Until recently, I had a cat named Ellie.
When I first moved to Boston, I decided I wanted to adopt a cat. But not just any cat. It’s easy for kittens to find homes. Everyone wants a kitten. Not everyone wants a rescue cat.
So through a process of searching, I found an organisation that saved abandoned animals and socialised feral cats. My Ellie had been feral. When I first met her she was terrified of all humans. But this is part of what I liked about her. She just had this … spirit to her.
I was first attracted to her because she had the same name as I do, but as soon as I met her I fell in love. I was warned that she would not be an easy cat, and that I would have to spend a lot of time socialising her, but that in time I could carry her around with me wherever I went. In a way this made her all the more interesting to me.
I didn’t want a cute kitten. I wanted something maybe a little bit rewarding, and definitely more complicated.
Adopting a cat is a funny thing – when you meet the animal it speaks to you either yes or no. For Ellie, as soon as I met her I couldn’t stop thinking about her.
When I first brought her home, she hid under the bed. And this was a double bed quite low to the ground so it was not a lot of fun to crawl under there and stroke her to let her know everything was OK. On I think the second day she bit me so hard that I had to go get a tetanus shot since it had been just over 10 years. But I persisted.
In time she came out of her shell. And how!
In her prime she was one of the most attention-seeking cats I have ever met. I promise you she thought she was a dog. A lap dog, at that.
And me? She loved me like no one else. Her breed is tortoiseshell, or tortie, and these cats have a reputation of bonding especially tightly to one person.
I got another cat at around the same time called Tiger. I loved him just as much; maybe even a bit more because he was so skittish. When I first met Tiger he was in a cage at a show day and sitting on this tiny piece of carpet. I started petting him and he got so excited that he fell over, taking the carpet with him. I couldn’t stop thinking about him, either.
Tiger unfortunately got hit and killed by a car after I moved to South Africa. Ellie, I wasn’t able to import my first period of time here because at first I didn’t intend to stay and then once I realised I did I was not living in a place that allowed pets. And the import process was such a nightmare to work out.
When I lived in Cape Town with her she was not especially happy. She didn’t like the indoors, it was very dark, and I was often travelling. I think after the many months that I was away in South Africa the first time she probably always had a fear of abandonment and it never got better no matter how often I came back to her. When I came home from the airport she would often be waiting outside to say hello, or her look of relief was almost palpable.
She loved Johannesburg, though. More specifically, she loved the garden. She would lie in the sun, lie in the shade, lie on the pillow, lie on the couch, lie in the grass, play in the garden, chase the birds. She was really, really happy. I used to love to spend weekends here with her, just the two of us. Because she loved me and I loved her, and I loved being with her.
When younger she used to eat like there was no tomorrow, probably because when feral she had no idea where her next meal was coming from. In her older age she developed kidney problems and ate a lot less. She was often skinny, and sometimes a bit dehydrated.
But that didn’t stop her from screaming like a banshee whenever I was cooking anything. One of my catsitters apparently gave her human food at one point and she was not the same since. This was just part of her charm – she was an opinionated little thing.
She has always been very aggressive towards other cats, most likely out of fear. Far from being a mean girl, she was deep down just insecure and lashed out in self-defense.
A few weeks back, she had what I thought was food poisoning. I remember my relief at the vet saying she would be ok, after the one night on the drip. But she was fragile before and more fragile after.
Then, it happened again. I came home from Durban and she was looking a bit down. On Monday she wasn’t around much but I could see she wasn’t quite right, and I was hoping it was just in my head or a minor illness. Deep down I knew it was more. On Tuesday morning I saw her and promised her I’d take her to the vet the next day because I had a packed day that day, from morning through until dinner.
Tuesday night I came home dinner to find her lying in the bedroom, just the same as I’d found her a few weeks back. Barely moving, barely breathing.
I took her to an after-hours vet, hoping it was just another case of food poisoning but deep down, just the same as I knew the Patriots would win the Super Bowl even though it seemed impossible, I had this voice in my head that told me “I’m taking my cat to die.”
Actually it was a bit worse than that because I felt like if I’d taken her in Monday morning she would have been ok. But that’s probably not true; she’d had kidney problems for years and dehydration aside when your blood work is that far gone, it would only have prolonged the inevitable.
So I chose to have her put to sleep because I couldn’t fathom another option as being best for her.
Funny how when the vet told me my options it was pretty clear what he thought was best but he didn’t say it and my very first thought: “I’m not ready.” My second thought: “You don’t have a choice.”
I know it was the right thing to do because when I held her in my arms to say goodbye, she let me, and then wanted to get down. Normally she would just have this thing she did where she hugged you. But she was done with me, and ready to go. And when she went, it happened in a second. The most peaceful passing of an animal I have ever witnessed. It was time.
Candice was saying over Whatsapp that she was so sorry I had to do this myself. But I preferred it that way. I really don’t like people to see me when I’m like that, and I just wanted to be alone. I honestly can’t remember being that sad, about anything, in a really long time.
People tend to tell me things. I think I have one of those faces. But more seriously, loudmouth that I am, I am capable of keeping my mouth extremely shut when it matters. Even sometimes I recognise that ignorance is bliss and I don’t tell other people things that I know will upset them (usually gossip that’s made my blood boil; no need to share the love).
But I don’t share so much. Yes I have a blog but what I put in the blog is what I want to put in the blog. I do have some kind of filter and the things that are the most important to me I keep the closest to me, often not telling a single person because it just seems safer that way. You never know when someone you thought you trusted can turn on you, or turn into something, or when something you thought was a solid commitment is actually not.
I suspect that element in me does show through which is why people are comfortable telling me things. They know, if it’s important enough, I’ll internalise it along with all the other things that go in and don’t come out.
Part of being a grownup I guess. Or a special kind of grownup that takes on more risks and more ownership than a normal person. The flip side of not wanting to be bored is that you can open yourself up for a lot of trouble, turmoil, stress, and heartache.
When it happened I didn’t tell a lot of people. There were three people I told that night, and I emailed my family, and a handful of others I told in the next week or so. My worst is a massive outpouring of sympathy. I just need to be left alone to deal with these things in my own time and in my own way.
So yeah that inconsolable heartache you can sometimes feel, I felt. That night, I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t even cry myself to sleep.
Now, the pain is much less, unless I really think about it.
I’d had her thirteen years. And what a cat. There is no cat with such a personality that I have ever met; she really was one of a kind.
Miss you, baby.
And that’s the worst. There’s a little tortie-shaped hole in my heart, but it will be there for a while.
But you know what? I like it that way. It’s how it’s supposed to be. It wouldn’t be proper grief if it were any other way.