By Kate Gilpin
Like a lot of people who live alone, I have always kept cats. I have one now and his name is Tribble. I've been living with him as long as I lived with my parents, and a lot more comfortably. He got his name because he fit furrily into the palm of one hand when we met.
Trib is a big, gentle, smoky Persian and in his prime he looked like a cross between a large muff and a Sumo wrestler. He kept me company through a divorce, watched me quit smoking, helped me landscape the yard and saw The Shining with me at home in a terrified embrace one Halloween night.
When he was much younger, he stole a piece of raw liver as long as his body off my kitchen counter and clenching it in his tiny teeth, he fled through the house, out the door, around the back and front yards and into the house again before I caught up with him.
He still had the liver in a death grip when I pried it loose. I had it for dinner, and so did he.
Tribbie shouldn't have lived past about three. He showed early signs of feline leukemia and was expected to die within a few years. He suffered from an intermittent series of fevers, tonsillitis, rashes, abscesses. In between weird ailments, he had a wonderful time but almost every month I hemorrhaged money at the pet hospital.
When he was seven he got cancer on his back. The veterinarian excised it and Trib mysteriously quit getting sick after that. It was as if he and the virus had been fighting up till then and he finally won. Last spring he turned eighteen.
He's lost a lot of weight and about half of his hair is gone. He fetches up those horrifying inexplicable yells that old cats all do and he sits for long periods in one spot, looking vague.
He has taken to using the back part of the living room as a litter box. His hind legs don't work properly any more and this summer, I found out his kidneys are beginning to fail. He's not likely to see nineteen.
When I hold Tribbie and stroke him now, I can feel every bone under the skin. His fur is dry and stiff, what there is of it. His abdomen is swollen and doesn't feel quite right. I pop two or three pills into his little gap-toothed mouth daily, and give him an injection every other week. He goes to the doctor twice a month.
There has been talk about having him put to sleep at some point but so far he's still happy to be here, and he still loves yogurt.
The thing is, I feel bad about it all the time. The other day I realized that I am angry with him because he's leaving me. It was the same feeling I had when my mother was in her late eighties and I noticed that she had quit being interested in things.
You know what I mean, they're not gone, they're just not really the same person any more.
Well, of course, we're not any of us the same person any more and in my mother's case, it was in some ways an improvement. But Tribble is my cat, which means my feelings about him are not very complicated: they are simple and sweet, like him, and seeing him gradually disappear is so painful that I'd rather not watch. It makes me cry whenever I think about it.
So I find myself avoiding it. I've gotten into planning ahead. I've decided to scatter his ashes in his favorite part of the garden. I might hold a wake for his friends.
I expect to find another cat in a year or two and I'd like to get a dog. I've wanted to have one for years but couldn't because Trib would never put up with it. I'm going to get a big dog, some kind that has the same tank-like, fuzzy charm as Persians.
Then it's time to feed Tribble and hold the back door open so he can walk into the yard. The cat door is getting hard for him to climb through. It's November now and we're having a warm spell. Sunday afternoon. I'm watching him hop slowly down the steps. He's going to patrol the territory.
He starts at the lobelia bordering the dead vegetable patch, pauses to yowl at the bench in the corner by the yellowing grapevine. He limps with dignity to the far path, stopping by the early camellia, sniffing a persimmon fallen among the bright leaves of its tree. He's sitting tall on the grass now.
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