I once had a girlfriend (and later a wife) named Racquel. Racquel had a best friend named Michelle (Kelly and Shelly they used to call themselves. Sometime Shells and Kells). Michelle had a mother, named Margaret. Margaret lived in a condo apartment in a near-west suburb of Chicago, with her son (Michelle’s brother) and 3 cats. One of these cats was a blue-gray Persian mix named Mouse. One of the other cats was Mouse’s mother but, like many mothers and daughters, they didn’t get along. Mouse was an ‘outdoor’ girl, spending most of her time out in the yard, playing in the alley or climbing trees. Sometimes she only came home to eat and to sleep. She lived in this situation for six years. By all accounts it was a nice life.
Then one dreary, cold and snowy morning in January of 1992, the unthinkable happened: Margaret was brutally murdered, knifed to death in her own bedroom, by persons, and for reasons, still unknown. Michelle, Margaret’s daughter, and Racquel, my girl friend, discovered the crime a few hours later. They spent a hellish day, trapped in that apartment with the dead woman and the terrified cats, while cops and medical examiners came and went, until they were finally taken to the police station and interviewed. Then they were allowed to return to the apartment to collect some things, things that were not likely to be useful as evidence. Things like three freaked-out cats.
Racquel arrived home that evening carrying a cardboard box: She had found it in Margaret’s home office, emptied the reams of laser printer paper, poked holes in the lid and bound it closed with neckties. Inside was Mouse. They had to take the cats, Racquel explained. To leave them there was unthinkable. They were so badly frightened. Who would feed them? And the police wouldn’t want them there either: They might disturb the crime scene. Michelle and her sister (the son, at that time, was missing, and was, in fact, considered the prime suspect) each took one home, but Mouse, as she had been for most of her life, was the odd girl out. Where was she to go? So Mouse came to stay with us.
This was to be a temporary measure: Just until things settled down and a home could be found for her, probably with a relative or friend of the family. A few days, perhaps. After all, we already had two cats (one of whom was even named Mouse!) and were planning on bringing in a roommate, who would make the house more crowded and maybe even bring in a pet of their own!
We put the box into an unused room and closed the door, and then attended to other business… we were all in shock (there were four of us there that evening: Racquel, two friends and myself.) There were stories to tell, calls to make, tears to cry. It was a while before we turned our attention to the box in the spare room.
Cats have a way of knowing that the world (their world) is in upset. Minstrel, I’ve always felt, is a particularly acute moggy. He knew that people were upset. And he knew that there was something… someone… in that spare room. He was at the door sniffing, wearing that stupid, mouth-half-open expression he gets when he’s feeling particularly feral. Our experience led us to expect that he would not like whoever was in there! What were we to do? Well, for the time being, since it would only be a few days, maybe we could just keep them separated. The guest would just have to stay in the guestroom.
Eventually, on this Saturday night, in the spare room, with the door closed, with Minstrel prowling suspiciously outside, this small, frightened gray creature poked her head out of the box, looked around, explored cautiously, and then came to us and climbed in a lap. I don’t remember whose. I remember thinking she was not very attractive. That unkempt-looking, Persian-esque fur, the freckle on the side of her nose! But I was impressed with how loudly she purred, how much she seemed to want and enjoy being rubbed and petted. The purr filled the room! I had not heard a purr that loud and exuberant since Minstrel had been a kitten.
"Is this just because of everything that’s happened today?" I wondered.
"No, she’s always like this… when she’s around. Usually she’s off in the alley somewhere."
We rubbed her for a while, and then I found that my hand was getting wet. She drooled when she was happy! You could see the neat, little crystalline pearl form on her lower lip, get bigger and bigger until finally gravity would hold sway. Another would quickly form. Okay, so at least it’s not the running rivulets that some dogs produce, but this was a new phenomenon by me. A drooling cat!
We put food and water down, turned off the light and left her in her new, temporary home.
Over the next day or two, we would occasionally check in on the newcomer. Sit with her for a while and scratch her ears. Listen to her buzz. Wipe our hands.
Came Monday afternoon. Racquel decided to go to work, only for half a day, in the afternoon. I worked at home at the time. I hated to think of that cat, locked away in that room! Cats should be able roam, I’ve always felt. Explore. I rounded up Minstrel and Mouse and locked them into a bedroom, then let the visitor out of her cell. She explored around and appeared to be having a kitty-good time. Satisfied, I stretched out on the sofa for a short nap.
The newcomer jumped up and lay on my chest. She began to buzz loudly. I’m always pleased when animals want to be close to me. I think that a cat purring in your lap is paying you the highest honor. Even just a ‘temporary’, cat-sat cat!
"Just imagine," I thought, as she purred and I scratched her cheeks. "This creature was there, when it happened! She, and her feline compadres, are the only real witnesses."
That, on reflection, was an unnerving thought.
"She may have seen it. She may know something that all of us would dearly like to know at this point: The face of the murderer."
And then, a little insanely: "What if he thought of her as a witness! In TV and movies, witnesses are always targets! What if, at this very moment, the crime were somehow following her… perhaps to our very door?"
Suddenly, I didn’t like having this creature this close to me at all.
The mind sometimes works in strange, unbidden, even obsessive ways. I was under stress. The thought process continued. Had I been writing a Hollywood horror/thriller, it might have been a wonderful mine of ideas: What if she had not only just been there, but had somehow been central to it? What if it had all really revolved around her? What if she or the other cats had been the real targets? I don’t know… drug smugglers, perhaps, concealing their stuff in catnip stashes! Or, insane cultists performing sacrifices to the ancient Egyptian cat goddesses, as represented by this elegant creature!
Silly ideas. Nutty ideas. Like I said, good ideas, perhaps, for a potboiler movie-of-the-week. Not pleasant, late in the waning dusk of a gloomy, mid-winter afternoon, when somebody you know (even if you, personally, have only met them two or three times) is lying on a slab in the morgue…
I pushed her away, got up and turned on a light in every room of the apartment. I'd done that on Saturday, after I had received the phone calls telling me what had happened. But this time the lights stayed on. For over two years.
By Thursday, things had gone to hell in the proverbial hand-basket. At some point it had become obvious that the cat was not be leaving us in the immediate future, and the continued segregation from Mouse and Minstrel didn't seem practical. It was too hard to enforce: Minstrel would break the blockade, get in and hell would ensue. She would break the blockade, get out and hell would ensue. We also worried about her, closed off in that room, by herself, no where to go. We had opened the door, to give her the run of the house, to give them a chance to get to know each other. It didn't seem to be working. The fights were incessant. Minstrel and the visitor. Mouse and the visitor. Mouse and Minstrel! Yes, even the two cats who had lived together for over a year, and who apparently loved each other to pieces, were at each other's throats!
The one wryly amusing moment had come one evening when I went into the spare room to get something, and found the visitor sitting in the bottom of a tall cardboard box (had once contained a DeskJet printer, I believe.) She looked up at me. I looked down at her. "The next face you see," I thought, "Is going to be Minstrel's. Because there is nothing that Minstrel likes more than an open box, and no place he would rather be than inside an open box. And he might not look before he leaps!" I left her there. Let the two of them sort it out. Sure enough, five or ten minutes later there came the of sound hissing, snarling, the clatter of claws on hardwood floors as one retreated and the other pursued. I don't know who was more surprised: The visitor, seeing what was coming down on top of her, or Minstrel, seeing what he was about to land on. I don't know who had the upper hand, which was pursuer and who pursuee. I didn't care. I was becoming numb.
Not so numb that Thursday evening, though. I placed a call to trauma counselor. This was a woman I had met on Sunday, at the police station. "Victim's Counselor" her card had read. "I'm not a victim here," I tried to explain. "It wasn't my mother, and I wasn't there." "No matter," she replied. "You're involved with someone who was. That's going to impact you." The four of us, myself, Racquel, Michelle and Michelle's fiancé Michael, talked with her for about an hour that afternoon. I pocketed the card, not expecting to use it. I used it that Thursday.
She returned my call while I was getting dressed for the funeral.
"Things are totally out of control here," I said. "This has taken over our lives. It's taken over my life! I can't get any work done! I can't turn on the news, because every mention of any crime or tragedy, no matter how trivial, sends Racquel running from the room screaming. The last few days have been consumed with running here, running there, attending these functions, that wake, tonight the funeral. I'm expected to drive all the way out Iowa tomorrow morning for the burial and then spend the weekend out there with the family, people I don't know, have never met before last night! And to top it off, this goddamned cat is making the house into furry hell! Minstrel and Mouse hate her! Under the stress of the situation, Minstrel and Mouse now hate each other!"
She assured me that I would not be a creep if I did not go to Iowa the next day, or if I insisted, to Racquel, or Michelle, or both, that they resolve the issue of the cat and remove it from my house. I went to the funeral that night. I became a pallbearer! Me! Who's only obligation to this woman was that I had borrowed a tent on two occasions! Who's only qualification was that I was a youngish man at a funeral for a woman who's family had relatively few youngish men to serve as pallbearers! (Just over a year later, I was to bear my murdered brother-in-law out of the same funeral home and then into the same church for funeral, though that is a different story.) And, after much equivocation, I did go to Iowa, and it was actually a good thing. Still, I came home Sunday evening half expecting to find nothing but three grease smears where the cats had been previously.
No such tragedy… or luck. No mutual or self-immolation. The greatest sign of damage was the bag of cat food Minstrel, master burglar that he is, had coaxed out of its hiding place in the pantry and torn open. Open warfare was subsiding. The plan now was that Michelle would keep the cat she had taken on 'The Day', her sister would keep the one she had taken then, and this one would go to someone in the dead woman's congregation, many of whom were feeling traumatized and powerless. The pastor would work it out. In the meantime…
Well, in the meantime, at least open hostilities ceased, to be replaced by a sort of cold war. Minstrel was adjusting, and he and the visitor no longer fought. Mouse, on the other hand… ah, what about poor Mouse?
Mouse was upset. Mouse was intimidated. Mouse could not be in the same room with this annoying woman! Mouse could not stand up for herself! The visitor would enter a room, Mouse would leave. The visitor showed herself to be fond of all the places of which Mouse was fond. Mouse was fond of windowsills. Mouse no longer got up on windowsills. Mouse was fond of the bedroom, especially the top of the tall dresser, and loved to sleep on the bed. The visitor conquered the bedroom and made the bed her own. Mouse stopped going into the bedroom entirely.
I have a bad weak spot for Mouse. Always have. From the very first moment I had seen her and picked her off the sidewalk, a six-week-old stray, she has been my 'little Girl.' Sure, Minstrel has always been the 'Little Boy'… he was the first, and is by far the cleverest cat I have ever encountered… but Mouse has always been such a little waif, so badly in need, and grateful, to be rescued. This was distressing to watch!
"Stand up for yourself, Mouse!" I would shout, watching another confrontation… and surrender… unfold. "Don't let her push you around! This is your house, after all, and she's the stranger! And she's not bigger than you are. She may look bigger, but that's all air and hair!" But it was no good. Mouse was totally cowed, and miserable. This stranger had moved in and evicted her. They couldn't be in the same room together! We had to put down a separate dish for food, separated from the others, because Mouse would rather starve than get so close to the interloper. She expressed her misery in passive-aggressive ways: She 'forgot' her litter-box training and began to use a sofa in the living room!
Meanwhile, what was to become of the newcomer? A few months earlier, I had suggested we might add another cat, but two had seemed enough. And this was not our cat. She was not ours to decide about. But as the weeks passed, it seemed that the decision had been made. "We've been very closely involved in this," I explained to Racquel one day. "But that was a very tight-knit congregation and you can tell that many people are feeling the loss keenly, and taking responsibility for the care and final disposition of the dead woman's orphaned cat may help them all a lot." Yes, but taking care of the dead woman's orphaned cat also seemed to be helping Racquel. And, who knows? Maybe me as well. Michelle seemed in no hurry to resolve the question. After a month or two it turned out that Michelle's sister had given the cat she had rescued to the pastor of her mother's congregation. What was to become of the gray Mouse?
That question, by default, seemed to be answered that she was going to stay precisely where she was. The weeks passed. The months passed. Somewhere, she acquired a new name. 'Mouse' was causing way too much confusion. We already had one! We tried 'Mouse II', 'Grey Mouse', 'Other Mouse' and, of course 'You!' but nothing seemed to stick. Then one day I commented that she looked like a hippie, with all that hair sticking out. "She should learn to comb her hair," I joked. "Then she won't look so scruffy."
Shortly thereafter Scruffy became her name. She had found, and made, a new home, with a new name. Mouse… our Mouse… had lost her privileged stature in the home she had known, but at least she kept her name.
Of course, Scruffy was also 'The Murder Kitty'. That's how I would introduce her. Racquel would occasionally flash back to one particular image of that day, spent under police guard in the living room of the apartment crime scene, while strangers with uniforms and guns came and went, while rooms were cordoned off, photo strobes flashed, measurements taken, body bags prepared. She would recall the glimpse of the sleek gray side of the frightened cat darting to and fro under the furniture on the opposite side of the room, desperately seeking an escape from the chaos. She would remember the frightened eyes occasionally peering out at her from a hiding place. They eyes of a cat. This cat. Mouse. Scruffy.
"The Murder Kitty," I would introduce Scruffy to the odd visitor. Here is The Event, personified, I wanted to say. The consequences of the unthinkable and unspeakable, given physical manifestation before your very eyes. A living proof and reminder that the violence does not end merely the victim's life. It ends the life of every one around. For this cat, one life ended and another began. I myself have had two lives: Before January 25, 1992, and after January 25, 1992. In other words, Before Scruffy (BS), which lasted almost 32 years, and After Scruffy (AS), which so far has lasted only a few days, weeks, months, years. Let us all look at her and know that the inconceivable has been conceived, the unthinkable thought, the unspeakable uttered, and the undoable done!
A lot of silly, portentous nonsense to saddle onto a cat, is it not? After all, what does she know? Only that the nice lady who fed her and rubbed her stopped doing so, amidst a great deal of noise and hub-bub, and that she found herself in a different place, with different (but still obviously nice) people feeding her and giving her rubs, and with two different, snotty cats in place of the that old witch, her mother, and her mother's consort. And, eventually, accommodation can be made with even these two new cats. That heifer just needs to be put in her place and taught who is really queen around here now!
And so things settled down. Life was not normal. How could it ever be 'normal'? Who would want it to be normal? For Racquel, feeling normal would almost be a betrayal of The Event, akin to forgetting that it ever occurred. But Scruffy and Minstrel came to an understanding, and even began liking each other. Mouse, after some stern reprimands, stopped going potty on the upholstery. But she still left a room when Scruffy entered, still jumped down from the sills when Scruffy jumped up to one in the same room, still refused to even enter the bedroom. It broke my heart. She still had Minstrel, however.
Scruffy, it began to develop after a while, preferred not to use the litter box for 'number two', if an alternate location was available. The alternate location of choice turned out to be the bathtub. We began leaving an inch or two of water standing to discourage her. Occasionally we'd hear a splash, followed by some rapid scrambling, followed by the sight of a sheepish and bedraggled Scruffy running down the hallway, to let us know that she, sometimes, leapt before she looked.
After a few months, we moved. Mouse and Minstrel went into the two carriers. I carried Scruffy out to the car in my arms. She wrenched herself free and ran up a nearby tree. Then she sat on a branch and pooped. "The fucking cat is up a fucking tree!" I remember shouting to the whole neighborhood in disgust. It had been a long, frustrating day and this seemed to be the crowning moment. Racquel, however, was able to entice her down in short order, and we went on to discover that the day still had plenty of indignities to inflict upon us, including the discovery that some of the furniture wouldn't even fit through the door of the new apartment (we gave it to the movers on the spot. "Be gone with it! Put it in your house! I just want this job to be done!") And that the money with which we planned to pay the movers had been stolen by one of the movers earlier in the day, who was long gone by now. We argued with the office and finally settled on paying them the overtime above the quote. They could try to flay the quoted amount out their scumbag help, and prosecute too, for all we cared. Then they were gone, and we were in our new house.
In retrospect, the new house in the suburbs was little better than the old house in the city… and downright worse in some ways. But for the cats it was OK. All the old stuff was there and smelled the same. It was just in different places. There was less space, so Mouse and Scruffy found themselves coming to a closer understanding then either of them probably cared for, just because of the tighter crowding. Sure, Mouse became passive-aggressive again for a few days, during which time the (surviving) furniture suffered, but quickly overcame. On the other hand, you could tell that they found the wall to wall carpeting under their toes to be a delight, and the small outside terrace was cat heaven!
And much continued to happen. Near the anniversary of the day when Scruffy had come to live with us, I said to Scruffy, as she purred in my lap, "I'm glad you came to live with us. I wish it had never been necessary, but since it was, I'm glad you were able to come live with us." Shortly after that, Racquel and I were married. A little over a month after that, my new brother-in-law was killed by an act of violence that was shocking, and seemed grossly unfair to those of us who had gone through the same sort of thing just a year before. But unlike the earlier case, this time the police knew who did it, and caught him and put him in jail a few months later. Exactly one year after Jason died (showing how fast the wheels of justice can turn, when the victim, despite being black, is essentially a white kid from the suburbs) we found ourselves sitting in a Cook Country courtroom, watching a jury convict the killer for first degree murder.
In the meantime, Racquel and I had bought a house. Another move, another shake-up, another drive, by myself, this time in the cab of a rented truck rather than my old AMC station wagon, across the western suburbs with Scruffy cowering under the seat. But what a wondrous place, I imagine she and the two Ms felt. Space, and carpets, and windows, and stairs! An outside! Doors you can run through and be in an outside, instead of another inside! Minstrel, who had always aspired to be an outdoor cat, reveled in the experience. Scruffy who, when she had been Mouse, had been an outdoor cat, seemed to transform, from a haughty prima donna to a self-assured voyageur when she went outside. Minstrel's precociousness and inquisitiveness gave me, and still gives me, cause to worry when he's outside. I can see his nature easily getting him into trouble, leading him so far away that he can't make it back. I have never had a moment's concern about Scruffy, on the other hand, except on those occasions when she's spent the night out, because I had forgotten that she was out. She knows her way around the outside. She looks totally at home out there. It's where she grew up.
Inside, the new space once again encouraged new inter-cat dynamics. Having more room in the house in which to get away from each other seemed to make Scruffy and Mouse more tolerant of each other's presence. They still didn't like each other, but they seemed much more accommodating. Mouse had long ago given up feeling that she had to leave a room just because Scruffy had entered. They could even eat next to each other, from adjacent bowls.
In retrospect, it was easy to see that the conviction, and subsequent sentencing to 45 years in prison, of the killer of my brother-in-law, marked the beginning of the active disintegration of my marriage. At the time I think I saw it as the opposite: An opportunity to begin building the normal marriage that so far had been pre-empted by violence and trauma. Ironically, the violence and trauma turned out to be the very glue that was holding it together. And, again just over a year later, Racquel took her stuff and moved out. A week or two after that, we confronted each other across a picnic table outside a hotdog stand near my place of employment, to 'decide things'.
"We have to decide what to do with the house," she said. "I want to move back to the city."
I told her that she could live where she wanted. I had not turned my life upside down and inside out becoming a home owner, and then moved my sorry ass out to what felt to me like the furthest reaches of the suburbs, just to undo it all less than 18 months later. I fully intended to stay exactly where I was, until I was good and ready to leave.
"Well, OK," she agreed. "We have to decide what to do with the cats. I think you should keep Minstrel and Mouse. I'll take Scruffy, once I'm settled down."
This was a relief. Aside from my remaining in the house, Minstrel and Mouse… Mouse, really… was the only issue that I felt fully prepared to take to the mattresses. I did not want to give up Minstrel, to be sure, but I absolutely would not give up Mouse. And since I would not separate Mouse from Minstrel that meant that I would not give up Minstrel either. Racquel shared the same thoughts: She would not take Mouse from me, nor would she take Minstrel from Mouse.
Racquel and I had lived together for a year, during which time a cat named Minstrel had come to live with us. Though we subsequently lived apart for two years, before coming back together, I always considered Minstrel to be 'our' cat. Midway through that two years of separation, we had found, I had picked up and Racquel had decided to rescue a stray kitten that she called Mouse. Mouse had been her cat. When we had moved back together, I had wanted to acquire a third cat, who would be my cat, but that never came about. Instead, a few months later, Scruffy showed up. But Scruffy was not my cat. Scruffy was, at best, Racquel's cat, since she had rescued her, carried her home, needed her for that solace during those hard months. I was fond of Scruffy, but she was not my cat, in the same way I felt that Minstrel was, or that Mouse had become. I had watched Minstrel grow from a kitten to a cat; I had picked up Mouse from that sidewalk and, subsequently also watched her grow from a kitten to a cat.
No, I did not feel the same bond with Scruffy, the cat that had appeared, fully formed, personality complete. Besides, she reminded me of 'Bad Things'. She was still a symbol, still that embodiment of dismal, gray January days when the phone rings and people say impossible things to you.
I looked forward to life becoming just the three of us: Me, Minstrel, Mouse.
But when would that happen? Once Racquel had her 'shit together.' Well, that was taking a long time. And until then it was not the three of us. It was becoming the four of us. Scruffy was still there. No end in sight. Oops, the area codes have changed! Get new tags for Minstrel and Mouse. No need for Scruffy. She's going back to the city. But summer ends, fall passes, winter and spring sail past, and its summer again.
"I don't think I'll be able to take Scruffy after all," Racquel finally said to me, about a year after we split up, months after the divorce was finalized. "All I have is an apartment and she needs to be able to go outside." Well, that was a lame excuse, I thought. She was greatly overestimating how unhappy Scruffy might be in an apartment. Scruffy had lived in apartments before, and she would adapt. What I heard Racquel saying was that she didn't want to take Scruffy. But by this time this was OK. I had been feeding her, caring for her, worrying about her, all this time. I had been watching her develop, within the context of the new reality of a household with just myself as sole human. I had delighted in Minstrel's newfound loquacity, Mouse's newfound assertiveness, and Scruffy's newfound playfulness within the new dynamics.
"Scruffy, you're staying with us!" I announced, and went out and bought a new tag with the correct area code on it and took her to the vet to get her shots and make her legal for another year's residency in Lake County.
It was just a few weeks after that that Racquel called to say: "I think I can take Scruffy after all."
"I think you won't," was my response. Why? "Because you haven't been living with her for a year. You haven't been feeding her. You haven't been petting her. I let you take the plants, after I kept them alive for you for a year. It's not so easy with a cat. You haven't just forked out $50 to get her certified to live in Lake County for another year!" It's always these little, niggling issues of money, isn't it? "I'll be damned if I'm going to pay $50 to buy Lake County tags for a cat, only to watch that cat then move to Cook County!"
But the bottom-line reason? Because there were the four of us: Minstrel, Mouse, Scruffy and myself. I'm sure that both Mouse and Scruffy wish that it were just three of us, excluding, naturally, the other, but there you go. You take away any of my cats, and you take away a piece of me.
And so it has continued, the four musketeers, until recent months when Scruffy was diagnosed with a rare, pernicious and incurable form of cancer.
Being confronted with the imminence of Scruffy's mortality has brought much bubbling to the surface. It has been a long, strange trip, and it looks like it might soon come to an end. In confronting the question of how far I should go to extend her life, it began to feel as if fighting to hang on to her, would be fighting to hang on to so many bad memories that she represents.
"She's not a symbol," a friend angrily remonstrated me when I tried to express this idea. "She's a cat!" But she is a symbol. She always has been. I don't think I realized until this issue came home, just how much of a symbol she still is. Every time I've looked at her, over the last eight years, it was there, just behind her eyes, underneath her fur. Days of grief, anger, trauma and pain. Divorce, regret, decisions both made and neglected. It had been a long time since I had verbalized those associations; I long ago stopped referring to her as The Murder Kitty. She had long been just 'One of My Cats'. Yet there was the difference. Between her and the others. Not just her age. Not just the fact that I did not watch her grow from a kitten, as I had the others. The circumstances of her arrival, or her continued being with me, are woven inextricably, with her, into the fabric of what I am.
Would fighting to hang onto Scruffy's life be the same thing as fighting to hang onto all that unhappy baggage? Will Scruffy's death be some final form of closure?
I ran into Michelle last weekend. It was the first time I'd seen her in five years. She asked about Scruffy, I asked about Scruffy's mom, who is now 16 years old and still lives with Michelle and her husband, Michael.
In early 1994, shortly before Racquel and I moved into our house, Scruffy's mom became direly ill. I asked Michelle about that.
"Yes, she almost died," Michelle said. She had suffered from some liver disorder that results when a cat stops eating for more than a day or two. Michelle had the vets keep her alive with extraordinary means, involving several days of hospitalization and a forced feeding tube. "I was very selfish to make her go through that."
Another friend, who lost a cat to the same condition just last year, told how she had backed away when confronted with the same choice. Her cat had died. "I should have just let her go," Michelle said. "It was selfish to hold onto her like that."
Yet, I understand why she felt she had to. I understand perfectly. Michelle had lost her mother, had her ripped from the world right before her eyes, as it were. She was left only with memories, artifacts and that ball of protoplasm. She had to keep this object of a dead mother's love alive, as a means of keeping a small part of the dead mother alive and with her. It was the same way in that Racquel could not let go of her horror, could not imagine life without this horror inside her, indeed felt it would be a betrayal to think back and not realize that horror. She nurtured it. Not as a means of crippling herself, but as a means of keeping it real. Keeping in touch with what had happened, with what had been lost.
But, like Scruffy, Scruffy's mom was not just a symbol; she was also a cat. And the cat that might have liked to quietly slip into the night was asked to sacrifice that the symbol might continue to resonate. Till those, to whom the symbol had meaning, were ready to disconnect the two. Separate symbol from cat, free the cat to go her own way, free us of the weight of the symbol.
Am I even ready to let go of my baggage? If Scruffy were to go too quickly, would that leave me with unfinished business?
"She's not a symbol, she's a cat." It would be an easier decision to make if the therapy were awful, and would make her sick and miserable. I would not put her through that, just as Michelle, today, would not put Scruffy's mother through the feeding tube. But by all reports the therapy might be so innocuous that she might not even notice. In that case, would I be sacrificing her for the sake of letting go of that baggage?
All this went around in circles for weeks, before I finally decided that I couldn't not try to keep Scruffy with me for as long as I can, though not any longer than I must. I don't expect it to make sense. I'm still making sense of it. The thing is that Scruffy is a symbol, but she's also a cat. The cat part of her is gray, scruffily furry, and loves to purr. The symbol part… well, she's not responsible for any of that. I am. I have to put all of that into order, so that it may fall to the side when she dies and leave us both unencumbered. In the meantime, she still has the quickest, throatiest purr of any adult cat I've ever encountered. She loves to have her belly rubbed. She loves to go out, to eat her dinner, to lay on the top of her head and view the world upside down. All those things that make her cat, and that make those of us who love cats smile whenever we see it. Her importance as that symbol probably has faded. That's just allowed her importance as a cat to shine through. And though she may be dying, she is far from sick.
It is a pleasure to have her around, for as long as she wishes to stick around.