable two weeks earlier when we went to the vet and now his breathing was noticeably labored. She tried to tell me that I needed to do the humane things, because it would come to a point when he wouldn’t be able to breathe at all and would be in distress.
I left in tears and called my mom. I called my dad. I texted friends and my sister. Somewhere in the conversations I realized that I was making plans for the cat to die.
Then today I had to call and actually schedule the appointment. I held it together on the phone until the receptionist put me on hold, and then my mind rebelled. How I could I actually be setting an appointment for my cat to be killed? I ended up sitting on the concrete outside my work, sobbing.
The humane thing. I don’t want him to suffer. I don’t want to have a moment in the middle of the night where O’Malley is choking and I have to make a panicked rush to the emergency vet to say goodbye alone.
I’m trying to make the right decision but’s hard to know what that is, or if there is one. The cat seems okay. He’s eating. He’s doing everything he can to act normal. He begged for breakfast this morning and was waiting for me outside my shower tonight. But he can’t meow for attention like he used to, he can’t get the air. And this evening we sat on my bed and I could see how hard his little chest was pumping and how he rattled with every indrawn breath, and it killed me.
My neighbor that watches the animals for me when I’m away said she thinks I’m being too hasty. She thinks he seems okay. What can I say? That I already feel like a monster for making this decision. That I’m eating myself up with guilt over the idea that I might be choosing to do this too soon, that he might have plenty of good days ahead. There’s just no way in hell to know that. He could last awhile on his wheezing breaths or he could choke tomorrow. I have no damn way to know how fast this tumor will grow or what it might do to him. Trying to divine that has been tearing me up for over a day now.
I’m friends with my vet tech and I texted her this morning, asking her to be honest with me about what she thinks should be done. She saw his x-ray and helped examine him yesterday and has known him for six years. She said if it was her cat, she would go ahead and do it because the tumor is so severe already.
So the choice is made. And now I have to find some way to accept that Monday I will put him in his carrier, kiss him one last time, and he will cease to be. I will hand him to the vet and they will take him from the room, and he’ll never return. Not really.
In 36 or so hours I will come home to a house that doesn’t have him in it anymore. It was O’Malley who moved with me to my house six years ago. The first night I ever lived on my own, he and I made the drive together from my parent’s house to our new home, crying the whole way. He spent the night pacing the house, panting and mewling, while I tearfully unpacked my books. We slept in the bed together that night and, for awhile, it was just the two of us. Later Cullen would come, and much later, Nola, but the beginning was just O’Malley and I.
He has been my partner-in-crime for over 15 years, since I got him as a surprise gift for my tenth birthday. He was this tiny baby who slept so deeply it was almost bizarre. I wrapped him in doll blankets and carried him around. He had no trouble snoozing away no matter how much you moved him. He slept in a cat bed in my bedroom. From the beginning, I gave him a little kangaroo doll to snuggle. He kept it until now. He has slept with it, attacked it, and has a nightly ritual of carrying around the toy while wailing. It is more scrap that substance now, but he is still so attached. I plan on burying the toy with him, because it only seems right.
In losing O’Malley I’ll be losing my snuggly kitty. He’s the one who sleeps next to my pillow. He is always game for being petted and likes to be carried, as long as he can perch his from paws on your arm. He rubs his head on your chin when he wants something, and he’ll walk his paws up you to get attention. He has this grouchy meow that tells you when he’s annoyed, yet he is laid back and rarely gets bothered.
Where Cullen is aloof and oftentimes mean, O’Malley is loving and calm. There are so many things I will never forget about him, like how he enjoys eating mayonnaise. And how he can tell the difference between diet mayo and regular without tasting it. He has one of the biggest, strangest personalities I’ve seen in a cat and I think my house is going to feel so empty without him.
I have spent the last day grieving and afraid. I am terrified that I am making the wrong choice and I am crushed by the fact that I don’t think there is a right choice. I thought we would have longer together.
O’Malley, my baby, I love you so much. I wish you could know that I am trying to do everything I can to make this easier for you, no matter how much it hurts me, and that I am trying to make the best choice. You’re my best friend and I will never forget you and how we set out into the world together.
Your memory, and your hair, will remain in every crevice of this house long after you’re gone.