It’s never the right time to say goodbye.
Although this may evoke Chris Brown’s cheesy vocals ringing through your mind singing the above sentence, it is a sentence that has been playing through my head over and over again for the past 2 days.
Yesterday I had the absolutely horrible, horrific task of saying five words that I never in my most horrible nightmares could have conjured up saying about my little love. “Lets put him to sleep”. That single moment my world stopped, my mind blanketed in a thick fog. I knew it was coming but the words coming out were foreign to me, as if it wasn’t my voice saying them. I was checking the letterbox for mail at the time and all I could do was stumble back into the car and sit down, defeated, tears escaping my eyes and rolling in a consistent stream down my face with the vet doctor’s last words to me ringing in my ears for eternity, “I think we all knew this was coming.” I did but I didn’t. I couldn’t believe it. He was only 3 years old. It wasn’t his time. How could such a young, lively, cheeky, playful animal be so sick?
To you looking at these pictures, he’s just a cat. I cant expect you to understand, just as I wouldn’t be able to understand if this was your situation instead of mine. These few, 2D pictures don’t tell the stories that I have lived through with him and how he pulled me through my dark times and celebrated my happiest.
The day he came into our lives he was just an 8 week old, small, cheeky black kitten with a naughty rebellious streak that had been born on the streets and abandoned. His siblings had all been adopted out and it had just left him – reluctantly, I agreed to have him – we had just lost a cat and were now renting and didn’t have the room for him – yet I took him on anyway. The day I went to pick him up I drove 2 hours across the city in the pouring rain and fog with no GPS – I was driving blind, no idea how to get to the vet where I would pick him up, yet I eventually found my way there, paid the $50 I had agreed to, and was led to the small cage in the back where he was waiting for me. He was tiny with blue-green eyes and a big blue bow around his tiny little neck – like something from a Disney movie. I was hooked and in love immediately.
I was concerned for the drive home as, being such a tiny kitten, I was alone and worried that the long car ride would stress him, and so he rode with me in the front of the car with a seatbelt around the carry cage that held him. Halfway through the drive home, I lifted up one corner of the towel as he hadn’t made any noise yet, and saw that he was curled up in a tight little ball, fast asleep, with only the positioning of the bow allowed me to see which end was which. A half-hour later he awoke and poked his little paw through the cage bars, claws out, wanting to play. So I played cat-and-mouse games with my finger through the cage bars for the rest of the ride home.
This is also how we spent our last car ride together, on the way to the vets yesterday. This being his fourth time to the vet in a week, he knew the drill and was trying to escape the cage as he thought it was just another routine check. So out came his little paw through the bars, looking for an out, and I held it for the last time in ironically exactly the same way that he came into my world. Paw to finger. This time I was stroking him imprinting the feel of his fur on my mind forever so I would never forget what it was like to touch it. Kissed his round nose and the spot behind his ear where he always smelled like fresh laundry, because that was his favourite place to sleep.
To me, he was not just a cat. He was as good as my child. He had an obsession with the outdoors and looked very at home in it; thus the nickname of ‘panther’ was born. On the few occasions we tried to coerce him inside or catch him due to it being past his bed-time (sundown), he would let you come within inches of touching him before running a few metres ahead. Everything was on his terms, he was rebellious, wild, untouchable; and that cemented our love for him even more. Moreover, he was a small cat, yet one that never stopped him from dreaming big. One afternoon I was ironing clothes in the dining room near the big bay window and I could hear a wild bush turkey running and squawking in discomfort every now and again. Finally I looked out the window & saw a small, black figure down in the long grass, relentlessly stalking the poor turkey (that was double his size) before running up behind it, biting it on the bum, and then starting the whole charade all over again.
My little boy knew when I was in a dark place. One day during a brief period in 2014 when Gab & I had broken up, I remember sitting on my balcony feeling brokenhearted and in despair. I was staring out to nothing, trying to make sense of my life’s state when I felt something soft brush up against me. It was my little cat, intertwining himself between my legs, something he had never done before as he wasn’t usually so affectionate. I like to think he sensed my pain because he sat with me for as long as I was there in that position, rolling around on my lap and sleeping with me there until I moved. He has been there through it all.
In the last few weeks I like to think he knew his time was coming to an end. He started sharing his sleeping arrangements with me, my mum and my brother; spending all his days curled up with us inside rather than exploring the outdoors like he usually would have done. He followed me everywhere like a shadow and scratched at my bedroom door if I dared to close it with him not in there with me. One day I picked him up and realized that I could feel his breastbone and hips way too sharply, and each nodule of his vertebrae. He was hungry and yet not, and started looking for grass to chew. Thinking it was a tummy bug or an infection I took him into the vet to sort it out. That was only a week ago today. Things can change so much within a week. On Monday, after a last-ditch ultrasound scan, I was called into the vet clinic after-hours to discuss the scan findings. There were 3 large dense masses in his liver, that the doctor put down to two things – a very, very unlikely occurrence of a series of abcesses, or – more likely – 3 large tumors. My heart knotted, as somewhere within me, I knew it was the latter. The only way to know for sure was to take him back the next morning for surgery to physically see what the growths were. The vet told me that if they were, infact tumors, that it would only be cruel to Leo to stitch him up and wake him up to take home, as he would only suffer greatly until he eventually died. He didn’t have a definitive answer for the reason for cancer in my gorgeous boy at only 3 years old, only that he was at risk due to his breed. It was a genetic lottery and he lost.
And so I took him home with heavy everything, so we could all say our goodbyes. In 24 hours we had all gone from the prospect of a tummy bug, to now saying goodbye forever. And so we just did. And it was the hardest thing we’ve ever had to do, say goodbye forever to our young threenager who had the world at his feet to explore had he not lost the genetic lottery.
I feel like this is a release for me to write this. I don’t know how many of you are going to even care. But I felt the need to tell the world just how much he meant to me, and how much love I felt for an animal that I had once reluctantly rescued for a measley $50 and came barreling into my world, full force, paw outstretched with a big blue bow on his soft little neck.
Rest in peace baby, I know we’ll meet again. I love you so much. Goodbye.