July 14, 2022

On Lily

I'm not really sure where to start. The last week has kicked my ass. I mean, I could say the last year or two or four have kicked my ass, but I think it's all finally caught up with me. Let me start from the beginning.

I've never really been a cat person. I mean, I like them okay, but I don't want pets who require me to clean their toilets and refuse to have much to do with me. But about five and a half years ago, I'd just lost my beloved dog, Gabby. My mom had just started dialysis for kidney failure. My grandfather and uncle and my parents' dog had died in the year or two leading up to it. I'd moved back in with my parents. We all moved into my grandfather's house. It was a lot, and I just wanted something young and fun around the house, so I ended up adopting two kittens.

It took me a while to adopt these kittens. Every Saturday for a month or so, I'd go hang out at PetSmart and see what the rescue groups bought, but none of them ever really jumped out at me, and I wasn't even 100% committed to this task anyway. A couple of days before Christmas, I was actually out shopping with my mom when a rescue group posted a list of the kittens they'd have in the store that day. I was sitting in the car, waiting for my mom to finish up whatever she was doing, and that's when I saw the cat I wanted on the list. I ran back into the store and told her to hurry up because we were going to PetSmart. We had groceries that would ruin, but I didn't care. I had to have that cat.

We got to PetSmart, and the kitten I wanted wasn't there yet. So, we waited. And waited. And the lady who was running the adoptions kept calling the person who was supposed to bring her. I was determined that I would have this cat and no one else would. Finally, she showed up, and they took her out of her little carrier and handed her to me, and I was ready to take her home.

"You can't take her by herself," my mom said as I held onto this little kitten for dear life. And she was right. Because inside that little carrier from which they had pulled my cat was another, smaller, more fragile-looking kitten who was quite obviously scared to death and sad without her sister. And that's how I ended up with two cats: My Annie Cat that I just had to have from the moment I saw her on Facebook and the other one.

Little did I know that "the other one" would turn my world upside down.

I named them Annie and Lily. Annie for the Edgar Allan Poe poem "Annabel Lee" and Lily for one of my favorite Bob Dylan songs "Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts." Annie was going to be my baby, and I told my mom she could have Lily.

When I got the kittens home, they did some kind of personality reversal. Annie, who was so sweet and playful and outgoing in PetSmart, wouldn't let anyone come near her. She hid. She totally disappeared for days at a time. You'd think she was feral if you came to visit. Her only motivation is food. I don't call her Little Fat Annie Cat for nothing. And socks. Annie steals socks any chance she gets. It's some kind of weird fetish she has. I literally have to hide my good Nike socks from her or she will find them, and I'll wake up and find socks all over the house. On the other hand, Lily, who had tricked us into thinking she was so pitiful and lonely so that we'd take her home, was the life of the party.

Lily was the more dominant of the two, which I think had a lot to do with Annie's personality. She groomed her and took care of her and made sure she ate. She also ran up and attacked her from behind, leaving marks all over her, but that was Lily.

Lily loved everyone here: dog, cat, human. Duck. She wanted more attention than my dog does. She fetched. She sat when you told her. She seemed to understand every word you said. She greeted me every time I left and returned, whether it was to go grab something to eat or leave the country for a week. She was especially clingy when I would go out of town. She wanted to be with me 24/7, and when I was home, she was. Cleaning? Lily will help and then get into the empty box afterwards. Working? Lily was on my desk, chair, or shoulder watching me type. Cooking? She sat at the stove and begged for food that she would almost never eat. One time I left the kitchen for a few minutes and came back to find her on the counter throwing raw bacon down for Annie. Every time I laid in bed to read or watch TV, she joined me. When I woke up in the mornings, she'd come join me again if she hadn't slept with me that night, and we'd play. I got some nasty bite marks and scratches because it got pretty rough, but we both loved every single minute of it. If I so much as sneezed or sniffled, she'd run to me and start patting me with her paws or rubbing her head on my arm.

My point is that if I was home and in the house, Lily was right there with me 90% of the time. I can't lie and say it didn't annoy me at times, but she could read my moods and would back off when I asked her to. Most of the time. We just had that kind bond that I've really only ever had with one other pet, my late dog Gabby who I mentioned above.

It's been about 10 months since my mom died, and times have been tough since then. It seems like a lot of weird, unusual things have happened that have made my life a little more difficult, but even worse, I've had to navigate them without my main support system. My mom was my bestie. I consulted with her on everything, even if we were mad at each other and even when I didn't necessarily agree with her advice. Just having her around to talk through life's difficult moments is something that is hard to learn to live without.

That's not to say I don't have a support system now. My dad would do anything I asked him to. I have a few assorted friends and family members who have been great. But I have sought a lot of comfort in my animals over these past few months, particularly the ones in the house: Annie, Lily, and Sadie, my dog. Those three are my little dream team, even silly shy little Annie.

Last week, I was pretty stressed out for a number of reasons, so I probably didn't give any of them the attention they deserved. If I could go back in time…

On Thursday morning, I woke up, and Annie and Sadie were in my bedroom, but Lilly was missing. I called and called and called her, and she finally came up and drank some water and laid down by the water bowl I keep in there. This wasn't really like her, but I didn't think much of it at first. Lily has always been a little sickly. While Annie is robust and a little chunky, Lily has always been smaller. She gets cold easily. She has allergy issues. She had a little neurological thing. I've had to take her to the vet for issues with her eyes that she's had since birth and treat that on and off since I've had her. As a matter of fact, her eye looked pretty rough that day, so I just assumed her allergies had her down and treated it as such. I fed Annie some treats, and Lily ate a few, so I figure as long as she's eating and drinking, there isn't much to worry about. And later that day, she perked up. She was chasing some kind of flying bug that got into the house.

On Friday, she seemed a bit down again, so I went out and got her some meds and some brothy food, which I figured would help if she had a sore throat. I called my vet to make an appointment for her, but they couldn't see me until Tuesday. I called several other vets in every county north, south, and west of Atlanta. They couldn't see me until Tuesday. I asked Lily why she couldn't do this on a Monday rather than a holiday weekend. She did not respond.

On Saturday, she didn't seem any better or worse. I called a local emergency vet, and they seemed overwhelmed. They told me that as long as she was drinking water, not having trouble breathing, and not having seizures that she should be okay until Tuesday, but that didn't sit right with me. A friend of mine suggested another vet that is open 365 days a year, and I called and was thankfully able to get an appointment for Sunday afternoon.

By Saturday evening, I was a wreck. She seemed weaker, and she wasn't really eating. She was still drinking water, though, which felt like a good sign, but by now, I knew something was up. I got her into my bed that night and wrapped her in my soft robe, and we snuggled and watched TV for a few hours. I'm so grateful for that time.

At some point in the night, she got down from my bed. I slept terribly, but I had this intense dream that my mom appeared to me, and we were in this beautiful place that was lush with plants and flowers. I can't even describe it. My mom poured some cat food in a bowl, and Lily and this other cat I'd neer seen went to eat it, and they were so happy and healthy. I told her to let Annie get some too, but she told me it was not time for Annie.

I woke up in a panic. I just knew I'd find Lily dead somewhere. I looked all over the house and finally found her under my bed, alive and looking at me like I was disturbing her. She came out and drank some water and laid down outside my bedroom door. I tried to feed her again, but she wasn't having it, so we got ready and headed out to the vet.

The trip to the office was actually quite a drive because I didn't want to get on the expressway and for some reason, my GPS took me through a gazillion backroads. I prayed and prayed the entire way there. Lily meowed and tried to figure a way out of her carrier. She doesn't like car rides. I tried to pet her and talk to her and navigate the way, all while shaking with nerves that were absolutely shot. We got to the stripmall where the vet's office was supposed to be. I unloaded Lily who was in a heavy awkward large dog crate because my cat carrier is broken. It was 92 degrees. Parking was a mess because Atlanta. I finally got her up to the door, and it was locked. I asked someone next door where the vet's office was now, and they told me it had moved across the street. So, I loaded her back up, and it took about 15 minutes to get across the street because Atlanta, and I unloaded her again and took her into the new building.

She seemed okay, and I was still praying. She hissed at a dog who came and sniffed through her little windows, and she was still meowing. I got a tickle in my throat, which led to a five-minute coughing fit which probably led to everyone in the building thinking I had COVID. When they took us to a room, a tech came right in, and he looked just like Ben Folds with darker hair, and I felt like this had to be a good sign. It wasn't, but he was nice.

The vet came in, and she was also nice. They asked many questions. Went over their plans for testing her. Gave me some ideas of what could be wrong with her. They did an exam, drew some blood, etc. I kept praying and shaking and petting Lily and talking to her. In the back of my mind, I knew how this would end.

When the vet came back into the room, the look on her face was enough to confirm it. Lily was severely anemic. Like severely. She knew that before the test results even came back because she said she'd never seen blood so thin. We went over a million potential causes, but none of the testing revealed any of that. Her organs were working. No parasites. Negative for common cat diseases. I won't go into all the details, but we went around and around trying to come up with a solution, and as we did, Lily was fading. I kept scratching her under chin and behind her ears like she likes, and I do believe she enjoyed it. She purred and moved closer to me, but she also kept doing other things that weren't great signs, and her fear of being away from home had gone out the window. She didn't care who handled her or what they did to her. Honestly, the last couple of times I've seen that sort of behavior, I was watching my mother and a chicken die.

I had to make the decision as to whether or not I wanted to put her through emergency care. There was a big chance that she wouldn't even survive long enough to receive it. There was also a pretty big chance that the emergency care (blood transfusions, etc.) was more of a bandage than an actual solution. There was a small chance she'd get it and be fine, some sort of freak thing, but there was no way to know. And I'd like to say money didn't play a role, but I was already racking up quite a bill with all the testing, and we were talking thousands of dollars more just for the first night. Not that she's not worth it. There was just so much more to it than I can even type here.

A few friends and relatives checked in on me while the vet and tech were going back and forth delivering test results. She kept asking me if I wanted them to do this test and that and telling me how much each one cost. The vet never mentioned euthanizing, but I could tell it was on the tip of her tongue. She kept telling me that she was "very sick" and needed "lots of care." Now that I think about it, it reminded me a lot of my mom's last hospital stay, but this lady had a much better bedside manner than much of the ICU staff. Go figure.

I really didn't know what to do. I've never had to put an animal down before. As an adult, my pets have all died from old age. I did take a cat for my mom once, but I didn't even live with it and had no real attachment to it, so it wasn't the same. Anyway, my point is that it's just not a decision I've ever had to make. And it's not an easy decision to make. You have to weigh the vet's advice with your gut instinct and the probability of good and bad outcomes if you opt for the treatment and what the quality of life will be for that animal if they do survive the treatment and so on. I used to see death as a very black and white issue, but after all I went through with my mom and some of the issues I've had raising livestock, you start to learn there's a good bit of grey area.

And no matter what decision I came to, I felt like a failure. Lily was only 5 years old. She was supposed to be with me forever. I just assumed, took it for granted that she'd be one of those cats that lived to be 25 or something. I know in my heart that I did the right things for her in the end, but that "what if" game can mess with your head.

And this is where I realized that in the past, I could have called my mom. I could have asked her what to do. She'd tell me. I may not have followed her advice, but she'd help me see the situation more clearly. Even if I didn't make the right decision, she'd support me afterwards. We'd talk it through. We'd talk about Lily for days to come. We'd repeat ourselves, but it would bring comfort. She'd be just as emotionally involved with the situation as I was no matter what else was going on in her life. She knew me the way I knew Lily and knew what I would need to get through this difficult little period of life. My God, that's hard to live without.

So, at this point, I've been at the office for a couple of hours, and the vet came in and sat with me for a bit. She let me know they were closing soon and we needed to figure things out, but she wasn't pushy. She talked to me on a human level. I told her that I just didn't think I could go through with the emergency services for a number of reasons, and I laid them out and she didn't agree or disagree, just supported me. It wasn't anything close to what my mom would have done, but it was what I needed. I could have hugged that woman if I were a person who likes to hug people and we weren't post-pandemic and it had been a more appropriate situation.

"So, are you saying definitely that you want to euthanize her?" she asked finally using the word we'd both danced around for a bit. I told her I guess I did, and she alluded to the fact that she thought I was making the right decision given her expeirence with these types of situations. My dad also texted me and told me I was making the right decision.

And here is where I just lost it. I don't think I've cried in public since I was a toddler. I remember sitting at my grandmother's funeral and pinching my leg and threatening myself when I was on the verge. I barely cry in private, but I sat in that little room and just started bawling. Tears were flowing. Snot was flying. I was apologizing to poor Lily who had no idea what was going on. I kept telling the vet I don't even cry and my mom had just died and she was anemic too and I didn't know what's wrong with me. She probably thought I was crazy as she tried to discuss postmortem options — burial, cremation, etc. — and the Ben Folds-looking guy brought me a box of tissues. I guess I was crying for Lily, but I was crying for my mom and myself too. I was crying because I had to make that decision alone. I was crying because of every bad thing that has happened over the last year. I was crying over work, which has been awful lately. I was crying because I've been so overwhelmed over the last few months. I cried for all of it.

Ben Folds told me I could stay with her as long as I needed before they did the deed, but I told him to go ahead and do it. I'd been sitting there petting her and saying "Oh, Lily," for a few hours now and I didn't see the point of prolonging anything. I know they wanted to get home. It was well past closing time, and nothing was going to change if I sat there for 20 or 30 more minutes. The vet asked me if I wanted to be with her when it happened, and I really wasn't sure about that. I've watched animals die. It wasn't that.

If she had been visibly upset, I would have gone with her. But she was barely awake. And if she became more animated right before they did it, I probably would have second-guessed myself. And I was so tired. I didn't even want to get up off the little bench to go home. Part of me wanted to curl up and sleep there, and part of me wanted to get the hell out and never look back. And then the vet told me a very good story about something that happened to her as a teenager that made me decide not to watch. So, they explained what they would do, step by step, and took her back, and she was so sleepy and out of it anyway that she didn't even care. Ben Folds kept her wrapped in her little blanket I'd brought, and I sat and waited and texted with my dad and a few other people to let them know what was going on.

After it was all over, I loaded up my car with the carrier and Lily, who they were kind enough to put into a box for me, still wrapped in her blanket that she loved. She looked so peaceful. I decided to take the expressway home, and traffic was minimal. I brought her inside, and let Annie and Sadie sniff her to know she was gone. Annie even climbed in the box with her. Afterwards, she went from room to room, looking for her, and then she came back and sniffed the box again as if she had decided that it was true and she was saying goodbye. I also cut a few locks of Lily's hair, which sounds creepy to type out. About that time, my dad texted me and told me he had the grave ready. Looking back, I kind of wish I'd had her cremated as I usually do with my dogs, but it's too late now. We buried her in our pet graveyard where all my childhood dogs and a few other assorted animals are buried. That night and the next day, I really didn't know what to do with myself. I couldn't eat. I couldn't sleep. I was exhausted and starving though. It was the 4th of July but I could have cared less about any of it. I'm pretty sure I spent most of that day sitting on the sofa, watching King of the Hill and going through some of my mom's craft supplies.

It's been a week now since Lily first began showing signs of something being wrong. I'm not ashamed to rank it as one of the worst weeks of my life. I still feel like I've been hit by a truck. I'm devastated. I miss her. I still can't process how quickly it all happened. I still can't process the decision I had to make. I know people make it every day, but it was a first for me. In many ways. And it will probably take me a while to get over it.

But at the same time, it might have been the kick in the pants I needed to make some changes. To quit putting things off. Live in the moment. I can't go into much detail here because some of it is work-related, but I really feel like there are some big changes ahead. They might not be easy, but they should be worth it. And Lily taught me that you can't take life for granted. If I could go back to last Tuesday and let her climb all over me while I watched Jeopardy that evening instead of telling her I wasn't feeling it, I would.

I know what you're thinking. All of this over a cat. And a few years ago, I'd be right there with you. But Lily wasn't just a cat. She was my little buddy. We were in sync in a way that's rare. I bond with all my animals, but this was just different. I can't explain it. I had it with my dog Gabby, and I had it with Lily, and if I'm lucky enough, I'll have it again one day. Someone told me recently that they don't have pets because they couldn't deal with losing them. I told her she was right; it will shatter your world and make you question your existence and whether life is worth living. But it's worth it and you just pick up and do it all over again.

I will probably adopt another kitten soon. Most likely after some traveling I'm doing in a few weeks. Honestly, I'm getting it more for Annie to have a companion than I am for myself, but it will be nice to have something young and fun around the house again.

*Note: I wrote this last week on July 7, 2022.