To my wee Kitten,
You will never read this. You couldn't read even when you were alive, but I think you understood that I loved you.
One of my earliest memories is of wanting a sleek and special creature like you. When I was little I thought cats were girls, and dogs were boys. Dogs may be man’s best friend, but you were my familiar. I lived my entire adult life, to date, with you by my side.
You were the last one. No one wanted you, which is the reason I did. I guess I projected myself onto you from the start. You were black all over, like the cats witches kept in my childhood storybooks. I could hold you in one hand back then. My palm became something of your own personal Speakers' Corner: a platform from which you could broadcast your manifesto of squeaks. What were you saying? I remember wondering who I would be all those years in the future when you died before me, as I knew — barring an accident — you would. We are so insecure as teenagers. We have so much ahead of us. We don’t know what life will be.
Your adolescence, though much shorter than mine, did, for a while, coincide with it. You were quite the social butterfly, becoming a fixture on Nottingham’s after-party scene. You were used to beds full of intoxicated people, and truly it’s a wonder none of us ever squashed a wee thing like you. You learned to have your wits about you. A girl has to, in this dangerous world. You must have used up at least one of your lives during those early, hedonistic days.
You know how many people I have slept with these past 10 years. At least the ones I brought home. You never once slut-shamed me.
You slept in my bed every night and made sure that no seagulls came through the window. Thanks for that. I see now that you kept all sorts of demons at bay during those difficult college years. I was dangerously isolated and would often not leave the house for weeks at a time, but I was never alone with you there for a cuddle.
Of course, you never chose to be my friend. You seemed to like me, but I suppose it could have just been Stockholm Syndrome.
I tried to build a nice life for us in London and threw regular dinner parties but you turned your nose up at the fingers that reached out to pet you. You were cool in the face of celebrity. I don’t think anyone could accuse you of being particularly friendly with strangers, although if someone had a stash of weed in their bag you could become rather charming. Not to mention the mere hint of a tin of tuna being opened. I simply could not make a tuna sandwich without offering you some. I’d never have heard the end of it.
I don’t know why you liked to fall asleep with your head nuzzled into my housemate’s armpit, or sit outside the bathroom whenever I took a bath, as though I were Cleopatra bathing in milk and you a Roman guard. Or why you liked to lie on newspapers or chew the corner of other people’s Arcade Fire records, and couldn’t stand to see two people cuddling without demanding to be included, but you did.
I may have been harsh on you at times. I showed you clips of cats on the internet doing all sorts of amazing things and openly lamented what a disappointment you had been. I was wrong. If you never learned to surf it was only because I never took the time to teach you. I’m sorry.
I projected so much onto you. But you were just you, in the end. I wonder what you thought of me. I suspect I was just your Tuna Lady.
Two years ago, you became seriously ill. I think you understood that we were trying to help you, even if you resented going to the vet. For a year, I had to force pills down your throat every night. I tried to crush them up and hide them in your food, but you were having none of it. You clearly thought I was the devil, forcing your jaw open. Well, I thought your breath stunk of cat food.
Eventually we took you for an operation that left you in pain and so fragile it broke my heart. My relationship with the man I loved ended in horrendous circumstances that same night, doubly breaking me. I’m sorry you had to see that.
I couldn’t sleep in my bedroom. It was just too painful. I couldn’t lie in the bed I’d shared with him so I came into the living room with you. Having you by my side made me feel less alone. It always has.
After a month, I tried to go back into my room but I lay there, wide awake, 'til 6.30am before crawling into my housemate’s bed after he left for work. When I woke up a few hours later, I hauled my mattress back into the living room and you jumped up onto it.
I didn’t know it, but supporting me through this would be your final act of love.
On a Wednesday you went into my bedroom and lay down. I think you wanted to be alone and sensed it had become the loneliest place in the house, where something else had died. You had a knack for knowing where you should be. You always seemed to be able to locate the most luxurious spot to take a nap, and had an almost sixth sense for when fresh sheets were about to come out of the dryer.
This time you crawled behind my bookshelf and hid your face. You were unresponsive to affection or food. I knew you were dying.
It is not just the animal and friendship we miss but the life we lived with them.
I used to judge people who talked to their pets. And here I am writing to you — look how silly you’ve made me! I’m sorry to anyone I’ve dismissed when they were mourning a pet. I didn’t understand. It is not just the animal and friendship we miss but the life we lived with them. You were my youth. I cannot live those years again, just as you cannot live your life again. We are trapped in time as all living things are, pinned by fate to the here and now.
I thought your death was going to push me into a deep depression but to my surprise it has had the opposite effect: I am irrepressibly happy to be alive again. That may also have something to do with the new meds I’m taking but the point is, Wee Kitten, life is short and full of loss. We don’t have time to lose. And I find, thank God, that I am fairly happy with the person I became. I think the teenager who brought you back all those years ago would be impressed with the woman who buried you last month. Or at least I hope so. I can’t ask her.
On her behalf, I can thank you for teaching me to be responsible, and to love. For the warmth, laughter and affection. I’m still in the living room. I don’t care what people think. I’m writing this in your favorite spot — I wish you were here, you Wee Thing.