Wednesday, January 21, 2015
Loss and pet-love
The first picture I ever took of Winnie, about two days after she came to live with me. She had refused to come out from under the bath tub. One evening, she crept downstairs while I had the fire on, and hopped onto the back of the sofa cushions, and that has been her Spot ever since.
I feel guilty. I've been distracted, out of sorts and unable to concentrate (more than usual), emotionally fragile and whatnot.
Every night that I've spent at home for the last seven years - which, of course, has been pretty much every night, since I hate to leave the house - I have had the same routine. I feed the cat her dinner, make sure there's water in her dish, power down the house, and say, "OK cat, time for bed." We get in, she walks on my head a few times before she either takes up her spot in the crook of my knee or burrows under the covers (depending on the time of year).
Every morning is also the same. She walks on my chest and meows in my face for her breakfast and I wake up and say, "Oh, hi Fur-face."
If I stay up too late, she starts meowing and circling the furniture: "Go to bed, Monkey. Why are you still up?"
All through the days, we have kept each other company in the kind of companionable and understanding quiet that I think most old married couples aspire to. Cats aren't complicated creatures. You feed them, pet them, play with them and give them a warm, safe place to sleep and they bond with you.
Unfortunately, as soon as you decide to get any pet, you are taking on the future inevitability. One day, and sometimes not too far off, the hard days will come. You will be emotionally and psychologically attached to the pet that is bonded to you. Your life will have revolved to some degree around looking after it for years. Your routines will have your pet integrated with them in a very intimate way.
And the day will come when all that structure will have to be abandoned.
Winnie doesn't like sudden noises, or loud noises. We've had a very quiet life, and she has made it clear that loud music of any kind is unacceptable. If I have dropped a pan or closed a door too sharply or made some other noise, I have fallen into the habit of automatically saying, "Sorry, cat."
I've sometimes thought about what these habits are going to do when there is no longer a Winnie to hang them on.
Tonight is the first night Winnie has slept over anywhere but home in the whole time I've had her. I've been away sometimes, but she's always been here. When I was moving over to Italy, she had to stay for a short while in a cattery in Cheshire. I found myself talking to the empty room in the same way I would have if she were there. For seven years, every time I've opened my front door, I've said, "Hi sweetie!" (like a girl, I know.)
I don't know what to do with myself. And though I know she will probably come home from the hospital tomorrow and we will carry on, it will, I fear, not be for much longer, and this feeling of being uncomfortably alone and at loose ends, will become a permanent state.
Add to this discomfort the feeling I have that this is inappropriate, that I am somehow transgressing in the moral realm by having allowed myself to become so attached to a pet that the thought of her death is distracting me from work and other important things. I keep saying, "She's just a cat." Cats aren't people. We do wrongly to become inordinately attached to them, and the whole of our civilisation has done wrong in trying to replace our children with our pets.
This hyper-sentimentalisation of pets is something I have struggled against. I've had conversations with friends who refer to their cats as "my babies". They're not your babies. They're cats. I know that farm people don't have such attachments, even though I know that they do become fond of their animals.
I've been struggling with this for some time, and all the while Winnie has been sick. How much money is appropriate to spend on vet bills and medicines? How far is it appropriate to go to save her life? Dr. B. told me about a couple who brought their cat to him. The cat was suffering kidney failure, and as he put it, "was already more on the other side than this one." He mentioned that in Paris they are actually doing kidney transplants on pets. He was shocked when the husband pulled out his phone and started looking up flight times to Paris for the same day.
I got Winnie at a time when I was very keen to become settled in life. I wanted to become more involved in life and with my family and community. I had felt, since the death of my friend John Muggeridge, that I needed someone to care for and be responsible for. And having Winnie has certainly made me a better person. It's going to be very difficult to let go of all that.
Anyway, I've been reading a bit of theological stuff about the affections and how they are to be correctly ordered by the intellect. Thomism 101. But I keep looking up in the midst of this and not seeing little Winnie perched on the back of the arm chair, and it all falls apart.
One thing I have decided to do is not wait. When the day does come, I'm going to give it a few days, maybe a couple of weeks at most, then ask Dr. B. for a new cat.