But Monkey was the beginning of a lot of things for me. She was certainly at the beginning of my adult life. So let's just go back down memory lane for a little bit, shall we?
Wasn't she cute? Those were the days. When I graduated from college I moved up to Providence (really Pawtucket) to be with Josh. We were getting married in August. I took a few weeks to get my shit together - I was starting work at The Mathworks at the end of June, and planning to take the month of August off for wedding/honeymoon. On my list of things to get done was to acquire cats. I've always had cats - except for college when they weren't allowed and I've, frankly, never been much of a rule breaker. So the week before I was going to start work I needed to get the kitties.
I was super impulsive back in the day (oh lord my 20s. I only speak of them tentatively) and once I had something in my head it had to happen. So I went and got the paper (no petfinder then...) and looked for ads for kittens. We called one place and they had exactly what we wanted (2 that got along, preferably one nutball, one mellow kitten, black & white) and so we (really I) decided to go get them. They were in south county, it was dark, incredibly stormy, and my cell phone lost its charge at the end of our drive, we got a bit lost. Um, it was not the most fun trip. But when we got there - Kittens! Monkey was at that precise moment scaling the pant leg of the man of the house playing with his shoestring while he watched tv, and Boodles was sleeping. I almost talked Josh into the orange kitten they also had, but he has always been the voice of reason so we brought our two little guys home. Their mother cat had died, somehow, we didn't know the details, and Monkey and Boodles were bottle fed until they could be adopted. I don't actually recall purchasing all of the supplies we would need - I'm pretty sure we took them both home in a cardboard box.
We of course, being the people we were gave them Japanese names. Monkey's original name was Hikaru - after a bonkers adorable character in an anime series we both loved: Magic Knight Rayearth. Boodles name was Udon named after Josh's Mom's cat Noodles, because they resembled each other so strongly.
It was the first time I had cared for anything besides myself. We were ridiculous, conscientious kitty parents. Newly cohabitating after 6 years together, setting up house, getting married. They were insane times, really. I remember taking the day off of work when she was sterilized, sitting with her on my lap on a pillow while the anesthesia wore off. She took my wedding band as a toy for a few days and returned it. She ate holes in my favorite sweater, my first cable knit sweater, a pair of elbow length cashmere gloves I had just knit (I got to wear them once), the first pair of socks I knit. Luckily the wool eating was something she grew out of (which gives me hope that maybe Bob will one day stop eating plastic bags?) But not before she had destroyed several of my favorite things.
She taught me so much about how to love something, to be responsible for another creature, to let go of physical things for the sake of another creature. When I think about my early married life and just how much growing (also therapy) I did to turn into the mostly nice and functional person I am today... The lessons that caring for those cats taught me really stick out.
She gave as much as she got - we used to call her Dr Monkey because of the way she would always sleep with us when we were sick. She taught the girls how to be good kitty mommies, how to play gently. I'll never forget how gently she taught Clara that cats could be sharp. I was in the kitchen doing kitchen things and heard 18 month old Clara screaming and crying and when I went into the living room I saw she had a thin read line running down her forehead, skipping her eye, and onto her cheek. One claw, partially extended, as if to say, "Do you see where this leads?"
So fast forward to this past August, on the last day workers were in our house for the Kitchen. Just after my "I can also make pie, asshole." moment. Monkey had thrown up a couple of times that day - which was honestly not that unusual. There were no signs earlier in the week that she was sick at all. She even stole cantaloupe (her favorite food) off the table the previous day. But Wednesday night she was sick several times during the night and Thursday morning I couldn't interest her in any cantaloupe. I put her on a pillow in the kitchen, in a sunbeam, and worked on the cabinets that morning. But she was obviously sick, and I was worried, so I made an appointment at the vet. They kept her for bloodwork and would call.
The girls and I went to the shop to hang out while they poked her and when they called - the news was terrible. Kidney failure. I wasn't able to think properly. I was physically ill. Naomi, being the kitty godmother that she is, talked to the vet, tried to talk to me. I called Josh and he came home, we went to the vet to take her home for the night and they really didn't want to let her go. The wanted to put her down immediately. Which was just not something we could manage. We told them we understood she was dying and that we needed one more night with her. Our plan was to see how it went, to try to get someone to come to the house to put her down the next day. She prepared us for how unpleasant the end may be and we took her home to say goodbye.
That night was one of the hardest nights of my life. Helping the girls say goodbye, trying to say goodbye, and it was all just so fucking SUDDEN. We were able to let all of the cats come and sniff her so they would understand. We all spent the night up on the third floor, Josh and I on the guest bed, Clara on the futon, and Zoë on her spare mattress on the floor. We just didn't want to leave her alone. Josh brought her onto the bed and she purred once. She put her paws on top of my hands, like she had always done when we were going to sleep.
Damn, to go to sleep not knowing if she would still be alive when we woke up was just terrible. But the morning came and she was still with us. We took lots and lots of pictures of her, with the girls. We knew, though, that we needed to let her go. I found it strange that it was hardest to make the phone call to the vet. The drive there wasn't so hard, but saying goodbye to her and leaving the room - I just couldn't stay, Josh did and said that the end was swift and kind. But leaving her in that room has to be the hardest thing I've ever done.
The next few weeks are kind of fuzzy. I developed a stress related intestinal issue that was unpleasant and painful. We both saw her out of the corner of our eye for weeks, which just sucked. School started (don't worry, I have pictures, we'll get there) I tried my best to keep working on the kitchen. But grief is just hard. I tried not to hide it from the girls. We were sad together, and I'm just now starting to feel better (oh, right, there is actually more than just Monkey, but we'll get to that soon, okay?) In general, I try to just model what being a "normal" human is to the girls - not to hide the less savory parts of being human... and they got to see the grief up close. I have not been the best version of myself but I'm trying to remember that that's just okay. Sometimes people are dealing with stuff and it sucks. One day, they will suffer a loss (or 4) and maybe they will give themselves permission (as I did) to be sad, and then to eventually be happier.
I admit, I phoned it in a lot. I was doing my best to play the part of Mom, but honestly I was acting most of the time. And there was just SO much going on, school, preschool, work, kitchen, then even more sadness, it felt pretty endless, and I'm (really really really) glad that I'm on the other side climbing back up again. Because, shit, there is so much going on, always, and momma can't keep phoning it in or the world falls apart- no one has any clean underwear, there are no cookies, and no one can find their boots.
So that happened. I'm still mad/sad that we only got 13 years with Monkey. It is one of the many things that just doesn't seem fair. But we loved her so much and so damn well while she was here. So goodbye* Monkey-Anne Furrsandpurrs. (her full name) I miss you so much.
taken on her last morning
*Hi. So this is the part where I ask you a rather delicate favor. It may not have been totally clear up until this point, but I'm an atheist. So, for me, when Monkey died, it was really and truly goodbye. I do not believe that I will see her again in any sense, ever. Her death, in fact, has forced me to really evaluate how I understand the universe in this way. I have spent quite a lot of time thinking about this, and, who knows (certainly not me) I may be totally surprised upon my death to realize that I have been wrong and there is a spirit world that I will have to learn all about. But it is my choice to not believe that particular group of stories about how the universe may work. For this and other reasons, talking about seeing her in heaven, or the "rainbow bridge" and other talk about an afterlife is particularly hard for me right now. If you could keep that in mind when making any comments**, here, on fb, or in real life, that would be greatly appreciated. I know that your world view may give you comfort under these same circumstances, but it actually just reminds me of how permanent this goodbye is for me.
** edited to say, don't muzzle yourself about all spiritual stuff, you know. You can tell me all about how much you love Jesus, and how awesome reincarnation is and in your past life you were Shirley Temple. I am well and truly fascinated about how you all see the universe and your place in it. It's just the "I bet you can't wait to be reunited with Monkey in heaven!" comments that make me want to cry. a lot. (and I'm really tired of crying)
PS. I know this brings up all sorts of other questions about me, religion, the kids, rituals, hypocrisy, things we can't explain, etc. I know, I KNOW. I would love to talk about that with you, later, when the string of deaths in my life is a little further away and I have a bit more perspective on the whole thing. right now, I'm trying to have fewer thoughts about philosophical things and focus on the living part of life. It is helping me climb out of my depression vortex.