We lost a friend today.
About 15 years ago, early in our marriage, a colleague of mine rescued two kittens abandoned near our work. She brought them into the office and offered to pay for their shots and neutering if other people would adopt them. She couldn't keep them herself as she already had a plethora of pets.
I took one of them and another woman in the office took his twin.
When I brought him home, he was completely terrified of absolutely everything. We assumed his abandonment at a too early age caused his propensity to hide every time someone made a noise. The first few minutes in our home were spent pulling him out from under a piece of furniture that we had mistakenly assumed was too small for him to crawl under. Someone ringing the doorbell sent him flying for cover. (One time there was an advertisement on television which featured a doorbell ringing and that also sent him flying out of the living room, up the stairs and under the bed.)
We called him Oreo because when he curled up in a little kittenish ball of fur to sleep, he looked like an Oreo cookie in layers of black and white and black.
The first night in our home, we settled him into an impromptu pet-bed to sleep, and went upstairs. We next heard a little tiny 'meow' followed by a 'thump,' then another 'meow' followed by another 'thump' until he managed to meow his way up the staircase and into our bedroom, where he sat by my side of the bed and meowed piteously until I picked him up, laid him beside me, where he fell asleep, warm and purring. He never gave up sleeping on the bed after that....
When we made aliyah, he came with us. True to form, as soon as he made it to the new apartment, he tried to hide under the bed. The beds had storage units underneath, and he was a grown male cat by this time, weighing in at 10 pounds or so....no way was he going to fit. He was so frantic to find a place to hide that we took pity on him, purchased one of those small doggie beds with a cover, draped an old towel over it and gave it to him as an 'instant cave' where he could retreat from the world.
He wasn't afraid of the dog or the other cats, however. As a matter of fact, he was pretty adamant about his place in the pecking order. He figured out early on that the way to psych the dog into abandoning her spot on the couch was to walk over her--which sent her to the floor while he commandeered the spot she had warmed.
He was one of the most affectionate cats we'd ever lived with. He loved to be petted, although not held. If you stopped petting him and he wasn't ready for you to stop, he would reach out with a paw and grab your hand, as if to say, "Please, may I have some more."
He was a gentle giant with a ready purr.
We noticed he had lost some weight this summer, and attributed it to the presence of Whisper, the youngest addition to the cat collection, who made sure he was always at the food bowl first. Then we noticed he was having problems jumping up to the shelf on which the food bowl rested. Getting up to high places seemed to be more difficult. "Old age," we thought, and lifted him to the bowl. Then we noticed he wasn't grooming himself as well past the waistline--and cats are fanatic groomers. "Ah, arthritis," we concluded, and began brushing him regularly to help. After our move in November, we noticed a steady loss of weight but otherwise he was still feisty.
Last week, he began to sleep all of the time, stirring a little at night to eat and drink. I would pick him up and he would complain, but then, he never liked being picked up. But he was terribly thin.
This week, he stopped eating and drinking. He lay quietly on the floor, generally in a cool spot out of the traffic pattern. He made no noise, made no complaint. When I picked him up to put him on the bed, he was as light as a feather.
I took him to the vet tonight. He was dying and we knew it. The vet thought it could be cancer. He wasn't our first cat, and we had watched others pass into the Twilight in like circumstances.
I said 'good-bye' and held him while the vet sedated him. This is my job -- The Husband is a softie and doesn't want to cry in public, I suspect, so he delegates the Final Good-Bye to me. I am Woman -- it doesn't matter if I cry in front of the vet.
In my mind, I still hear "meow"-thump on the staircase of my memory, and feel the weight of ten pounds of warm purr at the end of the bed, a gentle paw on my face in the morning.
Good-bye, Oreo. We miss you.