In the Spring of 1999, Andy and I lived on the 3rd floor of a downtown Albany brownstone apartment building – before marriage, before Jonah, before either of us had turned 30. One warm day, we opened the window and heard loud howling-meows in the alley below. When we investigated we found a half-starved alley cat, ribs standing out from her fur, crying a desperate, determined call. To this day I think she was calling me – the queen sucker for strays. She ran over to rub herself on and around my legs. Of course we took her in, Andy and I, and for a week or so she mostly just sat in the middle of our woven living room rug, still and silent, as if in shock.
Soon, she grew to like living with us – having food and care, warmth and safety. She rounded out into a small but well-fed cat, and seemed so grateful – she never missed an opportunity to show us. We took her to an awesome vet who guess-timated her to be 2 or 3 years old. She wasn’t a pretty cat, but oh how she loved. She was the sweetest thing, climbing in my lap and rubbing her furry face against mine. Leaning into me, sleeping in Andy’s hair (really), purring at our touch. We named her Sugar — not for her coloring but for her super-sweet disposition.
I’ve had my share of cat companions in my day, but Sugar’s been the sweetest, paws down.
When Jonah was born, Sugar took to sleeping in his crib. By the time Jonah actually slept in the crib, he was 5 months old, and Sugar wanted to stay. So together they slept. We watched and, at first, worried, but they were just fine. Jonah could roll over onto Sugar or pull her tail and Sugar stayed calm or got away.
What Sugar wanted more than anything in this world was attention. She gladly sat in my lap for hours to be brushed or petted, purring loud and occasionally lifting her tiny face to mine for a kiss. Her ideal companion, really, would have been an 80-year-old woman who’d gladly overindulge a needy cat in exchange for the kind of devotion Sugar loved to give. I love you I love you Feed Me I love you was Sugar’s purr-mantra. (She puked more often than we liked, but we overlooked that stubbornly unfixable flaw). Jonah and Sugar mostly peacefully co-existed.
But once Jonah started to get behaviorally aggressive, we knew Sugar needed a safer place to live, so my mother took her in, kindly giving her love and care. Whenever I visited my mother I paid a special visit to Sugar too, holding the cat close in my arms and setting her down gently to pet her and listen to her rolling purr. She came running at my voice, which I always thought was cool. She knows her mama.
A month or so ago, though, Sugar got sores on her belly. We found out she needed surgery and I gladly paid for it. After all, my mom and I thought, Sugar still ate well, jumped up on the bed, walked fine, and all her body functions were working. Neither mom nor I could bring ourselves NOT to do the surgery. After the operation, Sugar seemed to be doing well and healing okay, but these past few days she grew weaker. She started limping and then she just sat in the litter box. My mom tried to hand-feed her but she would only eat a tiny bit. This morning, when she lifted Sugar into her arms, Sugar peed all over her.
So my mother decided Sugar had been through enough. I called Andy to tell him, and he said he understood and was sorry. My mother picked me up at work and I held my 4-pound cat in a blanket on my lap as we drove in silence to the vet. I closed my eyes and ran my fingertips through her fur, along her sharp spine, my tears falling freely on her tiny head, like a baptism in reverse. An anointing of the sick.
Sugar purred softly in my arms as we took her to that same compassionate doctor who first examined her 13 years ago.
I pet her as she was laid on a soft blanket and given first an injection to make her groggy. The doc left the room for a minute as we said goodbye. I love you, Sugarpuss, I whispered in her ear, kissing her one last time. I silently asked Gina to come get her, please, and God strike me down if I’m lying just then a Paul Simon song from our favorite album came on the very-low-volume piped-in music in the room, and I knew it was her way of telling me she’d be there to show my cat around heaven.
When the doc came back, she gently asked if we wanted to stay in the room. I knew my mom didn’t want to, but I did, so mom bravely stood by me; softly we spoke in whispers to our old, sweet, tiny runt of a calico cat. “It’s okay, baby,” I told her. “It’s okay to go.” The doc took her time to carefully search and find a good vein. She inserted a needle and slowly injected Sugar with whatever drug will euthanize a cat.
“God’s finger touched her, and she slept.” ~ Alfred, Lord Tennyson