Sunday, June 29, 2008

Goodbye, Kitty.

I said goodbye to my cat of 15 years this weekend.

I inherited him from a friend in college -- a wee kitten, she had to part with him as his presence violated dorm regulations. For a while we had taken to calling him "kitty" until a roommate conferred upon him the name "Dashiki." Somewhow it stuck.

I recall a time where he had escaped and was gone for weeks on end. One summer's night I was watching television when a ball of fur burst literally through the screen door, tearing across the living room seeking refuge. To my suprise it wasn't Dashiki, but he came trotting in a few minutes later, looking smug in hot pursuit. Just another of his romps through the neighborhood.

Somehow we survived those crazy years and upon graduation, he accompanied me from Hickory, NC to New York City. He settled down and adjusted rather well to the big city -- and to my wife's younger kitten, Lila. The two would put on a good show of disliking each other, but we'd often catch them snuggled up on the bed.

If cats have 9 lives, Dashiki used up quite a few. One time when we were living on the Upper West Side he disappeared from an open second-story window that a roommate had left open. I had feared the worst, putting up signs and combing nearby animal shelters in vain hoping for a familiar glimpse. A week later, still unsuccessful, I had resigned myself to his loss when a neighbor found him huddled in a trash can in the basement. Turned out New York City was a little too intimidating for a country kitty. Needless to say he abandoned all desire to go exploring outdoors thereafter, content to gaze from the windowsill.

He was a reclusive, curmudgeonly-yet-immensely-loveable kitty. He'd spend most of the day in hiding, quietly napping -- save for those occasions where he'd succumb to the smell of fried fish when we'd order Chinese takeout; or the lure of catnip, or at night, when he would jump on the bed and sprawl across my chest, purring madly in what became an evening routine.

I woke up Saturday morning to find him in our bathroom -- an unusual place for him given his tendency to hang out in the closet. He didn't protest (as he usually does) when I picked him up, and spent the rest of the morning in the living room, noticeably more lethargic than usual.

We took him to the vet. They discovered a tumor in the very back of this throat, probably melanoma. She explained the various measures that could be taken to buy him some time -- hospitalization, tests, surgery, but the prognosis was grim.

I got to hold him one last time; to hear beneath the labored breathing a faint purr. It was hard to say goodbye.

The house feels empty without him -- I didn't sleep the night he died. Part of me kept waiting, to feel the weight as he jumped on the bed, nuzzling his head against my palm in the dark.

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