There is this unspoken understanding when you adopt a pet: eventually, it's going to die. This is the natural order of the world; people outlive their pets.
I've had longer than usual to get used to this idea because Max has never been a healthy cat. He's got food allergies, he's got anxiety, and most recently, he's got cancer. I've known this was coming for so long and I thought I was ready, but I'm not.
When we got back from our honeymoon we noticed that Max's face looked swollen on one side. It wasn't immediately apparent because of his facial markings, but once I noticed it we were both like, whoah. That's not good. I took him to the vet the next day, and the day after that he had surgery to remove two (more) rotted teeth. It certainly wasn't an ideal way to spend our first days back (it was especially un-ideal for Max) and part of me wondered why I was even bothering -- the cat has cancer, his days are numbered. But could I really let him go, after all he's been through, from a rotted tooth? No, I couldn't.
Despite the extraction of the two teeth and a month of antibiotics, the swelling didn't go down. In fact, it got worse. We went back for a follow-up and the vet confirmed my suspicions: this could not possibly be an infection. It was something else.
It was a tumor. She offered to put him to sleep right then, but I couldn't.
That was a month ago. Since then I've been trying to determine week by week if it was time yet. Sometimes I thought so, but the next day he'd seem fine again. Time went by. His face grew more and more grotesque but since it didn't seem to be bothering him, I told myself it was OK.
And then I took this picture on Sunday and I wanted to slap myself. This cat that I love so much is in pain. He can't open his eye; he hasn't been able to close his mouth for weeks. I emailed the vet. The soonest she could come was tonight.
I'm putting Max to sleep tonight. I thought that having so much time to get used to this fact would leave me better prepared, but it hasn't at all. I left work early, and I was holding it together, but then I got home and as I was putting my bike away I heard a familiar thud behind me and I thought, that's the last time I'll hear Max jump the last two stairs. And I lost it.
It wasn't even him; it was Madison. But soon Max appeared, sitting at the top of the stairs and I thought, that's the last time I'll ever come home and see him sitting there. And this morning was the last time I'll ever give him his pills. In fact, the next time we go out of town there will be no special instructions, no pill schedule. I feel like I should at least be happy about this simplification of our lives, but I'm not, not even a little bit.
I am going to miss this cat so, so much. I am going to miss seeing him lying around belly up, half under the bed. I'll miss the way he yaps incessantly when he wants to be petted. I'll miss seeing him sitting at the top of the stairs every day when I come home, waiting to see who it is and if it's safe to come down.
I knew this was going to be hard, but I guess I just didn't realize how hard. It makes me wonder how people possibly survive greater losses, the loss of a parent or a child or a spouse. And it makes me want to give away Madison and Henry, because the thought of doing this again is honestly staggering. I still find it strange when I go home to my mom's house and realize Shadow isn't there, and it's been almost two years since she died. I wonder how long it will be before I stop expecting to see Max at the top of the stairs. Part of me hopes it will be soon, and part of me hopes it will be never.