I did not know what to think when my dad brought you home from the feed mill: a tiny feral kitten with way too much personality. I was 16. I was delighted to finally have a pet (Mom has allergies, so their split created an opportunity for Dad to bring home a fuzzy creature), of course. I didn’t think I liked cats, but you charmed me. Sometimes, given how obnoxious you could be, I didn’t think I liked you.
So why does it feel like, now that you’re gone, someone is squeezing my heart and won’t let go?
I suspect it’s because you were my first real pet (the exploding goldfish don’t count, or the turtle that I named…after myself (I was 3 or 4!)…who “went to live with a cousin”), but mostly because you were the best cat ever, and I don’t really know how to cope with your loss. Your fuzzy, indignant presence has been a constant for over half of my life, even if I wasn’t living with you.
How am I supposed to call my dad and not hear your outraged meows when you realize he’s walked in the door and isn’t paying full attention to you? (“What do you want?” “MROW!!!” “What?!” “MEOOOOOOOOOW.”) How do I go back to my dad’s home and realize you won’t greet me at the door, head popping up over the screen door’s edge to look out at the front yard? How do I look at photos that pop up on Facebook and Instagram, reminding me of all the times you were there to sit on my lap, demand attention, poke my leg, molest my shoes, get white cat hair all over my dark clothes…and not cry so hard I give myself a headache?
(Butthead named himself, as we like to say: he didn’t really have a name (which is just like my dad, to call a pet “that cat”). Or at least, he didn’t, until he misbehaved so many times, and we despairingly yelled, “Stop being such a butthead!” so many times, that he started answering to it. It fits him.)
My dad called me on Sunday last week to tell me that you weren’t doing well, and although I preemptively grieved, I thought maybe this was like the last time it seemed like the end. (And let’s not mention all the times that you, an indoor cat, got out for hours or days at a time and left me worried sick, until you casually strolled back in.) You were a stubborn little fucker, and you had always pulled through before. Until Dad said that he came home from work on August 4th, you jumped on his lap like you always did, and died.
I’m glad you weren’t alone, but I don’t think you got the memo that you were supposed to stick around forever.
Now I’m sitting here googling “pet loss” and “dealing with grief” and “how long does this goddamn fucking bullshit last,” grappling with questions I thought I had come to terms with when all my grandparents died. I thought that I had made peace with death and loss, since it has punctuated my life fairly often.
I guess I haven’t.
In my perfect version of the afterlife, Butthead, you’re getting some time to chill before you head into your next incarnation. I don’t know if you’ll be a cat, another animal, a human (you always did strike me as an ex-boyfriend in feline form), or hell, some kind of tree, but I do expect you’ll be grouchy, cuddly, indignant, and strangely sweet. I hope you’ll get over revenge pooping like that one time (although that was, frankly, hilarious, since I didn’t have to clean it up), and that you have someone to take care of you like dad and my brother and I always tried. I hope someone will be there to comfort you like you comforted and cheered me through college, my worst breakups, my law school rejections and acceptances, take naps with you, and welcome you home when you come to visit.
I hope that, even though I lived apart from you for the last ten years, you know how much I love you, and how heartbroken I am that you’re gone.
Seventeen years was not enough. I will miss you forever.