Marcus Christopher Montgomery II
Funny how, when some part of us is injured or broken, we not only stop using it, we stop trusting it, certain that it will let us down or that we can't stand the pain. So we engage in avoidance behaviors, when what we really need to do is let ourselves feel. As a friend said to me, we can lose a piece of our hearts, but our hearts never get any smaller.
I lost a big piece of my heart on Saturday. Bubba, whose real name was Marcus Christopher Montgomery II, never really recovered from the dental surgery on Friday. Although we took no x-rays, we feel certain that he had some tumors growing on or near his lungs that were slowly decreasing the ability of his lungs to move oxygen throughout his body, something that didn't become apparent until he went under anesthesia. I brought him home Friday night, weak and uncomfortable, where he spent most of the evening lying on an electric blanket in our sunroom--his usual sleeping spot. But he never relaxed. If he fell asleep he couldn't keep moving air through his lungs and he'd wake up. He wasn't interested in food or water. When I came home from rehearsal, he purred for a couple of seconds and pressed his head against my hand, but it was clear he wasn't doing well.
JT thought he would recover, but I had a feeling he would not.
When I got up to check on him in the night, he had moved from the sunroom just into the living room and was lying on a corner of the rug. I think he was just looking for a place where it would be easier to breathe. I laid on the floor with him for over an hour, before moving him back to the loveseat. His paws were cold, and he was beginning to shiver. He didn't cry out when I picked him up, but made a little noise of protest. I'm sure that holding him made it harder for him to breathe. I checked on him twice more. No one got any sleep Friday night.
Saturday morning we took Christopher back to the vet. We put him in his carrier, knowing he would be more comfortable on an unyielding surface than on my lap, put I sat in the back seat with him, and opened the door so I could pet and talk to him. He seemed more alert than he'd been at any time since I brought him home the night before, watching the houses and cars pass. I was glad that he didn't seem to mind the trip, since riding in the car was pretty low on his list of pastimes.
It was clear to everyone that he was not going to improve, and we talked about our options, which really amounted to letting nature take its course, or easing him into a peaceful death. After the vet finished examining him, Christopher crawled away from me to the edge of the examining table and lay his head down, breathing heavily. "Looks like he's made the decision for us," the doctor said, and I thought he meant that Christopher was going, right then. But, no. "It could be a little while, or it could be twelve hours." No, it couldn't be twelve hours; I wasn't going to do that to him, no matter how much it hurt to say good-bye. Whenever he's been sick, I've said that I wished there was something I could do to make him feel better. On Saturday, there was.
The vet took us to a room outfitted with a couch, chairs and rocking chair and left us alone with Christopher. We were able to spend time with him in privacy and comfort, to say our good-byes and make peace with what we were about to do. I told Chrisopher what was going to happen, that he would just go to sleep, and that when he woke up, he would be with Mikey and Riley (with whom Christopher spent 16 and 17 years of his life). I told him I loved him and that I would always love him. And I asked him to tell Mikey and Riley that I still loved them. At that point, Christopher, who had not really reacted to anything we'd said, raised his head and gave me a look that very clearly said, "What are you doing talking about them at a time like this?" JT and I burst out laughing through our tears. For all the years that Christopher and Mikey and Riley lived together, Christopher still sometimes acted as though he was an only cat, and for him to appear affronted, in his last moments, by a mention of the other two, was a wonderful gift. It was a last glimpse of his unique personality.
When we were ready ("Ready." What a funny word, ready. 21 years wasn't enough time to get "ready," how could 10 or 15 minutes or two hours make a difference? I kept thinking, "How do parents do it? How do they turn off a child's life support, how do they prepare for that moment between before and after?"), the doctor administered a sedative, warning us that the sedative alone might be enough, given Christopher's respiratory problems. JT and I each kissed him and said our final good-byes, and then he drifted off to sleep. I wish I had asked the doctor to administer the other shot too. As Christopher slipped away and his bladder released, his body went into involuntary spasms, gasping for air. Although JT has assured me (repeatedly; every time I ask) that Christopher was gone by then and had no awareness of what was happening, it's a memory I wish I didn't have.
Afterwards, Christopher lay in my lap, head across my arm, as if he were truly asleep, and we sat with him for a while longer. I knew he was gone, but I also knew it was my last chance to feel his weight against me and to stroke his soft fur. Once we left, there would be no going back. The vet's wife prepared a place for us to lay him, and said we could just leave by the back door when we were ready. They both did everything they could to make us feel as comfortable as possible. I covered Christopher with one of my old tee shirts and put one of his favorite toys between his front legs, the way he sometimes slept with it. I covered him with another towel, and he looked as though he were just sleeping. It made me feel better to do those things, though I knew he was beyond caring about towels and tee shirts and catnip cigars.
In a little while I will go back to the vet's office for his cremains, and I will bring him home for the last time. I will go back for him, because I promised him that I would always, always come back for him.