Velveteen

I ordered a cup of coffee while I was waiting, instead of a glass of wine.  Mistake.  They had to brew a pot for me, and when I got it, it was hotter than melted glass.  I stirred it.  And stirred it.  And then I saw that I had gotten a phone call.  The call.

I left five dollars, canceled with the friend I had been waiting to meet, left the coffee undrunk.

My grandmother died four years ago.  I wasn’t that close to her, and it made it easier for me to help take care of her on the few occasions that I was needed.  When I would show up, she would want to be on her best behavior.  To people close to her, she endlessly complained about being forced into the nursing home, even though she was so desperately ill when she checked in that she only lasted a month or two.

Once I visited her in the nursing home, and her body presented us with a mess.  I helped her get cleaned up.  She told me I was an angel.  Which of course I am, but that day, I was only doing some basic kindness for someone who had been kind to me for many years, making my favorite macaroni and cheese every holiday.

I had an easier time caring for the cat we just euthanized.  Thomas was the last pet to be a pet of our family’s, that is, a pet we got as a family, when we all still lived at home.  He was my sister’s cat, though.  She got him for her birthday.  They looked alike.  When the vet came in with the morphine, he said, “Huh.  Something’s funny here.  Everybody in here looks the same.”  Thomas was a long-legged, skinny blonde with an assertive nose.  Actually, the biggest nose I’ve ever seen on a cat.

Grover was my cat, of the family cats.  When Grover got diabetes, I could hardly stand to take care of him.  I gave him some injections when I cat-sat, but generally, it was so painful for me to think of him dying that I distanced myself.

Thomas stopped being able to take care of his coat about two years ago.  The younger cat in the house never really bonded with him– I think they met each other too late.  Where Thomas had kept Grover’s coat clean until the end, Thomas had no cat buddy to help him out.

He still lived with my mom, but when I was over there, I would take Thomas up to the bathtub, run him some warm water, soap him up, try to keep it out of his eyes.  Sometimes I had to let him soak his back end in the tub for a while to undo some seriously neglected areas back there.  He let me scrub him.

He was always a skinny guy, but wet, he looked like Jack Skellington.

His coat was thin too, soft and thin.  It was amazing that you had to dry him with two different towels, and then blow dry him.  Somehow that thin fur got very wet.  The last time I bathed him, I wrapped him in yet another dry towel at the end, and held him like a baby for a while.  He purred.

Then my sister held him, and I brushed him and cut the matted parts out of his coat.

Thomas insisted on going out in his younger days.  We always keep our cats indoors, but he would not be contained.  He would slip out underfoot somehow, and go climb a pine tree in our neighbor’s yard, or stir up trouble with other animals.  More than once, he came home with open wounds on his throat.

“Damnit, Tom, what are you doing?” I would say as I swabbed him with hydrogen peroxide.  You should see the other guy, he was thinking.

And I would sing, “Tommy can you hear me?” to him.  I stopped doing that once he actually became blindish and deafish.

At least five years back, he started having seizures.  His brain would send his eyes to this spot on his back left hindquarters, and he would spin in circles, sometimes for twenty minutes.  After that, he seemed relatively okay.  He also had grand mal seizures, shaking and foaming at the mouth.  Seizure after seizure, he came back to normal and ate and napped cheerfully.

Yesterday, Tom started throwing up blood.  That was the call, and it was a pretty clear call to send him out.  His temperature was dropping already.

We all cried and cried during the wait at the vet’s, during the morphine injection, and then the final injection.  I’m really proud of how we can all can cry and cry now, instead of creating distractions and turning on each other.

After my parents’ divorce, shit was intense between us, my sisters and my mom.  Like we went through a war together.  I guess we sort of did.  Getting cats was one of the few good things that came from the divorce.  My dad loves cats, but he is very allergic to them.  So getting cats was our consolation prize.

Now I’m older and I know people who don’t talk to their parents or siblings, can’t spend much time with them, and it’s not like that for me, although it could have been.

A divorce is hard on any family.  We have some big personalities and passionate natures. I can be a bully, super insensitive, showing up half an hour late, never answering my phone, snarky.  With people I’m close to.

It could have gone another way than all four of us at the vet’s, touching Thomas on his back, his head, his cheek, as the morphine started to make him go weaker and loopy.  I don’t think our family became peaceful because we are good people or we deserved it.  We tried hard, and we were lucky, that’s all.

As he died, my sister pointed out that his ears had the fur almost worn completely off, like the Velveteen Rabbit.

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3 thoughts on “Velveteen”

  1. Not sure if my comment was captured so here’s my reply just in case.

    Elizabeth,

    My condolences on the loss of Thomas. Your writing is a touching (no pun intended) way to remember him and the way the familys pets connected your family.

    Earlier this year one of the family pets, a 22-year-old cat named Jamie, had reached a time when it was clear her suffering health outweighed her quality of life and the love our (Pam, her kids, her ex, and me) had for this aged, arthritic scruffball. Saying goodbye, watching her succumb to the injection, and burying her was one of the hardest things Ive experienced. Its difficult to ignore bawling kids at moments like that.

    Such tough times are in the fine print of relationships that no one wants to scrutinize or accept exist until it is undeniable. And even then

    Peace. Pete

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