Well, in about a five-year time span, the Duck has lost her third cat. Elsa was going to turn five in a few months, but six months ago, she developed a sudden case of what the vets thought was asthma. None of the medicine provided did much to help her, and coaxing her to sit still long enough to use her inhaler was typically a failed affair. Even so, nothing could have prepared me for what happened.
On 1/3/19, at night after Mother Duck has gone to bed, I find myself crying as I near the end of Kingdom Hearts 3. It’s silly, really, but the prospect of finishing this particular collection of games after nearly twenty years, one that has been so dear to my heart, is enough to send me into quiet sobs. Elsa gets up from where she had been sleeping in my spot on the couch, where she had been sleeping every evening for some time, to sit beside me and stare up at me in concern.
On 2/17/19, for whatever reason, she watches me from behind the laundry basket. I go to the kitchen, and when I look back, she’s peeking around the basket, watching me. I return to my seat, and when I look over, she’s turned around, eyeing me once more. After a short time, she relocates to sit beneath my computer table, where she proceeds to stare an me for several long minutes. We exchange blinks, and I wonder what she’s thinking and wonder if she’s thinking the same about me.
On 2/18/19, I was relaxing on the bed, reading another chapter of a particularly funny Kingdom Hearts fan fic I revisit from time to time. At first, Elsa is looking out the window, as she always loves to do, until she decides to jump onto the bed and nap on the corner. She never goes on the bed, not unless I am there. Sometime later, the chapter nearly complete, she decides instead to come closer and sit next to me until a coughing fit interrupts her attempts at snuggling.
On 2/19/19, in the morning, she comes to sit next to me, and I give her a hug. She then goes to her special window and paws at the blinds until I open them for her so that she can look outside. A short while later, she returns to the living room and coughs, as she usually does. I, too, have asthma. I, too, cough every day and have learned to get used to it. It’s unfortunate, but it was just one of those things.
When I look up again from the computer, she’s laying on her side, with her tongue sticking out. The inhaler doesn’t work, and I drive her to the vet, where Mother Duck joins me from work a short while later. It is 11:30 in the morning.
We don’t see Elsa again until about 5 PM. Until then, she had been staying in some sort of oxygen chamber. The steroids that should allow her to breathe outside it for the next 24-48 hours don’t work. No one is certain what happened. Had her coughing been due to heartworms this whole time, a terribly difficult thing to diagnose in cats, and virtually untreatable if it was the cause? Had the heartworms finally caught up with her or was it, rather, a blood cot that had travelled to her lung? But this morning, she was completely fine.
She needs a specialist, who is 45 minutes away. She can survive outside her oxygen chamber for 15 minutes. There is no other choice but to give up and end things. She is brought to join us in the x-ray room, where we hold an oxygen tube that she can breathe from whenever she needs it. Even so, it’s a happy reunion. She is exactly the way she’s always been, before she got sick. She is happy and energetic, and we give her hugs and kisses. We rub heads, and she licks our faces. Her first priority is greeting us, for many long, happy minutes. Then she gets to work, cleaning every inch of herself after a long, exhausting day.
It’s nearly impossible to make the decision to leave the room, knowing that I will never, ever see her again. But the time comes that I finally have to tear myself away, even if I would have been content to live in that room, with Elsa and her oxygen tube, for the rest of my days and hers. Mother Duck stays with her, and I wait in another room. Mother Duck joins me, and we are given a clay impression of her paw prints. When we get home, we spell out her name in small beads, and add one final embellishment, a tiny porcelain cat I got twenty years ago. It doesn’t look like her, but I wanted to give her something, one final token of my love.
A good animal is the best friend life can give you. Elsa loved us. We loved her. In recent weeks, I thought to myself what a shame it will be when she’s gone, unaware that such a day was drawing steadily nearer like a shadow stretching ever closer as the sun draws low. All this history we have together, the experiences we have shared and the bond that has grown ever stronger between us, I muse that losing such a thing is like deleting the contents of one’s hard drive, but immeasurably more grave. When that history is gone, it can never be brought back. Not without years of work and devotion, and only with a companion that will never be the same as the one you lost. Even if we find another animal that loves us as much as Elsa, it will never be the same. Some things are irreplaceable, and it makes everything that I own like so much dust in comparison.
I would do anything to get her back, to rewind the days to a time when she was still here and healthy. I would take her disease and make it my own. I would sooner hear the news that I was the one for whom life had grown short if it would bring her back. Of course, no amount of bargaining can resurrect the dead or turn back the clock, and I have learned that nothing can stop memories from fading. I don’t want to forget. I’ll never forget, not entirely, but things will grow fuzzy. That is why I wanted to write this, before I forgot a single detail.
Elsa, just because you’re no longer here, that does not mean I will ever stop loving you.
If I could only be with you once more,
And hold you tightly to my heart,
We could walk this road together
And never, ever be apart
-Pieces of a Broken Heart, Ni no Kuni