Monday, October 29, 2012

For Frank, Who Is Dying

When I was in my char-hearted, callow youth, one of the things I found privately the funniest was people who spent inordinate sums on keeping their elderly pets alive. Since we've solved all human suffering and all, I would scoff. My pets - if I was weak enough to have any - would be handled with a practical hand. I would not go into debt for their care and their lives would not be artificially extended.

So of course we found ourselves rushing our old man cat to the vet - who is AN HOUR AND A HALF AWAY on Christmas Eve IN A SNOWSTORM two years ago because he suddenly stopped being able to walk and then found ourselves cheerfully agreeing to his expensive diabetes treatments because of course. Of course we would - he is not the IDEA of a cat, and he is not YOUR cat who I do not care about - he is my own cat, my Franky, taken from my parent's farm right after we married when he was a lanky young cat and Bill and I had yet to figure out that loving something - anything - meant that they would have the power to hurt you, forever. Even me, with my protective coat of sarcasm and distance.

"He's a philosopher!" the vet told us, which we found somewhat dubious since we think he is only slightly smarter than a fern. But no, she insisted, he was in fact a thoughtful cat, taking everything in and then she taught Bill how to give injections to a towel and we brought him home, expensively saved from death's very clutches and could not look each other in the eyes for a few days because here we were, silly over a cat.

And now he is dying, a gentle old man's death, little bit by little bit.

"It's okay," Frank, who is philosophical about these things, says. "Being a cat means I don't have the first idea about death, anyhow."

We could take him to the vet's to be put down, but it's such a long trip and he finds it so scary and we don't want his very last hours to be horrifying and traumatic and so instead he is sleeping away the end of his life at home, getting frailer and frailer every day.

I don't have any anecdotes to prove that he loveable. He's just my cat, a sweet shy cat who much prefers Bill but who will consent to me rocking him like a baby, even now. He has no meanness in him. It has never occurred to him that he is much bigger than our other cat, who pushes him around and takes the best food, never occurred to him to scratch our toddlers and their obnoxious hair-pulling love. He has tried his best, we think, to be a good boy. He has, we think, loved us back.

If all it took was money to keep you, Franky, our sweet dumb cat, we'd spend it. But time is unknitting you, undoing your bones and every day brings less and less of you, an enviably sweet and sleepy death and meanwhile all I am left with is unreliable words and no actual way to say - in this unfamiliar, earnest tongue - how sad I am, how undone I am, you good boy, you sweet sleepy thing.