Friday, May 27, 2011

Requiem for a Collaborator

Impy 1999-2011

Strange, to be coming back to my  blog.  My days have been so busy that blogging falls way down on the list of priorities.  But right now, I feel like I need to blog about something very unusual--at least for this blogger.

Last week, we lost our cat Impy.

Now before you run away, screaming, to something more interesting than a post about a cat, let me tell you about Impy first.  Impy was my first writing partner.  He was a young stud Maine Coon when I wrote the prologue of The Reckoning of Asphodel, which was the first significant writing I'd done in over ten years.  He sat on my lap for hours back in the days when we were too poor for luxuries like internet and cable, when my husband was working two jobs to keep our heads above water and I was too badly injured to work.  He would curl up in a ball--all twenty plus pounds of him, purring, and somehow manage to stay out of my way while I worked.  When I got up to get something to eat, he'd follow me to the kitchen.  If I took a bath, he sat on the edge of the tub.  When I went to bed, he shared my pillow.  And then, the next morning when I started writing again he was right back in my lap, shooing away the other cats.  In many ways, Impy was my collaborator--not only in writing, but in life.

Everybody loved Impy.

I loved him from the moment my husband and I walked past a wire cage full of kittens at the pet store, and one fuzzy little gray-striped Maine Coon tabby climbed straight up the bars yelling at me to pick him up.  I did pick him up--after all, what could one kitten cuddle hurt?--and walked out ten minutes later with my first cat.  Impy had endearing traits that enchanted everyone who met him.  We had a roommate who called him "Pimpy" because he said Impy was so cool even a pimp would love him.  Other people called him "Grimpy" because there wasn't a child or a kitten he didn't grandfather affectionately. When the grandbabies were infants, he would set up in front of their car seats or cribs and guard them--from everyone except their mothers and me. No other cats were permitted to get close to the babies, and definitely no people. He gave his love freely, finding a way to climb on every visitor's lap and never happier than when he was sleeping between my husband and I in the bed at night.  He loved to eat (most Maine Coons do) and he was gorgeous, with a full ruff around his neck, big padded paws, tufts of hair right in front of his ears and a big plume of a tail.

That tail lost some volume for a few years when he set it on fire from a candle.  Poor Impy!  He was accident-prone, but that just made him more endearing.

There was a time five years ago when Impy wasn't doing that well.  He was chewing on the end of  his tail and We were on our way home from my mother's funeral when my mother in law (who was a cat owner for over fifty years) called and said, "You're going to have to put Impy down.  He's got a tumor so big in his abdomen that it's pulling his insides out.  That's why he's pulling all the fur out of his tail."

Tearfully, I put my beloved cat in his carrier when I got home and took him to the vet.  The vet picked Impy up, examined him, snorted and said, "This cat isn't dying. He has a potbelly and is allergic to cats."

Yes, I had a cat that was allergic to himself. From then on, Impy got shots and I never listened to my mother-in-law's veterinary advice again. And as he aged, he wasn't quite as pretty. He got a hematoma in one ear, and it ended up folded over in a sassy quirk.  The picture of Impy with this post is the last picture I ever took of him--a month ago.  But he was still so beautiful to me, with all that luxurious fur and that sweet, loving look in his huge green eyes.

Impy is the only cat I've ever seen that I knew for a fact could smile.

Two years ago, Impy was diagnosed with feline diabetes, heart disease and feline neuropathy and that's when the real battle began.  He was twenty-two pounds at his vet appointment in 2008.  He weighed eight pounds at his last vet appointment. I won't go through everything we did for him--that's irrelevant now.  What's important is what's happened the last six months.

Impy has always been my cat.  He was independent, naturally, but I was the human he owned and everyone knew it.  Over the past six months, Impy became gradually clingier. He would leave me for a little while--usually to go play with Aurora, whose favorite game was to drag a cat toy behind her for Impy to chase.  (Aurora, by the way, said "Impy" before she said my name)  But then, he'd come right back to me, patiently waiting until I put my work aside and he could get on my lap. At night, when I settled down to sleep he'd crawl up under my chin like he had when he was a kitten.  And gradually, he became more lethargic, more tired.

I think I knew Impy was leaving us. I think he knew too.  But Shannon and I couldn't accept it.  We fought Impy's dead so hard.  We gave him the medicine, we tried every cat food known to man to tempt his appetite.  We pureed food and syringe fed him. We took him to the vet.  We looked up alternate treatments online.   And it seemed to work.  One day he rallied, eating on his own and showing a bit more energy.  I rejoiced, thinking we'd beaten his enemy. He walked around the house, spending time with each of our other cats in play or cuddles or bathtime.  He played with Aurora. He spent a long time watching the birds outside the window.

But the next day, he was worse than before.

Impy lay on the hardwood floor, barely moving, just watching me.  I tried to get him to eat or drink.  He wasn't interested.  The other cats came up one at a time, licking his face or rubbing cheeks with him.  The kitten brought him the toy they'd fought for the week before, nudging it in front of his face and trying to lure him into play.  Impy just watched me.

When I got up, he would get up too.  He'd move just the right amount of space to be the same distance from me and lie down again.  If I went to sit beside him, he started to purr loudly, and if I petted him, he'd swipe my hand with his tongue and purred louder.

And because Impy and I were so close, because he was my collaborator, I knew what he was telling me.  He was tired.  He wasn't going to get better.

He was ready to go.

We took him to the vet in his cat bed, not the carrier. I didn't want him to get upset because of the lack of familiar things. He sat on my lap the whole trip, purring and happy.  He might have been looking at things outside the window, but I don't think he was actually seeing anything.  It was like he was putting on an act for me--being brave so I would be comforted.  And in a strange way, I was.

And once the vet had examined him and offered the opinion that Impy wasn't far from death, I wasn't surprised.  Impy lay back down at the news and sighed, and the sound of his loud purr echoed in that room. I petted him, talking to him and crying, while he purred and nudged against my hand--just a little...just enough to let me know that he heard me.  The vet was sobbing as he prepared the injection. So was his assistant.  Shannon and I were both stroking Impy as he was given the shot.

I was right by Impy's face.  His ear twitched, he licked my hand one last time--and ten seconds after the shot, his purr just faded away. 

Impy had given me a gift no other creature in this world ever has--his absolute trust and unconditional love.  And although we grieved for him and still are grieving,  I couldn't help but be glad that he wasn't hurting any more.  Impy thanked me with that last lick, that last purr, and his death was as easy and as natural as any other exhalation of breath. We brought him home and buried him next to his brother, Dante, who passed away last fall, with his favorite cat toys.

Since then, the other cats have been looking for him.  Aurora takes the cat toy and calls, "Impy! Impy!"  At first she cried when he didn't come.  Now, she sighs and puts the toy away.

And me?  Last week, I couldn't write.  This week, while I was away, I was able to churn out more pages than I have in months.  So when I got back, I moved his cat bed right by my writing station.  For a day or so, it sat empty and so did the pages of my manuscript.

But then, the kitten moved in.  And now Thor is starting to act like Impy did.  He meets us at the door.  He comes running to find his human (me) as soon as he wakes up.  He sleeps in my lap or in the cat bed while I write.  He plays with Aurora, batting the toy for her without claws. And the words began to come once more.

These words were hard to write. I still look for Impy, just like the cats, just like the baby, and I'm always kind of surprised when he's not here. Twelve years of unconditional love is hard to replace once it's gone.  I miss his distinctive meow, I miss his insistence on getting between me and the laptop, I miss everything about him.  But I kind of feel like Impy spent his last weeks teaching the kitten what he needed to do for his humans, especially the strange one who stays up all night tapping away at that glowing, annoying contraption that's warm on the bottom. 

Impy's legacy, then, is so amazing.  Seventeen novels and three novellas in eleven plus years. Countless bewildered cats rescued from places of horror, taught to be loving, affectionate companions. A pair of children who learned to love animals from an early age. For my family, one of the most extraordinary human-animal relationships I've ever heard of.

Impy.  How I will miss you.

Thor 2011-