Today, I'd like to tell you the story of how I met my best friend.
It was Easter Sunday, April 4, 1999, and I was in a bad place, seriously bad. I had recently broken up with my fiancé, who also happened to be my very first boyfriend. I had initially instigated the break up by throwing the ring at him but, at the time, NEVER thought for a minute that I wouldn't get it back. After all, this was me, hysterical Kari, well-known for irrational behavior and histrionics. But I never did get that ring back and soon, our engagement officially ended. I was wrecked, drowning in what was the most searing, devastating pain I had ever experienced up to that point in my life. I was in a deep, dark, despairing place and I was lonely. I needed someone, someone who would love me unconditionally, someone I could love back, without fear or reservation, someone I could take care of who would never, ever leave me. I needed a cat.
I started out at a small rescue shelter, suggested, ironically, by my ex fiancé. Accompanied by my entire family, (I think. I know my parents were there. It was Easter so I have to assume my brother was, too.) off I went. I quickly found the cat I wanted, cream-colored and seemingly super easy-going. He seemed so ready to be loved, just perfect. So, I went to fill out forms, answer questions, attend to all the formalities and bring my boy HOME.
Everything was going splendidly until they got to the question, "Will this cat be an indoor/outdoor cat or indoor only?" Now, I knew, having lost our family cat seven years ago when he was killed, on our very block, by a hit and run driver (our neighbor witnessed the whole sordid affair) that I had NO intentions of letting my cat outside. But, as so often happens in my life, I let my mother's "You can't not allow a cat to go OUTSIDE, that's CRUEL," influence me. Therefore, I casually answered, "indoor/outdoor." Suddenly, time stopped. "Oh, I'm sorry. It is against our policy to adopt cats out to owners who will let them outside. Have a nice day." WHAT THE FUCK? I had been born and raised on Long Island. Almost every cat owner I knew let their cats outside. What in the holy hell was happening here? "Okay then, I won't let him outside," I assured them with a smile. After all, I was a nice 26 year old woman, accompanied by my entire family, on Easter Sunday. How could they deny me the opportunity to give an animal a loving home and a fantastic life based on one hastily given (and not truthful) answer. "Well, I'm sorry, miss but it's too late, now. You already said that you would and that's against our policy. You cannot adopt a cat here." Now, I was LIVID. "You mean to tell me that you would rather leave this cat lingering in a cage, denying him a loving home, because I answered your trick question incorrectly? You're looking at a police officer of twenty two years, here," I stammered, gesturing towards my father. "He saved people's lives. Do you really think ANY of us would harm this or any other animal?"
"Miss, that's our policy and yes, under the circumstances, we would rather have him here."
I walked out shell-shocked, in tears and completely, utterly decimated. The thought of this innocent cat, MY cat, being left here, for who knows how long, maybe the rest of his life, because I STUPIDLY ignored my own heart and listened to my fucking mother, AGAIN, enraged me and I was devastated. Subsequently, I swallowed my pride, called my ex, tearfully told him the story and begged him to go get the cat for me. To his credit, he tried. He went to the shelter shortly thereafter, found the cat I had described and was about to do the paperwork when someone said, "Hey, weren't you here recently with a blonde girl?" (He had been. Before our break up, I was already thinking about adopting. We looked around but I was not quite ready to make the commitment yet.) He, I assume, said "no" but this fucking asshat with, apparently, a photographic recollection of anyone who had ever entered the shelter, was not giving in, not to mention that two different people wanting to adopt the exact same cat on Easter Sunday had to be more than a coincidence.
What the fuck was I thinking? Clearly, I wasn't. I was, as usual, Veruca Salt. "Don't care how, I want it NOW" you son of a bitch. Thus, that was the end. They refused to allow him to adopt this cat either, convinced he would just give him to me. This cat was not to be mine. I was in a much worse place than I was before I started. My family, figuring we were done with the ordeal for the day, prepared to go to my aunt's house for Easter dinner. But I wasn't finished. Oh no, not even close.
My parents and brother looked at me like I was insane (possible). "Are you sure you're not coming? This might not be the best idea," my mother said.
"I'm sure. You guys go, I'm fine."
And off they went. I had another plan.
I drove to another shelter, this time the North Shore Animal League where at least half the people I knew on Long Island had adopted their pets. The fact that I was doing this BY MYSELF, me, over-dependent Kari, who had a meltdown making ordinary phone calls like to schedule a doctor's appointment, that I was setting out alone to make a decision that would change my life completely, hopefully for many many years to come, was literally mystifying. I'd like to say I felt brave and empowered but I was probably just scared shitless. Still, I made the thirty minute drive, took a deep breath and went inside to find my cat.
I was quite surprised at how easily I found him. It typically takes me twenty minutes to decide whether or not to buy a shirt, for Christ's sake, but this decision was made the minute I saw him, the smallish grey, black and white tabby, hiding in the corner of his cage, looking completely terrified. If he was not me in cat form, I don't know who was. The sign on his cage said, among other things, "Name: Snapdragon. Age: Approximately one year."
The instant our eyes met, I knew. This sweet boy had chosen me as much as I had chosen him. I asked to see him and they took him out and placed him on a table. He scrunched down into a tight ball in the farthest corner. He looked SO fucking scared. "He's a bit feisty. That's why we call him Snapdragon."
"I'll take him."
Soon, I had my boy in a cardboard crate and was filling out papers (no one even asked if he was to be allowed outside), being given his meds (apparently he had an upper respiratory infection) and paying his adoption fee. Then, it was official. This beautiful terrified cat, who I named Spencer (keeping Snapdragon as his middle name to honor his past) was mine.
We got out to the car and I told him we were going home, me and my little angel cat. When I started the car a song came on. It was called "Angel of Mine" - clearly the exclamation point on what I knew, with my whole heart, was meant to be.
For days, at least a week, Spencer hid. When he stopped hiding, he was frozen. If I picked him up and carried him across the room, that's where he would remain, for hours, until he needed to eat, drink or use his litter box. When I took him to the vet for his follow-up exam (to check on his infection and make sure he was healthy overall. He had already been fixed before I got him,) he, once again, cowered in the corner of the table. The vet said that this was typical for him. He had clearly been abused before he arrived at the shelter (no wonder he looked so fucking terrified when we met) but his health was great. In time, he slowly began to warm up to me. He would explore the house (I still lived with my family in the house I grew up in) and allow himself to be petted and loved more frequently. He knew he was home.
Fast forward to now, over thirteen years later. Over the years, Spencer has become an absolute cuddle bug, still only with the people he knows and trusts (my husband, my mother and myself) but, in his own unique way, super-affectionate. He loves to give what I call "mooches" (smooches), especially when I'm in bed (he hops up onto my pillow and licks pretty much my entire face) or when we come home (licking legs, feet, whatever body part is easily accessible). He is my absolute joy, my heart and soul and my very best friend. I could not possibly love him more.
Yay! Happy tale, right? Wrong! (You must be new here so I'll let it slide.) My husband and I learned yesterday that our beloved boy is in some serious trouble. Let me set the scene. A few weeks ago we took him to an emergency vet, twice, when he was having trouble going to the bathroom and, after $600 worth of tests, we were told that he has, "mild kidney disease, barely on the charts, easily treatable with a special diet. We MAY want to consider injecting him with subcutaneous fluids a few times a week at some point but, for now, just change his food and follow up with your regular vet in a few months." Okay, that sucked. I never EVER expected that our having a constipated kitty would mean he had a disease. He had had this issue once before, a few years prior, and at that time, he was given a cat laxative and sent on his merry way. I had expected the same outcome this time around so I was in a bit of shock. Still, the disease was "very mild," no reason to freak out. Change his food, see the vet in a few months, we've got this. At our second visit in as many weeks to the emergency vet, it was suggested that we find a regular vet for him, follow-up, and to learn how to give him the subcutaneous fluids at home, probably twice a week. The next day we scheduled the appointment for my husband's next day off, yesterday.
I'll be blunt. We do NOT have much money, at all. This is not to say that I wouldn't give up cable or the Internet, sell my fucking tv or eat ramen for six months to pay for vet bills if I had to but we wanted to establish ourselves with a "real" vet, compassionate and caring, the opposite of the brusque matter-of-fact folks at the emergency clinic. Brian found a vet online, ironically located just down the street from his job, that seemed really accommodating. The reviews online were primarily raves. Great facilities, reasonable prices and, most importantly, people who cared. Perfect!
So, we took our poor confused boy, who seemed to be feeling just fine, loaded him into his pet taxi, which he despises and drove him, crying all the way, to the vet. I was nervous. I didn't know how I was going to give this boy, who fights tooth and nail against ingesting oral meds, a SHOT twice a week but I'm his mom, Brian's his dad, we'd figure it out. Imagine my surprise when I learned that my boy, a robust thirteen pounds just a few years ago, down to eight pounds a few weeks ago, was now down to just over six pounds. I didn't understand. He eats every day. How could he be losing so much weight? Little did I know I was in for worse. Much worse.
The vet felt his back and belly and said that he had extremely low muscle mass and his kidneys felt hard. He informed us that what we were told was "mild" kidney disease was, in fact, VERY severe. He explained how one number on his chart revealed this and he was baffled as to how the other vet, how ANY vet, could not have accurately portrayed the severity of this situation. When he said "quality of life" I tried, desperately, to tune him out. However, when Brian asked, "what kind of time are we talking about?" I heard his reply, all too clearly. "Maybe six months."
Now when I look at my beautiful precious boy, that horrible fucking number is ever present. Brian, I guess, had a different view of things all along. He was not at the vet with me when I was told "very mild," though I relayed the message to him. He, I guess, just heard "kidney disease," began googling and had a more realistic understanding of this diagnosis. When we heard that news yesterday, he was devastated, like me, but not unsurprised, the opposite of me, who felt like I was hit by a Mack Truck. I still feel that way, like it's happening over and over again. I took an afternoon nap, very unlike me, just to have an excuse to hide from the world for a while, wanting to be numb but unfortunately feeling the pain with every fiber of my being.
I don't know how much time I have left with my boy. I don't know how to reconcile things like "we need groceries" with "but I can't leave Spencer." I realize that I'll have to figure this out, somehow. He and his furry brother, Sydney, are my children, my furbabies, the only kids I am likely to ever have. I cannot and will not fathom life without him. I choose to live in denial, thank you very much, for as long as I possibly can. This cat has my heart. He is so fucking vital to my life. I will do whatever it takes to keep him here with me, for as long as I can, until such time as it is no longer best for him or, lord help me, he decides he has had enough. I will give him what will be, at least for now, daily injections. I will NOT let him go.
Well-meaning folks say, "Just enjoy the time you have left" and obviously, I will try, but right now, all I see when I look at my sweet baby is a ticking clock. I don't know what to do with this. I would give him MY kidney, if I could, without hesitation. But, alas, as with so many other things, I am powerless.
There is no happy ending here, no tidy conclusion, no snappy witticism to finish out this post. Just a devastated mother, wishing, with all her might, for a miracle even though I don't really believe in miracles, nursing her utterly and completely broken heart.