Saying Goodbye to an Old Friend

I’ve come to the moment that every pet owner avoids thinking about. I avoided it so hard that I developed an elaborate ruse that my cat was some kind of vampire who would live forever because he always looked so damn young and healthy. But over the past month or so, my cat Midnight has been giving us signs and telling us that he’s ready to go. 

I need to write about him in some way because he’s been so fundamentally important to me. I suppose this makes me some level of "crazy cat lady" when I say that he has been my best friend for almost my entire life. Thinking about what he means to me brings a flood of memories back and in a sense, I feel like I’m losing the best and most cherished part of an otherwise painful and lonely childhood, which is harder than I could have imagined until now. 

I got Midnight from the Humane Society in May of 1996. My mom and I had this terrible habit of going there “just to look” and almost always ended up coming home with a new pet. My mom always wanted a dog, but if we brought one home, my dad always made us take it back. This time, we almost made it out of the door when we were leaving the Humane Society, but I noticed this tiny kitten in the kennels near the doors and I just had to look at "one more”. I was doomed the second the kennel door opened, there was simply no going back. This kitten had a black and white tuxedo coat with a long paintbrush tail, all black and dipped in white. While we filled out the adoption papers, my mom asked me what I wanted to name him. His name came to me like an inkblot test, I saw a dark cloud passing over a full moon and said the first thing that came to mind, “Midnight Moon”. He was 11 weeks old and I was almost 10 years old. 

Later that year, my entire world fell apart. My parents divorced, my mom attempted suicide, and I moved in with my aunt Deb and grandma Shirley. The night I moved in, I brought a small overnight bag and a cat carrier. I think my aunt knew she was in this for the long haul because she knew we had nowhere else to go. 

By the time I was in high school, Midnight had grown up to be a handsome adult cat. When he was about 8 years old, he became very sick with no warning. One morning I couldn’t find him when I tried to feed him. I looked everywhere, shook his food bin loudly, even tried luring him with tuna but he wouldn’t come out. Eventually I found him behind the bar in the basement. He was hiding as far back as he could, tucked behind boxes and refusing to come out. We rushed him to the vet where they drew blood samples and did a physical. Initial results didn’t point to anything specific so they sent us home while the blood tests were done. 

Later that day, Deb got a call from the vet and was told that we needed to bring him back in immediately. His kidneys were shutting down and his body along with them. We spent the next few weeks treating him with an IV saline solution at home and transitioning him to a special diet in the hope of getting everything back up and running. The team at Shady Oak Vet Clinic were absolutely amazing and so critical to his recovery. As he became healthier, his fighting spirit came back with a vengeance and administering the IV solution was a battle every morning, but it was worth it. I’m pretty sure he’s the feline embodiment of Syrio Forel because he never gave up, even when death was standing next to him.

There is only one thing we say to death. ‘Not today.’
— Syrio Forel, Game of Thrones by George RR Martin

Surpassing all expectations, Midnight has lived for 11 more years, almost reaching that 2 decade mark. 

While he is a little shy around most people, he demands snuggles from the two or three people he likes. When someone is working on a project, Midnight loves feeling involved (read: getting in the way) by sitting on their lap or laying on the desk in front of them. He always used to help Debbie with her quilting, or me with my chainmaille, and recently started holding Chris down in his chair while he works on the computer. 

Since Chris and I moved in together, Midnight has become accustomed to not being the only cat, tolerating the presence of his younger brothers and putting them in their place when they tried to challenge him. Again like Syrio, he doesn’t need sharp claws to defend himself or teach a lesson. I get so happy when I catch all of the cats (and sometimes the dog) snoozing on the bed together in close proximity. 

Looking back on all these memories, I feel so lucky that we had all those extra years together after he was diagnosed with kidney disease. He’s been the best cuddle buddy a little girl could ask for. 

It is the absolute worst feeling to know that I’m going to say goodbye to my best friend today. But at the same time, it must be the best kind of pain there is, to know that you have loved something so much and gotten such unconditional love in return that you can't help but break when it’s time to say goodbye. 

Update 7-7-2015: It's been a week since Midnight left us and I still feel like I'll find him in his cubby in my desk or cuddled up on the bed when I get home from work. 

When we took him to the vet, we didn't make him ride in his carrier. Instead he rode in my lap and got to look at the world rushing by. I was so surprised how calm he was. He usually hated car rides and meowed the entire way. This time he was so curious about the outside world and looked alert but not scared. We spent a lot of time with him at the vet and reminisced with Dr. Barb about him in his heyday. When it was time, he was calm and quiet, there was no fight and he was ready. 

I'm so fortunate to have had such an amazing animal in my life and I'm grateful for all the years we had. I spent time this week reflecting on all the memories and created a chainmaille keychain in his likeness (right down to the paintbrush tail and little pink nose) to bring with me everywhere.