“I think I missed the Maggie column, can you tell me when it ran?”
This email flipped across my laptop while I was out of the country for work. I’d just finished getting dressed for dinner and was trying not to wrinkle/tear/spill anything on the only grownup outfit I’d brought along. My makeup was done and I immediately started crying it off my face.
Maggie was my cat. As a part of the household, she’s served many roles in this column, from star to cameos to supporting cast. Fourteen years ago when the boys were young, I’d promised them a cat when the time was right. Vet bills and cat food were nowhere in our ridiculously tight budget at the time, so I used mystic phrases like “when it’s meant to be” and “we’ll get a sign”.
The sign was Free Kittens propped by the curb of a house that looked like it had been condemned years before. Sensing a bad outcome, I left the kids at home. I crept around the back to find three drunken men holding two chainsaws aloft, empty beer cans everywhere. It took them a moment to notice me, a moment I nearly seized to run far, far away.
“Free cats?” I asked, trembling. I never tremble, but the beer- chainsaw combo rarely ends well. I went home with a few ounces of calico kitten, fur so sparse it was more like feathers. She was trembling, too.
I don’t use the word “besotted” often, but we were besotted with this tiny beast. She reached her full weight of six pounds and maintained her kittenish good looks her entire life. She sat on my lap all day and slept with me every night. I would carry her around while I put on the kettle or fetched the mail, neither of us thinking there was anything odd about this.
Around age 12, she started getting cranky if I was away. She would usually stop eating, and Christopher would race her to the vet. I still have one memorable text: “I know the Visa card is for emergencies, but I took Maggie to the vet and told them to do whatever they had to. I know that’s what you would want.” We paid $600 to find out she was sulking.
She’d have blood work every six months or so in the final two years. I think she just had a crush on her vet. She dropped a half pound each time and it stayed off, my tiny girl shrinking before my eyes. I’d await the results with the vet’s cautionary words ringing in my ears. And each time, both the vet and I would be amazed to find out she was essentially fine. Maggie had perfected faking it. She only needed a small fainting couch to complete her drama.
Except the last time, of course. In January of this year, I looked at the vet, the test results, and my four-and-a-half pound girl who refused to eat, and said no to surgery. Christer and I endured a tearful exchange where he was prepared to use his own Visa card, but I shook my head.
Resilience, like youth, is wasted on the young. I keep barricades around my heart to keep things out, because once in, they take up permanent residence. It’s like a cupboard full of broken dishes in there, and I walk around with small ghosts hanging from me like charms on a bracelet.
That reader hadn’t missed the Maggie column. I’ve just never been able to write it. It’s too hard to articulate things I can’t bear.