It’s always One Thing or Another … a lighthearted look at aging, life, and the absurdities of it all.
A funny thing happened on the way to despair: our oldest cat Jessica defied expectations and lived to meow another day. If you’ve ever had a pet diagnosed with a grave illness, you know the odds. You also know the futility of hope—they might get better with a daily pill, they’ll need some insanely expensive surgery you can’t afford, you’ll spend a few weeks or months believing they’ll recover, then you’ll cradle them in your arms in room #3 at the vet’s office waiting for a syringe of Permanent Sleepytime.
That had been my experience through twenty years of surrendering my space to cats. I loved each of them, and I had to euthanize them one after the other. Janis, Dominique, Lola, Wendy, Kaboodle, Munchkin. All girl cats, all friends with distinct dispositions and varying degrees of indifference. I’m a shameless, out and proud cat person. Anyone who tells you cats are distant never met Wendy, the calmest cat who ever plopped in front of a doorway for you to step over—she would not move and had no more fear of strangers than she had of a dust mite. I wanted to be that cat, enduring the world with a feline Zen that worried about absolutely nothing.
I don’t like going to the vet’s office. It’s hard enough riding in the back of a taxi with a frightened cat in a plastic box. Then you’re sitting on an uncomfortable chair holding your boxed cat in your lap to comfort her while all those leashed dogs yap and try to get a sniff inside the cat carrier. Someone comes out of a room with an empty cage, their face ashen and their eyes wet, and you know another beloved animal just hopped on the ghost train.
But this time, when I expected the worst because the worst is all I knew, my miracle cat surprised me. It was some problem with her liver. The vet looked in her ears and said she was jaundiced, which I now know is impossible to tell unless you’re a vet. Jaundiced? She’s a cat! But I trusted his knowledge and his gentle manner. It could be a tumor on her liver, he said. Or it could be a blocked bile duct. The prognosis was bad and the options limited. Short of putting an end to her, what could we do? A pill, you say, kind doctor? He didn’t seem hopeful but suggested we give it a try.
If you’ve ever had to give a cat a pill every day, I don’t have to describe it. In this case she needed two, with a squirt of some liquid she hated as much as I hated giving it to her. A week passed. She went for a follow up and more blood work, the last I could pay for, and lo and behold, she was improving.
Now, two months later, I call her my miracle cat. She has recovered, with a little luck from biology: the liver is the only organ that regenerates. Hers did, along with my hope that I’d be spared the loss for a little while longer.
Jessie has slept next to me for fifteen years. She talks back to me and follows me around the house. When I leave, she sits at the door and cries. If I go to the bathroom, she hops off the bed and goes with me. Call us co-dependent, I don’t care and I’m not going to a 12 Step program to detach myself.
The lessons in this are many, and some I have yet to discern. One of them is a recurring lesson about the value of time, a non-renewable resource we too often fritter away with worries and fears. Another is about companionship with those in our lives we love who walk on two legs or four. Did we speak to them recently, or put it off for another day that may not come? Did we tell our cat, dog, parakeet, spouse or friends how much they mean to us? And, perhaps above all, did we learn anything about unconditional love and acceptance, or are we still full of “buts” … I love my neighbor, but … I accept people who are different from me, but … We never expect a cat to be anything but a cat, yet we expect each other to change our behaviors and our opinions and our worldviews before we’re willing to let people be people.
Jessica is my miracle cat. Someday she’ll be gone, but the gratitude she taught me can last, and the change in my thinking can be real. Hope, not despair. Compassion, not judgment. Somehow it all came together on a trip to the vet.
Mark McNease is the author of the bestselling Kyle Callahan Mysteries and the recently launched Detective Linda Mysteries, as well as the co-editor and publisher of the anthology Outer Voices Inner Lives (Lambda Literary Award finalist). He’s the editor and publisher of lgbtSr.org, “where age is embraced and life is celebrated,” as well as the co-host of The Twist Podcast and the co-creator of the Emmy and Telly winning children’s program Into the Outdoors.