Monday, November 12th, I had to put my cat to sleep.
I know. You are all thinking I’m that crazy cat lady that is making a post about her dead kitties, much like my cat-loving librarian character I created in Vampire-ish. I do feel that might be me someday, but this week has been more a week of contemplation about the healing of a pet’s love and devotion.
Marduk (mar-duck) found me on a cold January 2009. I was with my daughter, who was five years old at the time, and we were running to the craft store for nothing particular. Right next to it was a PetSmart. I thought for kicks we would run in and see the fish, because she’s five and might really enjoy that.
It was a Saturday and they were having a pet adoption. All was well and good, I wasn’t about to take home a puppy, but my daughter wanted to see the animals. Sure, why not, so we walked over to see them.
And I heard a meow, (the same meow I heard for ten years), and went to see who was talking to me. Inside this cage was a black and white kitten. He saw me and started talking. Meow this and meow that. I said, “Hi, kitty” and he just started purring like crazy. I read the description on the cage: male, half tabby/half manx, 7 months old, owner allergic. He had some ordinary name I don’t remember. I talked to him again and he always had something to say back. Our repore was immediate. I put my finger in the cage and he was just purring like crazy, and that was when I noticed he didn’t have a tail.
“No one is going to adopt this kitty,” I said to my girl. “He doesn’t have a tail.”
I tend to fall for the misfits, things with personality or imperfections, the ones that don’t fit the typical mold, because that’s me – I don’t fit a mold. My heart just cracked open at that moment and a flood of overwhelming emotion came in.
And now I’m faced with a problem – Dad. We had a cat whom we took in after a neighbor family couldn’t keep him. Captain Murphy (named after the captain on Sealab 2021) was an outdoor cat. He was stinky and old, but we fed him and he entertained us. Growing up, I had a cat we lovingly named Satan, because she was temperamental, selective, and generally didn’t like people. Cap’n Murphy and Satan were my only good experiences with cats. I have battle scars after I tried to nice a stray as a child, and hadn’t felt friendly toward them. The trauma was still with me. If I got this kitten, what do I do? I want him in the house, he’s just a kitten. How in the world was I going to convince my husband, the man with a heart of stone, crafted carefully out of will and determination, to let me keep this cat?
“I think this kitty needs to be with us,” I told my girl, who jumped up and down at the idea. “Do you really want him?”
“Yes, momma,” she squealed with delight.
“Then I need you to call Daddy.”
So, I coached her a little and had her practice what to say. Then I dialed the number and heard, “Hey daddy. Can we get a kitty?” I listened for a few back and forths with them as I softly stroked the kitten and listened to his thrumming heart purr like nothing I’ve ever experienced. Eventually, I knew my girl would hand me the phone. I explained and told him that no one could love a cat without a tail. He looked like half a cat. I didn’t know what Manx meant at the time. But the kitten didn’t care. He had never known a tail, why would he want something so ridiculous? What I heard on the other end, “If you really want the cat, you can get it.”
We adopted him and named him Marduk, son of Ea, slayer of Teamat, again after an episode of SeaLab 2021. I just really wanted a cat named Duck, but I never called him that. It was either Marty or Kitty or Meow Meow. We quickly learned that he had no love for other cats, especially Captain Murphy. He rose in ranks among the cats in the neighborhood. Captain Murphy passed not long after that and Marduk never mourned.
This kitty trained us. He didn’t like drinking from a bowl, that was primitive. He had to have fresh water right from the bathroom sink. He sometimes sleep in there, so when I got up in the morning it was the first thing that happened. He was always there during my morning rituals – brushing teeth and washing my face, he was there begging for a drink.
He talked with me every morning, I had to walk him to his dish. He was a very codependent eater. It was a social activity. The moment I walked away he could say “Hey, where did you go? I need the big bits. My bowl doesn’t have the big bits in it. Refreshen my bowl with big bits.” I would walk over and check. He has plenty of big bits to eat, but would top it off again to make him happy.
Marduk was very social. He liked to be around the conversation. Whenever there were people there, he was right in the middle of the conversation, lying on the floor. And if you were new, he would come and introduce himself by jumping on you and talking, usually complaining about how he gets spoiled and loved too much. He claimed his spot on the top of the stairs, and I thought it was because he liked to be in the center of the house, where he could be the center of everything. I didn’t know until years later that the bulb in the basement heats that specific spot and it was warm.
Marduk, we later discovered, was anemic and had a hard time staying warm, so he was always needing the soft blankets and cuddles. He started sleeping next to me pretty early on. My husband would travel a lot and it was nice to have a warm body next to me. In the last few years, he’s been crawling under the covers and spooning with me. We really had a very special bond, one I still can’t adequately describe. He and I were best friends, the kind that communicate using nothing but instinct and love. And from the first day that he called my name at that pet adoption, he had always been my cat.
Around the same time that we adopted Marduk, I started writing seriously. Whenever I was with my laptop, Marduk was so jealous, because it was on my lap. He would snuggle next to me wherever he could. When I would write outside, he would come and lounge next to me, or near me. Writing became our time together. He supported me the whole way. He knew I needed the emotional support, and I don’t really know how he knew, but it was that level that people reach with their animals, communication emotion to emotion, to help combat whatever is happening internally.
After I became published and started increasing my media presence, I included my kitty in several posts, and included him in my bio. Several of my fans grew to feel like they knew Marduk through my posts, like there was a commonality in silly animals loving unconditionally the people they have pledged their devotion to.
I posted on Facebook: “Pets create a fifth chamber in your heart, woven with the fibers of loyalty and unconditional love. They understand you on a level that no one else can reach without saying a word.” There is some magic our animals have, a charm about them that communicates heart to heart. There is healing within their touch, their nuzzles, the purr and yap and attention in whatever form specifically for you. And somehow, when we get around them, well… when I get around them, I turn into a fourteen year old girl talking to a baby.
When I received the devastating call that my cat’s kidneys were failing and he didn’t have much time, I left work as fast as I could and drove half-blind with tears in my eyes, the half hour to the vet. When he saw me and heard my voice, he immediately complained about his current situation. All he wanted to do was cuddle with me, and I think that was the hardest part for me. Our eyes met and we knew. Marduk picked me, he was meant for me, and we again communicated heart to heart, without saying a word.
I have cried a lot about this. I have had phantom meows surrounding me all week. I am deeply wounded, and that part of me that makes fun of people that mourn their pets, feels the deep stab of emotional loss that comes from just being faithful, loyal and loved. I feel so shamed. Marduk was my first pet, my own. We had a dog and cat growing up, but they were never mine, never cared specifically for me in the way Marduk did. Everyone in my family is sad that the cat is gone, but more, they are concerned for me, because of the bond we had. At this time, I don’t know how to recover. It’s a different pain than other loss I have felt. I can see how people go out and get a new pet right away, because the fifth chamber is empty. My kitty well is empty. And I find it a struggle to do the little things, like brush my teeth, since that was something we did together. My house is so quiet without the continual chatter of a proactively opinionated cat, until I again hear the phantom meows in the background.
I don’t know how to thank Marduk for meowing at me that day, he knew I needed him from that first encounter. I learned and grew a lot from knowing him. He trained me to be softer and gentler, and how to communicate without saying a word.