Why I'll never get over losing my first cat
I’m 90% sure that I was born a cat person. From birth, you could find me personally terrorizing my parent’s cats to the extent where no bite or scratch could phase me. At age 4 instead of playing with other children, I was convinced I was a cat. I wore cat ears and a plushy tail. I crawled around on all fours communicating only through mew’s and hisses. You might blame this behavior on being an only child, but I think that this has just always been instinctive.
On my 6th birthday – I was inconsolable. I wanted a kitten and I wanted her now. I have vivid memories of that day I went to go pick up my little ball of fluff. The veterinarian’s office smelled weird. I had wanted a Calico, but was content to go home with just about any furry baby that I could get my hands on. I named her Oreo. Granted she was decorated with more colors than just black and white, but I was 6 and wasn’t looking for an award for originality.
Fast-forward 15 years. From high school, to college and onward. No matter where I roamed, my kitten was always the first to greet me. She would sit on my chest and just start purring. The cat costumes continued only for special occasions, Halloween, not-so-special occasions, doing homework and sitting by myself. We aged together and as we got older we both became more outspoken. Persistently finicky and curious, she would sleep on the tail end of my bed if I was lucky. But if I was home after being gone for a long time, it was guaranteed that I’d wake up in the middle of the night to have accidentally kicked her off.
To be honest, the biggest catch of having pets is knowing that you will one day outlive them. My family has had a lot of pets and by 23 I’ve seen a dog and three another cats from my past move on. But my cat had always seemed to be the one exception and I sincerely always thought that Oreo would be eternal. And at age 16, she was so spry, aware and as youthful as a feline half her age. I would always tell my friends and they would marvel that she was that old. This was usually followed by an anecdote that the her lifespan might reach up to 30 years.
A text from a parent saying, “Hey, can I call?” followed by the immediate ringing of your cell phone 30 seconds later isn’t usually the best sign. The last time that had happened was when my mother’s horse had passed away. I knew that something had to be up. I wasn’t even sure if I could cry after my mother told me Oreo had actually died. Her health had taken a drastic turn and in just a few days time, she had turned into a shell of what she was.
I could tell that it was a hard decision for my mother to put her down. What mattered to me was that she wasn’t suffering or in pain and yet the blow still hit hard. I distracted myself throughout my weekend. I didn’t feel the need to tell coworkers or my friends. A cat dying at age 16 is to be expected. She had a very long and happy life, but the feeling of loss still nagged at my consciousness.
Perhaps it’s normal to have Pet Semetary-esque dreams about their pets after they pass. In my dream I found Oreo and she was just as I remembered her. I was so overjoyed that she had come back to me. . . until she tried to eat me. That dream was so vivid and believable that it had felt real. Besides this wasn’t the first time my family had lost Oreo only to have her return again.
There was one weekend where we thought she had run away. I was 11 or 12 when she wandered off the screened-in porch at our weekend house in a woodsy area of Illinois. After not being able to find her anywhere, I remember sobbing and printing out “Missing Cat” posters. My mother and I drove around passing them out to local businesses. That night we all went home and thought that we had truly lost her. That she was eaten by some coyote or meandered her way onto a new home.
Our house sat on a hill and my room opened up to a basement-level porch. When I first realized that what had walked up to my door was not a raccoon, more tears came. I swooped up my returned kitten in my arms and ran upstairs in hysterics. We sat in complete and utter disbelief. In silence except for the streaming tears. She had been hiding outside all day until she thought it was safe to return. We spoon fed her kitty food and wrapped her in a blanket. Even the friend I had brought to stay with us that weekend couldn’t keep it together.
A part of me thinks that she will always come back to me. I can’t say I’m ready to let go yet because I haven’t been back to my parent’s house since her death. My triggers usually consist of thinking about cats or seeing a cat on the Internet (which is hard to avoid). Luckily, I can usually make it through the day without thinking about my sweet kitten. But no one can blame me when I tear up at the end of Breakfast at Tiffany’s where Holly Golightly leaves her no-named tabby out in the rain.
I’m not sure where my next step might take me. Writing about this has been cathartic and it feels like a nice farewell to one of my oldest friends. Truthfully the memories have come back to me more vividly throughout this process. In grade school my parents bought me a storybook called All Cats Go To Heaven and now its quite poignant to think that I still might need that book today.