This morning we had to say good-bye to our dear Simone, my companion of 19 years. I’ve written about her a lot on this site, most notably here. I was 22 when she showed up on my doorstep one summer evening back in 1999 in Springfield, Missouri. She was teeny tiny and fit right in the palm of my hand. I didn’t want a cat though, didn’t know what to do with a cat, had never had a cat; I gave her to some neighbors. For the next few days, I couldn’t stop thinking about her. I thought I’d made a mistake giving her away and I considered asking for her back, but before I could, my neighbors showed up at my door with her and said they couldn’t handle her. She was feisty, I soon learned, with a strong will that rivaled anyone I’d known. My love for her was immediate and strong, and I know she felt the same.
She came with me from Springfield to Chicago, along with a boyfriend and his two cats. We lived together all five of us — first in one apartment and then another — until we didn’t, and she tormented those poor older cats until they moved out. I bet they never stopped looking over their shoulder either, waiting for her to pounce, ready as ever to play. After that, we lived in another apartment very briefly with a roommate, and then another apartment on our own again, just the two of us for a few years until Miles joined us in 2005. She was patient with him — more patient than I anticipated, and showed him how to use the litter box which, 13 years later, he still hasn’t quite mastered. The following year, I met Drew. He was allergic to cats. “I can take medicine,” he said. “But even so,” I said, “You live in New York, I live in Chicago.” “I can commute,” he replied.
He did commute. We both did. For a year and a half. And he took the allergy medicine and he fell in love with my cats and they loved him too, and in 2007 the three of us moved into his apartment in Manhattan, and then we all moved to an apartment in Brooklyn a few years after that and then to another apartment in Brooklyn and then to the home we bought last year. Nine homes I shared with Simone. Nine homes, a million head pats, countless memories.
One of the things people noticed first about Simone, after her feistiness, was her lack of a tail. She’d had it amputated when she was two, when we lived in our first Chicago apartment. It looked a little funny, I guess, but it didn’t slow her down in the least, and I always forgot about it until, inevitably, someone would be over — a new friend, a date, a delivery person — and would comment, “That cat doesn’t have a tail!” as if it were the most notable thing about her. As if there weren’t a dozen more interesting traits to notice about Simone.
She was a diva. She was noble. She always enjoyed a good party. She loved being patted on her butt — it was the weirdest thing, but I learned this about her very early and once I did, she wanted nothing more. Pat-pat-pat-pat-pat. When friends came over, she’d find the one who tolerated cats the least and she’d climb on that person’s lap and wait. “She wants to be patted on her butt,” I’d say, “like this.” And then I’d show whomever she’d chosen to monopolize for the next hour how to do it just so. To express her appreciation, she’d bite — hard in her early years, and very lightly in her later years, almost out of a sense of obligation by that point. “Wow, she’s really mellowed out in her older age,” friends would say in recent years upon seeing her for the first time in a while. People feared her like 25% less once she hit 15.
Simone could leap 10 feet in the air! She did this for the longest time – up until a few years ago. The most memorable time was the evening Drew and I got engaged and we rushed home to tell the cats and they both — even fat, lazy Miles (sorry, Miles) — leapt in the air higher than we’d ever seen. Even last year, when she was 18, she was still climbing to the top of our kitchen cabinets, 8, 9 feet above floor-level and seeing what kind of trouble she could get into.
She was like a kitten almost to the very end — in size, stature, and spirit. But around Jackson and Joanie, she was gentle and loving and sweet. While I was pregnant, she’d kneed my swollen belly and rest her head against the baby’s head, and when each baby was born and we brought them home, she was so protective and proud and doting, like she thought they were her babies. She loved our family so much, and always wanted to be right in the middle of us all. She found the heart of every home we shared and made it her spot.
I began worrying about her a few days ago when she developed some unpleasant symptoms — an odor, an unkempt appearance. By Friday night, she started taking a turn for the worse, but visiting the vet was such an excruciating experience for her, I delayed taking her. On Saturday morning, she hadn’t improved and I monitored her throughout the day, spending lots of time right be her side, patting her the way she liked, singing to her, telling her how much I loved her. She seemed comfortable, but not herself, and the symptoms persisted. I found a vet in Brooklyn who makes house calls and requested an appointment. She told me we were out of her jurisdiction and that she had a full schedule or she’d try to make the commute. She said she was very concerned about the symptoms and urged me to take Simone to the ER right away. I did. We were both so scared. But the vet was able to rule out a couple major concerns, and said to take her home and continue monitoring her.
By the next morning, Simone could barely move her back legs. I kept thinking maybe it was an effect of the sedative the vet had given her the night before to examine her (No vet could ever examine Simone without sedating her first!). But she didn’t get better, and by nightfall, she was nearly immobile. Still, I remained hopeful that maybe I could nurse her to health with love and cuddles and treats. I stayed by her side all last night and tried. I didn’t sleep a wink, and by 6 am, she started moaning and it was clear to me that she was in pain and not getting any better. I woke up Drew and told him I was taking her to the ER. The kids woke up then and came to our room and I told them she was very sick and I had to take her back to the doctor. The four of us crowded around her and petted her head and told her we loved her.
“Will you bring her home?” Drew asked. “If it’s time for her to go?”
“I don’t know.” I said. I imagined if it was time to let her go, that might mean she was in too much pain to be transported again. “You should say good-bye now, just in case,” I said.
At the ER, my fears were quickly confirmed. The vet suspected a blood clot and warned if I did more tests to confirm it, the pain and stress could be excruciating, and no other possible explanation would have a good outcome. “It’s clear you’ve given her a very long and happy life,” she said.
It happened so quickly, our last moments together — not at all like I’d imagined whenever I let myself imagine the end. But once I made the decision, I wanted it over with as quickly as possible. One more pat-pat-pat and that was it, she was gone. I hope I did right by her. I hope she knows how much I love her, how she’ll always be in my heart, how grateful I am that she stuck around to help usher me to this stage of my life. We had 19 wonderful years together and still, it wasn’t enough. It will have to be enough.