The dull thud Spot made as he failed to make it through the open window and bounced off the wall was a sound I had not heard before. Yet its source and significance struck me in a sickening instant as I awoke and sprang for the lamp. I had not seen the younger of my two cats for 36 hours. A look outside confirmed my relief that he was home and alive, as well as my fear that something was stupendously wrong.
Running outside naked, I gathered his crumpled and crying body from the flower bed as tenderly as I could, and carried him to the bed. Clothes from the floor, cat box from the shed, credit card from the secret hiding place, car keys from the desk-now we were on our way. I had been to the 24-hour pet hospital once before, also at 3:30 in the morning, and I had left alone.
I reassured Spot on the short drive, telling him he was going to be okay. I told him that whatever had happened, whatever was wrong, the doc was going to fix him. And I believed it. I wanted to believe it. Needed to.
The hospital looked deserted. No lit up windows. No cars in the parking lot. Goddamn it. I found a keypad outside and a note taped to the locked door. In the dark, without my glasses, I could barely see. I stabbed at an unmarked button and was relieved to hear a human voice over the intercom. We were let in; Spot was ushered quickly down the hall for morphine and a medical evaluation.
I spoke with an attendant, filled out papers, and paced the waiting room until the veterinarian emerged, asking questions: name, age, etc., and then, “What happened?”
Wondering how Spot might have escaped the jaws of a coyote, or how he could possibly have been run over on a lengthy private road used by a scant handful of people, wondering whether the vet suspected me of beating up my cat in a drunken rage, feeling overwhelmed and speechless, consciously fighting a semi-autistic tendency to shut down when simple questions explode into infinite complexity inside my sometimes over-analytical brain, I awkwardly returned the ball. “I have no idea.”
It was the vet’s turn. “He has a compound fracture of a hind leg. A broken front leg. Several breaks in the tail,” she said.
“So,” I said, brilliantly following the dots, “he was hit by a car.”
“He was hit by a car,” she confirmed. “The injuries are severe, as are the associated infections. This is not one of those cases where we fix him up and you take him home in a couple of days. We can consult with the surgeon, but I think it’s likely he’ll lose the hind leg. He’ll be in and out of here for months, with repeated treatments for infection and other complications. He’ll need extensive long-term care. We’re talking a cost of several thousands.”
It seemed to me that the word “several” was emphasized, perhaps converting its meaning from “four or five” to “seven or eight.”
“Just put him to sleep, then,” I said. “I don’t care so much about the money, but I do care that Spot comes out of this in one piece. He’s suffered enough.” I signed the death warrant and the invoice for its execution and was taken to say goodbye to my cat. Crouching to the examining table, I stroked Spot, kissed him on the head, and told him he was going to be okay now. I touched the vet lightly on the shoulder, whispered “thank you” and I left, alone, again.
Men lead with logic and reason, hopefully guided by experience and intelligence; the feelings come crashing down later. It surprised me when my friends L & N emailed “: if it’s any consolation, we would have done the same thing.” Hell, I hadn’t agonized over the decision. It was the only thing to do under the circumstances. I didn’t want to lose Spot, but triage was over and the verdict writ.
Days later, I wrote: “I can’t tell you how agonizing it is to lie in bed at night thinking about how severely he was injured, and how valiantly he fought his way home, and how mangled his little body was when I picked him up off the ground, and how hard it was to kill him after all he went through to stay alive. I had no doubt I was doing the right thing when I did it, as awful as it was to accept, but since then I’ve had doubts that torture me.”
And torture me they do, reassurances from friends notwithstanding. What if I had looked that vet square in the eye, John Wayne style, and said: “He’ll be fine. He’s tough. Patch him up. Shoot him full of antibiotics. He made it home for me to help him, and I’m not going to betray him just because his medical condition is grave, no pun intended. And don’t whack off any legs. He’ll need them to jump in the window after a night of prowling.” But I didn’t say that.
I will get another little brother for my remaining cat, Wolfie, sometime soon, after he stops pining and I stop crying. The new cat will be free to search and learn and explore and play, to run to the very top of the jacaranda in just one second, to use his senses and intelligence and finesse to avoid predation by cars and coyotes, and yes, even to kill mice and rats and gophers and birds and dismember them on my blood-stained carpet. He will live as a cat was meant to live, as a cat wants to live, as a cat must live. And he will someday die, and I will greive again.