Growing up, I had cats and dogs. There was Bonnie the cat, Bruno the dog, C.K. the cat, and Spike the dog. Each of them played a part in my life as a child and a teen . . . and then I went off to college. While I was away at college, my parents got Roscoe the dog, and my sister got Zoe the cat. Then I finished college. I embarked upon my adult career. I married Melissa on May 28, 2005. We lived in a low-rent, ground-floor apartment in Fairfax, Virginia, as we started to build our life together.
About a year and a half later, we were still living in that apartment . . . and while I was sitting in my office, probably writing some nonsense for this website, I heard a noise out back. As I wrote about a month later, “I glanced through the blinds of my office window to see if anything was going on out back, and saw nothing.” When I heard another noise ten or fifteen minutes later, I looked out the window again and saw nothing. Then I went to our sliding-glass door, opened the blinds, and saw a little orange kitten looking at me with the same kind of surprise with which I was looking at her.
Melissa was already asleep, so I woke her up. We looked at the cat. She looked at us. Melissa and I talked, and we decided that, since the weather was mild and the cat would be fine overnight, we’d just go to sleep and not worry about it. But if the cat came back the next day, well, we might have to take her in.
We went to sleep. And the next morning, the cat was gone.
We went to work. We lived our lives. When we got home, we looked out on our porch because we sort of expected that cat to be there. She wasn’t. I don’t know about Melissa, but I was relieved. After all, I wasn’t ready to have a pet. I was young, stupid, and irresponsible. We were still newlyweds. But then . . . I heard something. I was probably watching TV or goofing around on my computer. I don’t remember. But I looked out on our porch again a little while later and, damn it, the little orange cat was back. And she had a look on her face that said, “I’m back. Let me in or I will kill you.”
So we let her in.
We gave her some tuna, because that was the only thing we had that seemed like it might be okay for a cat to eat. She liked it. And from then on, she was our cat. She decided that this random couple in this random ground-floor apartment would be hers from now on, whether we liked it or not.
We took her to a vet to make sure she wasn’t somebody else’s cat. She wasn’t; she had no microchip and no evidence of previous ownership. They estimated she was about five months old. We checked with our leasing office and they said they’d seen this cat around, and had given her some food now and then, but nobody had come looking for her. She was a stray. Until then, she had belonged nowhere. From late November 2006, she belonged with us.
Melissa picked her name: “Mei Mei,” a Chinese name meaning “beautiful girl.” We adopted her into our family. We got her spayed. We did all the bloodwork and vaccinations and had her microchipped. And she has been a part of our lives ever since.
Mei Mei is sweet, but opinionated. She’s happy to sit in your lap, but when she’s done, she’s done. She likes being held upside-down in a fetal position, and she doesn’t care that most cats hate that. She will murder your family if it means she will get some tuna. When she was more mobile than she is now, she would come into my office, make her presence known, and then hide in a nook behind my desk and fireproof safe. She wanted me to know she was there, and then sit just out of reach. She was moody as hell most of the time, but, when it counted most, she was the most affectionate cat I have ever met. When Melissa was sick, Mei Mei would sit in my lap and make me feel better. When my grandmother died, she would do the same. But if I called attention to it, and told Melissa or anybody else that this cat was being sweet, she would immediately stop. She wanted to be adorable without anybody knowing that she was being adorable.
I always thought of myself as a dog person. Growing up we had both, but it was the dogs that always resonated most with me. In my teenaged years, I told my friends that I hated cats. I didn’t, but in my simplistic teenaged reasoning I thought that liking dogs meant that I couldn’t like cats. In adulthood, God sent me a wife first, and then, only a year or so later, he sent me a cat. And this cute, moody, opinionated cat helped shape that marriage almost as soon as it had begun. God knew what he was doing.
When Mei Mei came into our lives, we were ignorant newlyweds. We had some nebulous idea of what marriage was, and of having children in the future, but it was incomplete. We have been through a lot since then. We had a religious conversion from Methodist Christianity to Catholic Christianity. We’ve both changed jobs, We learned that we would never be able to have biological children of our own. We adopted another cat, Vincent, and a dog, Nena. We bought our first house. This is but the briefest of summaries. And, up ’til today, Mei Mei just went along with it, sat in our laps, purred, and told us—in her quirky, moody way—that she loved us.
But Mei Mei is a cat . . . and cats do not live forever.
When she came into our lives, George W. Bush (R) was the President of the United States. We were at war in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Those wars are [mostly] over. Bush gave way to Barack Obama (D), then Donald Trump (R), and then Joe Biden (D). We had an economic crash and a rebound. We had the COVID-19 pandemic. We had “Black Lives Matter” and the Siege of the Capitol building. And when it all got to be too much, I could sit on my couch, watch dumb, old movies like “Airplane!” and “The Blues Brothers,” and pet Mei Mei as she sat, weirdly, upside-down and purring in my lap.
But now Mei Mei isn’t doing so well. She is more than fifteen years old, which is pretty old for a moody cat who spent her first five or six months living on bugs, birds, and rodents in the woods near the intersection of Interstate 66 and state route 123. More than once, she has started looking sick, gone to the vet, and been prescribed some medicine that staved off the inevitable end of her life. They say that cats have nine lives; I think that’s probably true. Mei Mei must have lived her first three or four in those woods near our old apartment. She lived another four or five while she was our beloved family cat, getting sick and scaring the heck out of us but then making a miraculous recovery. But her lives are running out. All good things must come to an end.
Mei Mei’s kidneys are failing and her joints are sore and arthritic. She is becoming frail. She can get up and down the stairs, barely, but cannot make that last big step to get into the litter box once she gets to it. She can no longer groom herself very well, and she, fastidious as she is, really hates that. With care and medication we have made sure that she is not suffering, but she is now having more bad days than good. There is no miraculous treatment that will make her live forever. She will not make another surprising recovery.
And so, today, August 21, 2021, we are taking Mei Mei to our trusted veterinarian, and we are asking them to end her life.
It is the right thing to do, but I hate it. I don’t want her to go. I don’t want to lose her. She is my cat, and I love her. She made me a “cat person” when I thought I wasn’t. She played some role, small or large, in pretty much every decision I made from November of 2006 through to today. She has been present for fifteen of my sixteen years of marriage. But when Melissa and I go to sleep tonight, she will not be here anymore. This should not affect me the way it does. It does anyway.
According to the “cat year” calculators on the Internet, Mei Mei lived the equivalent of about 75 or 76 human years. That’s a pretty good run. The average life expectancy for humans right now is about the same. But, damn it, I wanted her to live forever. She was part of my family. Whether or not she’s at the “right” age to die, it’s hard to accept that it’s actually happening. Death is never an easy thing to contend with, even when we’re talking about some moody stray cat that could have showed up at any apartment’s door, but happened to show up at ours . . . right when we needed her to.
Good bye, Mei Mei. You’re a good girl. I love you, and I’ll miss you.