In the midst of one of the most exciting times in recent memory, as we realized a longtime dream to move into our new home up in the mountains (more on that in another post!), we ended up going through a heartache that I’ve always anticipated with great fear. After nearly 14 years by my side, our smallest family member made her departure. I’ve been meaning to write about her, give her the tribute she deserved, but have found it difficult to dwell on for long. As we keep ourselves busy and distract ourselves, getting past the worst of the pain, I’m finally finding myself able to talk about my little furry friend again, acknowledging the gaping hole in our household but remembering all of the milestones we went through together.
As much as Giz was the force that turned me instantly into a full-fledged cat lady (as I always made a point to tell people — “Yeah, yeah, I like cats ok, but I LOVE my cat.”), Anthony was just as attached to her as I was. He was actually there when I met the litter of kittens at my parents farm in Indiana, on an early summer weekend home from college. “Pick the grey one,” he told me. “She seems feisty.”
Boy was he right.
As soon as I got that kitten home, we learned that the name we chose together could not have been more fitting for the cute little gremlin that I had invited into my life. For the next two years, the cutest little grey fur-ball managed to test the full extent of my and my roommates’ nerves — chewing on ankles, knocking over water glasses and burning candles, sleeping stubbornly on computers and attacking us with tiny teeth and claws in the middle of the night. In return, she endured the first of many torturous outfits, including the infamous homemade kitty cardigan.
But, we all made it through, and then it was just me and the gremlin in a studio apartment in Chicago. She calmed down slightly, even letting me snuggle with her in my lap and occasionally sleep through a night without an attack. She was my sounding board during the brief stint when I lived alone, and we had more than one “verbal” argument with each other. When Anthony and I went to Europe, she stayed with my parents for a month, and she managed to convert the “no pets in the house” people into the kind who purchase baskets of cat toys and relish the tiny paw imprints on their otherwise-immaculate master bedspread.
We returned from that trip engaged, and shortly thereafter brought Gizmo to her new home in Colorado. Our indoor-only kitty tested us with quick escapes and found herself in a couple of wildlife squabbles, including one that brought her to her first hospital stay — inconveniently timed with the night of our wedding across the country! But, she recovered quickly and continued to terrorize the animal inside, bopping Olive on the nose every time the puppy tried to play with — or even look at — her.
Over the past few years, Gizmo got less demonic and more cuddly, somehow finding a way to curl up on our laps just moments before we needed to get up. With these hard-earned shows of affection, it was an unspoken rule that you didn’t get up with a kitten in your lap unless you absolutely had to. We never questioned each other when one of us had to bring the other a drink of water or postpone plans — all it took was a gesture toward the soft body, purring so loudly and peacefully.
As she got older, it was almost as if she had an extended reserve of kitten energy, that could be unearthed with the promise of a pinch of catnip, a bouncy string, or a hanger we were wiggling under a bedspread. She loved going outside, but was much more cautious ever since the ’09 incident, carefully surveying the edges of the lawn and rolling around in the grass within reach of us.
Even in her last days, Gizmo seemed content in our new home, exploring the new patio and staking her claim on the sunniest spots of the living room rug. Perhaps the hardest part of it all was that it really did seem so unexpected. I always told everyone that Gizmo would live forever — she’d be one of those cats that defied all odds and set new records for longevity. I just could never imagine my life without her. But, the reality of it is that she had been living with a heart condition for some time. I had been told about the slight murmur at every vet visit for years, but the vet had always seemed unfazed and told me not to worry about it. We’re not sure now whether it was the sudden change in altitude or if she had been quietly declining in health for the past few months, but either way, she made it clear that it was her time. On a Tuesday night, in a new vet’s office in our new hometown, we said a heart-wrenching goodbye to our loyal friend. While it was an immeasurably difficult moment that I can’t seem to stop replaying in my mind, I count myself lucky that I was able to say goodbye while she was curled up in my lap, purring, while Anthony stroked her head in tandem with rubbing my shoulder.
The following days have been hard, and I would be lying if I didn’t say there’s a certain level of guilt present. But, we mourned, we cried, and we’re coming out on the other side, finally able to talk about Gizmo and all of our favorite quirks and stories. I know that not everyone can understand why someone would be so worked up over the passing of a cat — I realize that it is often the butt of the joke — but anyone who has ever had a pet will understand the enormity of her impact on our lives. Not only was she an integral part of our family, she also essentially grew up with me. She was a part of the most defining parts of my life, and I’ll cherish the memory of her companionship forever.