Sixteen years ago I got my wife a graduation present. I was working nights at Gepeto's, a pizza place in Salt Lake City, and the owner's cat had kittens. His daughters would bring them in all the time and I couldn't resist. We drove up to the avenues and picked up the smallest of the cats, this runt with pure white fur, and named her Bianca.
At the time we thought it charming to name everything after Shakespeare characters... as theater nerds do. It's a phase. We're just fortunate we didn't have twins back then or we'd be paying for therapy for Rozencrantz and Guildenstern right now.
Our first stop with little Bianca (who fit her name perfectly) was the home of my in-laws. We brought our tiny kitten in and introduced her to everyone. We took her out back and thought it would be cute for her to meet Rambo, the Kearns' family cat.
Rambo got low, right into Bianca's face and let out a deep, low growl.
Bianca puffed up, arched, hissed and pee'd... in that order. I remember her back leg moving and shaking as pee dripped down it.
And suddenly, Moishe, the gigantic German Shepherd, came trotting up, stood over Bianca, her tiny body between his front legs, dropped his pointed head, and growled at Rambo, baring his teeth. He didn't move until Rambo skulked off. He then stepped back and sniffed Bianca, nudging her before laying down next to this shivering kitten.
It was our first moment with her. From that point on we treated her like a dog. We taught her to play fetch. I chased her. We fought.
Those of you who have met her now understand how our cat became skittish and had a penchant for swatting ankles. She was extremely territorial. She thought of herself as a dog. She was brave until someone bigger came by and she'd run away, My mother was deathly afraid of her for a while and my father in-law would carry a bag whenever he walked by her, just to protect his ankles from a random swat.
But to us, to Angie and I, she was an angel. She was our baby. She always knew the exact moment to jump up and curl on your lap. She'd meow incessantly for water in her special bowl, even when the one near her food was full. She would twirl between your legs when you came home. She always appeared out of nowhere as Angie was coming down the hall from work. She knew our sounds, our footsteps.
While I was gone working out of town for a long stretch, Bianca was Angie's best friend. She took my place in our bed.
I had to work hard to reclaim my place when I got back.
The picture I always had with me was one I took late one night, a typical night when Angie would fall asleep on the couch and Bianca would inevitably jump up and nestle in, head and front paws resting on A's hip, body tucked in the crook of her knees. I can't show that photo because my wife would kill me... and it's just mine. My own personal perfection. My ideal life until we had Turtle.
When Turtle was born, we were nervous about how Bianca would handle it. From the beginning she was fine.
What we realized was this child, this person, had the smell of both Angie and I on him and was so new and so small, the cat would quickly acclimate and the two would simply grow together.
A few months ago, Bianca fell over. She couldn't walk, dragging her kicking hind leg as if her back had been broken, but her legs were still trying to gain purchase. It was a frightening night as she meowed in confusion and we stayed up with her all night. In the morning we took her in. A new vet this time, not the huckster who drained our Machu Picchu account with surgeries and teeth cleanings every couple months. We took her to Astoria Veterinary Group... Those of you in Astoria know how great they are. The determination was that she had probably had a stroke and for an old cat, there is very little one can do. Every morning I would put a long needle under her skin for a drip and Angie would hold her as I gave her shots. We nursed her back as best we could. And then the seizures started. She couldn't jump off the couch or bed with out doing backflips and landing with a thud. She'd lift her head and it would drop back down to the floor. We had a sense the end was close.
The other night we knew. She was telling us it was time.
Today, I watched as Turtle sat next to her and ran his fingers through her fur. Bianca didn't move. She just let him pet her to his heart's content. She didn't swat, she didn't growl. She watched him, closely as his tiny hands gently pet her and then would pat her body, giggling and "talking" to her the entire time.
A few hours later we took her in and let her go.
It may be the hardest thing I've ever had to do.
People have tried to define love and I realized today that truly loving someone, or something, means being able to conjure up every moment you shared with them in an instant.
I saw them all. As she lay there in a final quiet moment with the three of us, I saw them all.
And I looked at my son and I saw all the moments to come, moments our little Bianca would miss as part of our family. And it hurt.
And then we let go.