Every time I sit down to write this post, I cry.
But I want to write it because I want to remember Nala. I want to seer into my brain the decade-long journey of her life and companionship. Not the sickness and pain and final moments that at this time, I cannot erase from my mind, and that keeps floating in and out of my head, when I shut my eyes, I see *that* memory, when I awake in the middle of the night *that* memory creeps in, as much as I shove it away. The best way to tuck those sad memories aside is the remember and celebrate her life, her healthy years, and the joy that she brought me, my family, and Miguel.
When my childhood cat Shelby passed away in July 2003 from a tumor under her tongue, I was devastated. I loved that cat so much. She was feisty and her mood could shift instantly, but she was our cat, my sisters and me, for 13 years. When she passed, the house felt empty, literally and figuratively. It didn’t take long for me to realize I needed cats in my life. In October 2003, I meandered over to petfinder.com (note: do not do this if you are not seriously considering adopting, because those pictures suck you right in) and clicked on an open house in my area for litters of kittens at a local shelter. I looked at the date and time and then at the clock. It was in an hour. I looked at the litter and knew this was the litter I would pick out my two kittens from.
When I walked into the shelter and over to the litter of kittens, they were so tiny, about a pound each and so damn cute, I started squealing right away. It was a mixture of tiger kittens and a couple of gray ones too. I knew that I wanted two, I wanted sisters, and I wanted tiger kittens, and at least one of them to be long-haired. I walked over to the cage and they opened the door, and I gaze in and see Kayla first, cowering in the corner (such a fraidy cat, my little fluff!), basically hiding in the litter box. As I was about to say ‘I want her’ – this little short haired tiger kitten walks over to the edge of the cage with her 1 inch legs and leans against me, as if to say ‘I pick you…now pick me up.” I picked her up and she lay right down in my arms and purred. I firmly believe cats pick their owners and in that moment, my Nala had chosen me. I held her for about 30 mins as the shelter staff was helping others. She was so content to just sit in my arms and be cozy and there was no way I was leaving without her, or her sister, Kayla. When it was finally my turn, the shelter staff asked me which ones I wanted and I of course pointed to the little ball of fur in my arms, and then to Kayla. They warned me that Kayla had escaped the cage yesterday and had gotten into the eaves of the building, getting insulation in her eyes, causing the start of an upper respiratory infection and I would have to wait a week to have her, as she needed to be quarantined and given antibiotics. I didn’t care. I would be taking her with me, no matter what. I left that day with Nala, in a Clorox bleach cardboard box as I did not have a cat carrier and she was so tiny in that box, cowering in the corner as I drove home.
I remember coming home and warning my sisters and mom that these kittens were TINY and I would have to slowly let them explore my mom’s big house as I was pretty certain I could easily lose them under a cabinet, in a corner, or under a mattress, they were that tiny. They were so small that they couldn’t jump on my bed, their legs were just too short, and they needed a step stool for awhile. And when I brought Kayla home after her quarantine, I was supposed to keep them separate for a few days, but it was nearly impossible as Nala mewed over the wall into my sister’s room at Kayla, and then Kayla mewed back over the wall at her sister. They could feel each other there and they wanted to be with each other. For comfort. And playing, I am sure. I caved within hours of bringing Kayla home, and when I reunited them, they bound towards each other and start licking and rolling on the floor. This is how I picture them in Heaven one day…doing the very same thing.
From that day forward, Nala and Kayla were inseparable. Nala tended to follow Kayla around more than Kayla following her around, but I would always find them wrapped up in a ball next to each other, or near each other in some way. Nala would play with Kayla’s fluffball tail, and sometimes trick her into thinking she was going to just lay next to her, and she’d start by licking her head, arms wrapped gently around her neck, and then suddenly, they’d be in a full on tussle, Nala ‘bunny feeting’ her hind legs around Kayla and Kayla batting back, with her doubly-big paws and wriggling her way out of Nala’s grasp, running into the other room. Five minutes later, they’d be curled up next to each other again. Typical sisters, right?
As my girls grew up, Nala veered towards my ex-husband and Kayla was a mama’s girl, through and through. But after my separation and divorce, Nala became my loyal companion. She was always there. She would lay in my lap, or by my feet, or on the back of my chair, just to be near me. She would join me for dinner, sitting to my left, trying to get a nibble of food, and sometimes just to sit and contentedly join in a staring contest with me, not blinking until I did.
She was fearless, too. She wouldn’t be afraid of my mom’s dog, or my sister’s, hiding at first, but then she’d come around and try to mess with them. She’d follow them around, sniffing at them, and eventually scaring *them* away from her. She loved to play with toy mice, and she’d immediately bite them in half (yes, in half) and then chew up the leathery tail, and then play with the mouse carcass that remained…and sometimes, I’d hear a gutteral mrewowwwww and wonder what she was doing, and she’d coming down the stairs with it in her mouth, meowing. She’d drop it by my feet, and look at me, as if to say, ‘play with me, mom!’ with the cutest face ever, and I would laugh, and toss it for her to scamper and play with, tossing it into the air, and back down again.
When she began eating like a horse, seemingly insatiable, I took her to the vet for the first time (somewhat eerily, read my ‘open letter to Nala’ on my old blog, and her story then, vs. now is strikingly similar at her conclusion…). And from there, her mystery illness would begin. She would go through this period of insatiable appetite, yet she’d lose weight and eventually not feel well and I would take her to the vet. She’d have dropped weight and become dehydrated, where a round of steroids and antibiotics would do the trick (this after a series of ultrasounds and tests that would yield nothing. no FIP, no cancer, no unusual blood work, no thyroid issue, no parasites, nothing. the picture of health, on paper…). She went through this cycle four times in the past 4-ish years and it would be the illness that would end her life.
Over the years, after her first bout with this mystery illness, I would worry. Constantly. I would feed her as much as she wanted. Milk, tuna juice, leftovers from dinner, anything. When she would wake me up by batting my face, or putting one claw gennnnntly over my cheek or flicked under my nostril at 4:40 am almost every morning, I would oblige and feed her breakfast, even though it was not yet time to get up. I made sure to have petsitters when we were away, feeding my cats and making sure Nala always got extra. Yet I would worry. And worry. And look at her constantly. And worry. It was always in the back of my mind. Is she too thin? Is she acting herself? Is she eating enough? Was that a hairball or was that puke a red flag for something else? And always, always, I feared the worst, it was so hard to trust faith and God, and know that she was okay.
I loved Nala so much. I can’t even express how much I loved her. And how much I miss her. So much that it hurts. I go through waves of sadness. Waves of tears. And then I remember something funny that she did. Some funny memory, or antic she used to pull, and I smile. Because I want to remember her that way, not at the end, sick, frail and…dying. I want to remember how much she enriched my life, how much she filled a gaping hole in my heart after my divorce, and how much joy she brought to my home.
Nala…the funniest cat that I truly believe was part dog at times. Loved to ‘fetch,’ loved to talk to us. Loved to be near us.
Nala…the most charismatic cat with a face that when you looked at her, you just gave in to whatever she wanted. Just so damn cute and quizzical.
Nala…the cat that would eat anything. And I mean anything. Eggs, chicken, crackers, Doritos (M even shared them with her), cheese, milk, sometimes yogurt, you name it, she would probably have eaten it.
Nala…who loved to ‘share’ my office chair, curling up behind me as I worked. She would sneak into my chair when I’d get up and I’d come back, and there she was.
Nala…the queen of staring contests. No really, she was a starer. And a face sniffer, face batter with her paws.
Nala…the cat that you could do anything to and she’d come running back. Play rough with her, toss a balled up piece of paper, off she’d scamper and run back with it. You could chase after her, she’d chase you back. Fearless.
To my Nala…my loyal companion of 10 years, I miss you so much and I am so very sorry you were suffering at the end, though I hope you heard me tell you how much I love you and how much of a good girl you were. I hope you could feel me with you, stroking your fur, and kissing you, telling you that it would be okay. And I hope you visit me often, in Kayla, in my dreams, and in my thoughts. Because you are always with me, always.