The Story of Tas, Part 3: The End
Yesterday I woke up and went downstairs to get ready to go to work. I walked into the kitchen with little cats Janet and Maddie dancing around my feet. It was their standard interpretive dance of “Our food bowls are empty, and please fill them or we will be forced to trash the kitchen.” It was a dance I knew well. I reached up to grab the Tupperware container where we kept the cat food. We had to keep the cat food in the contain because Tas and his razor sharp teeth and claws could easily tear open any bag or box of food should he decide it was his time to eat.
I filled the bowls, starting with Janet’s as she was going to eat first, no matter what. It was then I did the second hardest thing I had to do all week. I filled the 4th bowl, picked up the 5th and put it in the sink. I tried to do this unconsciously, just like picking up any other dish for washing, and I almost got away with it too. But seeing it in the sink, while the other bowls were still on the floor, stopped me cold. It was a few minutes before I could continue with my morning, make my coffee and leave the house. I just stood there, looking at the bowl, and flashing on 8 years of memories. These memories almost wouldn’t let me go.
It had been 3 days since I did the hardest thing I had to do that week, indeed the hardest thing I’ve had to do in years and years. There have been many difficult things I’ve had to do in such a short period of time. 2 days ago, in the midst of great grief, I decided to take on another very difficult task, and that was to write down my thoughts, and record some memories of a dear friend that I would no longer see. There were to be 3 parts; How I found Tas, Tas’ life with us, and… the end. And of those three parts, I cannot say which was the more difficult to write.
Last weekend, Memorial Day weekend, I spent at home while my wife took our son to New York for a family affair. While my boy was meeting myriad aunts, uncles and cousins, I was at the house, digging in the yard. There were roots from bushes I had to remove from along the side walk, and remnants of an old fence in the form of cement post sunk into the ground that had to be pulled out. It was hard work, but I was happy to finally be getting to it, and clearing up some of the natural chaos I tend to surround myself with. I took it slow, and if exhausted, would duck inside out of the sun to wash my hands and throw water on my face to cool off. The cats, all wearing fur coats, were lying around the house, hot on an increasingly warm set of days. Tas at one point came into the living room while I was on the computer and set himself up on the coffee table. He normally gets dismissed from the coffee table, but seeing as we were alone, I thought I’d let him be.
There was a moment however, he was so still, I got up and put my hand on him to make sure he was still breathing. He lazily turned his head to face me, and I scratched him behind the ears, and he went back to sleep. It was very hot, I was exhausted, and all the kitties were sleeping anyway, so I didn’t think much about it at the time.
My wife returned with my son on Memorial Day Monday. The boy had been introduced to the family, and spent an afternoon being passed around to waiting hands, eager to meet him. But he was home now, and I was happy to see him. That evening as we readied for bed, Tas was already up there waiting for us, but the rule in the house, until the baby could be moved to his own room in a few months, was ‘no kitties in the bedroom at night’. He wouldn’t move when my wife asked him to leave, which she thought odd. Obedience isn’t something one ascribes to cat nature, but Tas was typically compliant, even if you sometimes had to ask him 3 or 4 times. I picked him up, and I recall him feeling light in my arms. I kissed him on the head and walked him to the door as he purred. I set him down outside the bedroom, and closed the door. This would be the last time I really, really, saw Tas.
The next day, I went to back to work. I hadn’t really taken it as easy as one might for a holiday weekend, indeed the 3 days of hard labor were something I would feel all week. My wife pinged me on instant messenger before noon, and said she thought something was wrong with Tas. I went outside at lunch time and called her to get more information. She told me he was walking very slowly, almost shuffling, and that he had had a hard time getting down the stairs. She had called the vet and made an appointment for the following day, but we decided to ask for an emergency appointment for that afternoon. His condition sounded worrisome… but I didn’t think it was as bad as it turned out to be.
I asked my boss if I could leave at 2pm to take my cat to the vet, and he agreed. I wanted to try and finish a particularly bothersome project for an important customer. I knew 2 hours wasn’t likely to let me finish this task, but I thought it could put me farther ahead. I left at 2, and proceeded home. In the car I wondered that Tas might have to spend the night at the vets. I also wondered about the treatment. Simbe had been very sick a few years back, and she cleared right up with some antibiotics. I didn’t think much more on it as something I had to do, which isn’t to say I wasn’t anxious or worried. I was quite a bit of both, and was driving rather fast for a guy who is by nature afraid of the highway.
I drove up to the house, and parked the car. As I was turning to open the door to get out, I saw my wife standing next to me in the street. I got out, and my heart began to break. She was holding our son in the road, crying. I knew what she was going to say, and I didn’t want to hear it. “Tas is gone! He’s gone, honey!” she cried. I couldn’t speak for a moment. In a low voice I said “Let go inside”, and we proceeded into the house.
Tas was lying in the corner of the porch, motionless. I took my wife inside with the baby, and asked her to wait there. I wasn’t exactly trying to protect her, she had seen before me after all. I just didn’t know what I was going to do when I went back out there. I went back to the porch, and closed the door behind me. I pulled up the one chair that was out there, and slid it over to where Tas lay. I sat down and just looked. If took me a bit, but I worked up the courage to touch him. Feeling him lifeless, I broke down.
I composed myself after a few minutes, because I knew there was work to do. The single hardest thing I had done in years lay ahead. I went back in and asked my wife to call the vet and tell them what happened. They gave their sympathies and asked if we would want to bring him in to find the cause of death. I initially said yes, but then they said they wouldn’t be performing an actual autopsy, nor even draw any blood for tests. The doctor suspected cancer, but his phone diagnosis not withstanding, I wasn’t interested in the pathology of his passing, as I knew the ultimate cause was asphyxiation. I also knew it wasn’t likely the result of a contagion. I declined to bring him in, and the vet simply said to watch the other cats. They all remain healthy and well.
There was a box in the dining room that was of an appropriate size. My wife set the baby, sleeping through all of this, in his bassinet. We went to the porch together and wrapped Tas up, and placed him in the box, both of us crying. I took the box out back to where I had just removed a large stump from the yard. I dug down far as I could, given the hard clay not more than 2 feet down. It was then I became conscious of the weather. The sky was dark, the wind was blowing fierce, and it was starting to rain. The hole dug as far as I could go, I lay Tas inside. My wife came out with our son swaddled up tight in a blanket, and we said a few words each, and for as difficult as this last part of my stories of Tas has been to write, I dare not even try and record those words. Not that I even got through them very well at the time.
Our words of remembrance spoken, it was time to finish. I sent my wife and child inside, and covered the grave, all the while talking to Tas. I promised him that when we left Pennsylvania to return to New York in later years that I would be taking him with us, and it is a promise I fully intend to keep.
I went to work the next day, but I could barely function. 8 years replaying in my head, and the last one day especially. I blamed myself. Again and again, I blamed myself, for not coming home quicker, for not doing something sooner, for not acting when I thought he might be ill over the weekend. I paid the price for even going to work in this state by making a huge mistake with a few sections of my website, a mistake I might not otherwise have made. When I went home that night, I wrote the first of what I planned as a set of 3 stories. The story of how I met my friend Tas. But I didn’t sleep a wink that night, and called out of work around 4 in the morning, knowing I was not in a state to be productive, or even trusted with my work. I spent the day sleeping, when the insomnia finally broke. I worked the next day, and did somewhat better. People offered their sympathies, for which I was grateful, but at the mere mention of my cat, and I would begin to lose the ability to speak.
Last night I wrote a tale of Tas’ life. Today I wrote the tale of Tas’ death. These stories aren’t complete, but they are done. The final task undertaken to move forward with my recovery was done today, by carving his name on a piece of granite from the wall I built around my garden, and placing it down as his head stone.
His name carved in stone, and his story written and posted for the world, I consider myself to have done all of the symbolic things that I can do to commemorate him. I no longer blame myself, and understand that things just happen. From here on out I will try my best to celebrate the life, while I mourn the death of my friend.
I thank those who have read the story, and I thank those who have offered their sympathies. It means a lot. It really does. For now, I’m letting my son pull me through, and he is doing a great job of it.
A home without a cat–and a well-fed, well-petted and properly revered cat–may be a perfect home, perhaps, but how can it prove title?
– Pudd’nhead Wilson – by Mark Twain, 1894