The Long Goodbye

These are two diary entries I wrote to myself about Minx, who was born on March 7, 2005, and died on July 27, 2021, with the kind and gentle assistance of Paws at Home Mobile Vet.

November 11, 2020:

On a cold May day in 2005, two kittens from the same litter came into my life, fostered by a family member in Maine. Rosie was a classic calico, Minx a tortoiseshell with a striking orange facial mask like a supervillain.

Rosie was the biggest and bravest. On the way home to Vermont, she shoved her head against my fingers through the bars of the carrier, while Minx stayed curled in a miserable little circle. I worried about Minx. She was so scared.

But when we got home, the shyness wore off. While Rosie was the little queen of the house, taking guff from no one, Minx quickly revealed herself as both the clingier sister and (paradoxically?) the more adventurous one. When she went outside, she climbed a cedar and had to be rescued. She slipped through the fence and mewed excitedly, trying to start a game, while I freaked out about the busy street yards away. She was an indoor cat after that.

One day Minx somehow got into a cabinet several feet above the countertop.

Minx played tirelessly in her youth. She chased little crinkly Mylar balls and Da Bird and laser pointers. She stalked, raced, and pounced. She did back-flips. As recently as several months ago, she got very excited about a new Wiggly Worm toy.

She was a clown and a trouble maker. If you brought a plant into the house, she would eat it (a whole pot of pansies? No problem!). Or pee in it. All rubber bands had to be kept studiously away from her.

Her tricolor markings were hypnotic. Ginger tabby, white, black, stripes, patches, sometimes blurred and sometimes distinct — I wish I could memorize them. I can’t, so I took photos instead.

She was the beggar, the one who kept her kitten mew into old age. When I ate chicken or fish or even a tuna sandwich, there she was, looking up at me with her Keane painting eyes. “Maybe just a little…?”

From the beginning, she was also the lap cat. A cat who would sit with me when I was sick or on deadline or really with any excuse at all.

And she was a cat who would sometimes fast. Early in her life, someone in our house went through a bad time. There was sadness in the air, and both kittens stopped eating for four days. Then, just as quickly as they’d stopped, they started again.

I have so many pictures of these two cuddling.

In 2018, we lost Rosie. Minx smelled the vet on her sick sister and hissed at her and stole her food. To her, I think, Rosie wasn’t Rosie anymore. She wasn’t the sister with whom Minx had spent untold hours cuddling as they both crammed into one tiny cat bed, their paws and tails all tangled together. She was already gone.

But after Rosie was gone for real, Minx clearly missed the cuddling. With no sister to curl up with, she took the next best option: her human.

In August 2019, back when people still went to events, I went to a big event and caught the flu. For the first time in forever, I had an excuse to laze in bed and nap and listen to podcasts. Minx lazed with me. We both enjoyed the experience and resolved to do more joint napping whenever possible.

Minx spent much of her life snuggling with her sister.

And we did. Some of my best hours were spent doing nothing with Minx.

It’s hard talking about why a cat is special to you. With people, and often even with dogs, you can tell anecdotes. You can detail exploits and escapades. Indoor cats don’t tend to have a lot of those. They do the same things every day, but it’s the force of habit, the repetition, that makes the bond so powerful. (Maybe that’s also true of people and dogs, and we just tend to talk about the episodes and incidents that stand out because it’s easier.) Repetition is how a cat weaves herself into the tapestry of a person’s life.

Most of the time I was with Minx, I suspect, I barely thought about her. I was busy typing or editing something or sending something or watching something or doomscrolling or envy-scrolling or talking on the phone. She was the soft weight on my lap while my brain was buzzing with other stuff. Even in her last days, as I write this, I find myself slipping through the “hole in the paper,” as Stephen King in Misery described the hyperfocused zone where all writers hope to go.

Minx and I in her last year.

Minx was always crackling with energy. In early photos, her eyes are wide open, deer-in-the-headlights, swallowing the world. Back when Rosie was alive, Minx rarely got under the bedcovers, but when she did, she pressed herself so tight against me, as if her whole body were a coiled spring. I wonder if she was the runt and had to fight to sleep against her mother’s side.

Normally when I woke again to the awareness of Minx, it was a good feeling. And it still is, but it also hurts like hell, because I’m waking to the awareness that this Minx-presence will soon be gone.

Cats are part of our habits, the looping circles of daily tasks that make up our lives. When they go, some of us goes, too. Saying goodbye to Minx means saying goodbye to the past 15-plus years, wrapping it up in a package and sending it off. This is who I was at the beginning. This is who I am at the end.

July 27, 2021:

Around Thanksgiving.

I wrote the preceding last November, right after the vet told me that Minx’s body was failing her and she had “come to the end of her life.” I cried. We put her on palliative care. I accepted.

And then something miraculous happened. Minx started eating again—first tiny bits of tuna, then more. I squirted a product called Rebound into her mouth using a syringe. She ate more. She got stronger.

It was a gradual process. She spent much of the winter on my lap or in her hidey-hole in the closet on top of the heating duct, but by January, she was sometimes playing. By spring, she was climbing down the stairs to sit in her favorite sun spot. By summer, she seemed almost “normal.”

Minx and I had eight months together after her terminal prognosis. I want to remember every detail of those months, but I didn’t keep good track and I know I’m the only one who’s interested. All I can say is that it was a good time. It was such a good time, and I’m so very grateful.

January 8. If there’s one thing I’m grateful for, it’s that I was able to give Minx so much time in the sun.

I always knew it would end. And around July 19, things started going downhill again. Minx’s eating fell off. She started limping—swelling from arthritis, a radiograph revealed. She had severe anemia.

I spent way too much money on Minx’s care—more than most people who have human children to worry about could afford or would choose to spend on a cat. I’m aware of how privileged I am to have that option. I’m aware I’m a cat-lady stereotype. It was worth it.

So here I am, on July 27, waiting again for my cat to die. All I can do is thank her so much for all the times she kept me company, all the times she saved my life. I hope I gave her a good one, too. Minx, I love you.


3 thoughts on “The Long Goodbye

  1. What an absolutely lovely tribute to both Rosie and Minx, Margot. I know how painful this loss is and you have my most sincere sympathies. Beautiful cats.

    A few years ago, my wife suggested we foster kittens for the L.A. Animal Shelter, and without a good reason to object, I acquiesced. (My wife is quite literally my better half.) Over the years we’ve fostered seven litters for a total of 22 kittens, all of which got placed in forever homes (save one who failed to thrive before he reached adoption weight). It isn’t long before you realize each litter has its own dynamic, and each kitten its own archetypal personality: There’s the Hellraiser, the crybaby, the princess, the contemplative one, etc. And each of my kittens, in their own way, taught me something about the virtues of love and compassion. None of them became a permanent part of my home, but they all certainly occupy a permanent place in my heart.

    Anyway, I tell you that only to say I know how rough this is, because my wife and I feel the pain of separation whenever we bring our fosters back to the shelter once they’re ready to find their forever homes. I’ve spent so much time volunteering for the shelter, in fact, that I’m using those experiences in my new horror novel, which is about a municipal animal-control officer — and a number of my kittens inspired four-legged characters in the book!

    My condolences,

    Sean

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    1. Thank you, Sean! Fostering seems to me like such an amazing and generous thing to do. I don’t know if I could do it myself, because of that pain of separation, but I admire those who do. I know that having a good foster home started my cats out on good paths in life.

      That sounds like a fascinating idea for a novel! Of course I’m already worried about whether the cat (and dog) characters will survive the horror, but I’d pick it up anyway. 🙂

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      1. No need to worry, Margot: No animals will be harmed in the events of my novel! Haha! This is a story about solving a public-safety crisis (a monster on the loose) through the nonviolent cooperation of civil servants and scientific experts, which seemed like a message we could use more of in our popular fiction these days!

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