I don’t like to feel. I know that’s an odd statement, especially for a poet, but emotions, specifically the heavy, terrifying kind that weigh down your chest and suffocate you, strike an abject horror in me. I’ve become something of a master at repression: those things that hurt too much to think about get shoved right back down into their little holes if they should even glance above surface, Whack a Mole style. I the champ at just not thinking about it.
I first started honing my skill with my ex-fiancé and the teenager he’d been having an affair with. At this point, my life with him seems like it was someone else’s that I’d watched in an old movie once. It’s a ghost; a weightless dissipating shadow, and really, that’s fine with me. I’m still working on whiting out the relationship I’d easily fallen into after that, with not only another cheater, but an expert manipulator, liar, and narcissistic psychopath who was as verbally, emotionally, and psychologically abusive as one could be. There are a lot of aspects of not only the things he did, but my own pathetic part in that story that still sting too much to come to terms with, and so any time a memory pops up to say hello, I hammer it right back down. But these don’t stay down as long as they should–maybe it’s because they’re fresher, or maybe I need to do some more coming to terms. Hell, maybe I need to cry.
My most astonishing skill is not crying: my last tearless stint lasted seven months, beginning after a three day bender when I had to put my old, one-eyed cat to sleep. I’m not sure if I cried more for her illness or for my not being able to save her like I did the year before, with timed, two-hour medicine dropper feedings of high-calorie gels, water, and antibiotics. I brought her back from a massive stroke, but I couldn’t save her from an insidious kidney infection that brought her down in three days.
It’s been about seven months since her death, and I really have to focus to see her face. If I scroll through my cell and see her picture, I often have to slide right by it–too painful, and nothing is as scary as pain. I will admit, even with four other cats and two dogs, I felt that little nugget’s absence profoundly. So when, four months ago, a friend of mine at the pet shop where I used to work put a tiny tiger striped kitten with eyes bigger than her face right into my arms, I couldn’t say no, though I was very hesitant: she’d had a problem with upper respiratory issues that antibiotics weren’t seeming to kick, and I need to take her for a surgery to check for nasal polyps. In addition, I’m single, and disgustingly afraid of what people think of me, so I was worried that this would make me look like a crazy cat lady. (Why does a love for animals and a desire to care for them make a person crazy? I can’t tell you how ashamed I am of worrying about that now.) But I took the chance, she was healthy as could be, and my other pets took to her immediately.
I’ve had Pia for just four short months, and in that time, she’s become Finn’s girlfriend, the first one to the food dish, the killer of all bugs who dare enter this domain, and the first to figure out she could scratch out the underlining of the chair so that it would make a nifty little hammock. She’s barely grown at ten months, and her huge green eyes are still bigger than her tiny face. But Friday night, I noticed that her belly was round and distended. Saturday night, I asked my mom her opinion, and she thought it was due to the fact that she’s a little porker. By Sunday night, I noticed her balance was slightly off, and her appetite wasn’t as healthy as it had been, she was eating the dogs’ food rather than jumping to eat with the other cats, and that she’d been sticking to the basement. (In the heatwave we’ve been having, that’s not abnormal, but hanging out in the closet was.) I really thought she ended up with worms from being a ferocious little predator, and was minding the excessive heat.
I took her to my vet on Monday (just two days ago) and got the most devastating news a cat owner could receive: FIP, wet. Basically, almost every cat is born with the coronavirus, but only 0.3-1.0% will develop a mutation that will turn it into Feline Infectious Peritonitis, a fatal disease with no cure, no test, no vaccination. Dry FIP has a slight survival rate, but because wet FIP fills the body with fluid that will suffocate the vital organs, it’s a true death sentence. My vet said the best thing I could do would be to put her down. “But she’s got so much spunk in her! You see it! You said there’s no fever and her kidneys are good! Doesn’t she have any time? Isn’t there anything we can do?” She agreed to removing the fluid from her belly, and putting her on Clavamox to prevent secondary infection, but said that she needed to be kept from the other cats in the house because a small amount of the disease was still being shed at this point.
Those feelings I’ve been bricking up inside just kicked that wall down and have been having an absolute field day. I’ve been hysterical for days, jumping at the sound of her tiny bell, praying that she’ll eat this time, struggling to get holistic supplements and Nutri-cal gel into her–anything is worth a shot at this point. I don’t want to leave the house; I don’t want to be awake and face this; I wake up in pure panic. Is it going to be today? Tomorrow? I’ve had to decide to end pets’ suffering before, and each time is equally gut-wrenching, but this has been particularly horrifying, this trying to know the right time to end a baby’s life. Maybe I should have done it at the diagnosis. Maybe my trying to give her more days is just me being incredibly selfish. And maybe it’s me trying to avoid the inevitable ripping apart at the chest, the sickening ache I spend so much of my life trying to avoid.
It will be over soon, and the saddest part is knowing that like every other painful thing, her beautiful, too-big eyes that won me over will be difficult to recall. I don’t want that to happen, but I know that’s how I process grief: I don’t. I lock it away and pretend it doesn’t exist. It’s a defense mechanism that’s a little too evolved, one I’m sometimes thankful for, and one I sometimes curse. I don’t think this magical repression is doing me much good: my TMJ has been so flared since December that I’m considering going back on anxiety medication, though it took years of hard work to come off. Do I need it? I don’t know. Other than my dying kitten, I can’t exactly place a finger on anything wrong. Ok, that’s bullshit: there are angry, injured spirits at war inside me, screaming and kicking to come out, and I’m so afraid to face them that I’d prefer to medicate them back to silence. It’s cowardly, I know, but it’s coping. And it makes the weight of nothing so much easier to carry.