Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Missing Marms

The fabric of this many years is a tight fit into one page; the emotions herniate and won't fold in neatly. I lost my sixteen year old cat, Marmalade, yesterday. But lost isn't accurate to describe the process. I had to decide to end her life. A life. I ended it. I don't know how to work that last bit of fabric into my pack because it's still hard to own. I didn't want her to suffer and she did so I had to do this. Guilt is a stone in my heart today, even knowing it had to be done.

At the end of The Green Mile, Paul Edgecomb says "on the day of my judgement, when I stand before God, and he asks me why did I kill one of his true miracles, what am I going to say? That it was my job? My job?" It was my job to do right by her, but the paradox of this right surpasses my comprehension. I can't even say out loud how hard this was to decide.  Marms was a friend in the best way; she taught me to care for a living being at its beginning and end stages of life. I cut my maternal teeth with her learning cat things that would later become baby things--they need to eat and poop frequently, for example. But in more than obligation, Marms taught me first to love those that need our care. She happily trusted me for sixteen years to scoop her up and show her love, no matter how matted her fur or stiff her limbs. In her last years of failing body she still offered warmth and companionship and an opportunity to serve another soul.

Marms led a long life, longer than I can even process. She came to me, an abandoned barn kitten, in the spring of 1994. I was a gangly freshman in high school with braces, terrified of the world and of letting anyone down. I listened to The Cranberries on my still-new CD player, watched OJ Simpson lead the cops on a chase, and pretended I was too big to care about The Lion King. I was a baby, a good kid who knew nothing yet about the world or herself. It boggles my mind that Marms has been waiting on my bed every night of every year since that time, and with the change of a day she's gone. Countless nights, I buried my face in her soft fur, a kaleidescope of oranges, blondes and umbers. She smelled like a golden brown field, like a canister of uncooked rice. Her little paws were soundless as she alighted on the bed--her afternoon pas de chat--to chastise me for leaving her alone. Mrrrap, she'd squeeze out. Mrrap yourself, Marms, I'd laugh back and kiss her on the "M" at her forehead. She was in my growing years. Letting her go is, in a way, letting that part of myself go too.

The improvisational dance with our pets--two bodies sharing space--is almost more familiar to us than the one with other people.  Pets stay by us even when we're demanding. They listen for us even when we ignore them. They wait for us even when we're being ugly inside. We learn to anticipate each other and so tie our hearts together in something ephemeral. Wordless movement--touch--becomes love. How many nights did I sit on the bathroom floor, soaked in my own cry, and scritch the tiny head pressed into my shin? She would come to me like she knew. She sat by for hours when E was away at college.  I held her so tight to my belly when I miscarried. When E and I separated and the long nights made me afraid, she glued herself to my side... always knowing when I needed the weight of a pale chin on my hand or her little chicken body on my chest. She was so accomodating, listening through her purrs. More recently I'd scutter around and ease her day as much as I could, the dance evolving to one of respectful patience and care. The sting of her absence last night was like a phantom amputated limb.

I want to erase my mind like a whiteboard. I don't want to feel this. But hurting means I loved her deeply, and I'm thankful I had her for so many years. I needed her that long. Did I make her real because I loved her so much, as the Skin Horse says? I'm sure of it. Did she give and give until her little orange body tired out, as the Giving Tree gave? Sadly, I think so. But as K said at lunch today, maybe Marmalade got me here to this place of happy and then she could let go. She was my companion for the long journey from teen to adult, a way to feel love and feel God. Just a cat--but more in the blessing of the soft mark she left on my heart.


  1. You've written a beautiful tribute to Marmalade. I'm bawling. I know how hard that final decision is... my sympahties. I'm so sorry for your loss. Hugs from me and Homer and Olin.

  2. I'm bawling. I'm supposed to be writing a story on deadline. Instead my heart is aching. This is so lovingly written, Heather. Anyone who has ever loved a pet, can relate to how you feel.

    The bonds we form with animals amaze me.

    Any critter who sticks by our side through all the ups and downs, triumphs and tragedies, comforting us without words, is indeed a special critter.

    My special critter is lying beside me right now as I type this. Sometimes I wonder if he knows how much I love him and then I think: if we all operated on the same intuitive levels as our pets, our relationships with people would be simpler.