When we moved to Washington state in February 2003, it was with an ornery old cat in tow, Domino, of indeterminate age and very much special needs, whom I kind of “inherited” when I got married. She had a congenital defect with her eyelids with ingrowing eyelashes and other issues and she was always half blind, annoyed, and hissy with pretty near everyone… who wasn’t her family. She adopted me as family. It was an honor. But this story is not really about her.
It’s about the fact that she was getting frail and elderly and we wanted to have another cat as a companion to her and to serve as a bridge for us – because we knew that Domino would leave us sooner rather than later. But we didn’t make any particular plans for cat adoptions, it was just a thing up in the air. As I said, we moved into our new house on 20 February 2003. Only a couple of weeks after that I happened to run into a petstore to pick up some Domino necessities… and walked straight into an adoption event going in inside the store.
My eyes connected with those of a fluffy furball who looked like a hairy marshmallow with four feet and this utterly preposterous stub of a tail sticking straight up from his cute little patootie. I picked him up, he snuggled into my hands and uttered one of those hypersonic kitten meows, and I was just gone. I said to the shelter people, “don’t sell him, he’s mine, I’m just going out to the car to get my husband.”
It was never a question that this kitten was coming home to us. But Deck wanted two kittens, to be company for each other. Fluffball’s mother, judging by the motley crew of her kittens who were up for adoption that day, must have had relations with half a dozen toms because all the kittens were different. She herself was a tabby and so were two of the kittens and I wanted to get one of those but they were already spoken for. So Deck picked out a sweet tuxie and added her to our adoption roster
When these two came into our house and became its soul, they were nine weeks old and they weighed about a pound apiece. I could fit a kitten into the palm of my hand. They were tiny, terminally cute (which they used to full advantage), and inseparable. It was a long while before you could count on seeing these two cats in two separate rooms – they were joined at the hip, and they did absolutely everything together. I named my little boy, the original fluffball, Boboko, after a cat in Charles de Lint’s novel “Mulengro”. Deck named the little lady – somewhat inexplicably, he chose Laptop. It was ironic because Laptop… wasn’t. Boboko was the sweetest cat in creation but it quickly became clear that he wasn’t playing with a complete deck – he was definitely ‘limited’, he got up to insane shenanigans but he was gently stupid, and it quickly became the accepted wisdom that Laptop must have stolen half his tail (hers was very long and elegant) and most of his brain while they were still in utero. Laptop was fiercely independent, sharply intelligent, and it was very clear that she loved absolutely and completely but only on her own terms (again, the accepted wisdom was the quote that she lived by the mantra “love me love me love me… but not HERE and not NOW.”
When Domino crossed the Rainbow Bridge at last, Boboko and Laptop became the undisputed rulers of this household. Spoiled? You betcha. When we went to sit out on the back deck each cat had its own chair on which to bask – Boboko was arguably agoraphobic and was always just as happy to retreat inside, but Laptop loved it out there, to the point that she (I told you she was intelligent) figured out how to open the screen door and slip outside when she wanted to.
She always knew exactly what she wanted and she knew how to go about getting precisely that. She was not a lapcat and she hated HATED being picked up – she was not a maulable cat the way Boboko was – but she was unique, and she was fearless, and on pretty much every vet visit and annual checkup her vet would look her over and pronounce her “perfect”. And so she was.
We lost Boboko way too young, at only nine years old, because he lost what was left of his tiny mind and simply began to pee anywhere and everywhere (except possibly his litterbox). Measures were attempted but the medication that was offered gave him seizures, and then the issue became uncontrollable. He was my heart’s-darling cat but I had to let him go – and for a very long time, afterwards, consumed by guilt and grief that I could do nothing to help him, I couldn’t even consider replacing him with another companion cat for the left-behind and bewildered Laptop who missed her brother terribly. It was well over a year after Boboko’s death that we welcomed another cat into the family, Blackjack; his own personality made it easy to integrate him into the household but it all depended on her, on the queen whom I had taken to calling my Dowager Empress, and on whether she would offer us the grace of accepting him.
Eventually they would end up sharing beds, chairs, laps. They became bonded, part of the same family.
Laptop’s years continued, as the alpha cat of the house (when she said jump Blackjack asked how high…) Deck became ill, went into hospital, and never came home; I was left behind, with these two cats, who saved my life and my sanity by sleeping close beside me every night, by being staunch companions, by always being there for me, weighing less than thirty pounds between them (neither is a large cat) but huge in their absolute presence in the black hole that was my life, their warm furry bodies a bastion on which the waves of my grief broke, their hearts beating faithfully against my body as they snuggled against me as a promise of their unquestioning love.
Laptop turned 19 in December of 2021.
I really thought she would make it to 20.
She did not.
On the morning of 19 March 2022, she was uncharacteristically quiet at breakfast time – not yelling for her food as she usually did, not underfoot, not waking me up for breakfast by standing beside my pillow and purring loudly into my ear (as she pretty much did every morning..) When I got up, it was to find the cat lying in the corridor, lying there without any kind of cohesion, like the forces that were holding her little body together were simply not operating right. Very quiet. Staring somewhere into the middle distance.
I tried to pick her up. It was like picking up a lifeless bundle of rags. She just hung there in my arms. When I got to the kitchen and put her down she simply collapsed into a boneless heap as though her legs would no longer hold her.
Food was of no interest whatsoever. She tried to get up to drink some water, but lapped only a few times before she collapsed again. I brought up a small cat bed from her kittenhood which she had not used in years but it was something soft and familiar; I placed her in the bed and she stayed there, like a pod cat, like Laptop in her proud independence (I am a CAT I do not stay where YOU put me!) would never have done if she was herself.
I phoned her vet clinic and told them I thought my cat might be dying.
They suggested I bring her into the surgery. I said, no, if at all possible. It was time – it was clearly time – she was telling me so in no uncertain terms. But was there a chance that someone could come and ease her path across the bridge there in her own home, gently, quietly, with respect and with love, surely a 19 year old cat who had lived a good life, who was perfect, deserved that much. They said her own vet was not in surgery today but they could not make a plan to have someone come over; they gave me numbers of two other vets who made house calls when it came to putting animals to sleep. I tried both. One of them simply said they were closed on Saturdays and Sundays (and of course it was a weekend…) and I could leave a message and they could get back to me on Monday (but it was clear that Laptop would not last that long). The other one invited me to leave a message – but their website said that they “planned” euthanasia calls at least a couple of days in advance. So I managed to find a contact number for Laptop’s own vet, the one who received the tiny kitten into her arms when she first came to live with me and has cared for her for all these long years, and I left a message there, in tears. Telling her that Laptop, the perfect one, had come to the end of the road. And was there anything that she could do to help?
She called back not fifteen minutes later. “Is Laptop still with us?” she asked. She was, barely. She had not moved from the cat bed. “I can be there in twenty minutes,” her lovely vet said. “Stay with her. Keep her comfortable. I’m on my way.”
So I cuddled the cat who never permitted cuddles but who accepted them now, and told her I loved her. Told her that she really was perfect. Told her that I could not even think about a world without her, about this house without her, about this house into which she arrived as a tiny mewling thing and whose soul she became. She kept her gaze on mine. She purred a little. Then she stopped even that and appeared to concentrate on simply breathing.
The vet arrived, and gathered the cat into her arms. “You’re right,” the vet told me, meeting my eyes over the limp form of the cat, “it’s time. I’ll give her a gentle sedative and then when she’s calm I’ll put in the line and just give her the release. You don’t have to hold her but she might like it if you did.”
Of course I was going to hold her. No animal of mine would go alone no matter how shredded I was in the process. I took Laptop into my arms while the vet tried to find a vein in a rear leg. “You have no muscle left, you sweet thing,” she murmured. “I’m sorry. I’ll try not to hurt you…”
I don’t think that last injection was even necessary. I saw the light leave her eyes while the vet was still completing that final injection. She passed through the veil from right there in my arms, with her head pillowed on the crook of my elbow, with her front feet gathered into my hand, with my voice in her ear whispering “I love you, sweet girl. I love you.”
And then she was simply gone.
The vet took her little body away. Her ashes will be coming home next week. And now we’re down to two, just Blackjack and me.
It’s always been a tale of two kitties, with these two, Boboko and Laptop, magnificent brother and sister who graced my life with their presence and their friendship. They double teamed and tag teamed their way through life – when I was sick they did shifts to be on the bed at my side, one of them always on duty while the other was relieved to go eat, or use the litter box, or whatever – but ONE of them was always beside me. I hope they’re together again, I hope Laptop found her brother out there somewhere – the brother to whom she was so bonded when first she became mine. I hope they both found Deck out there. I hope someday they’ll all be waiting for me to come home.
But for now I am still here.
And that little heart which loved me so much in her own particular peculiar way beats no more. And my own, already shattered when Deck left me, has been further ground into dust and ashes.
Thank you for being mine, Laptop. And goodbye.