We got Skittles in October of 1998 from a family who was overrun with cats. We actually intended to get a different cat, but when we went to visit, the cat we had picked out was skittish and unfriendly, and we already had one of those. Then Skittles came bouncing into the room with a handful of other kittens, and she was the one we went with.
She was named Pumpkin at the time, but our other cat was named Snickers for reasons I can’t remember, so we renamed her. She was as different from Snickers as she could possibly have been: she loved people and loved having her head scratched and sitting on people’s laps. She would start purring when I walked into the room. Later, she was the chunky, ungraceful one while Snickers was lithe and could leap six vertical feet in the air. The only thing the two cats had in common was that they hated each other.
She taught Snickers how to make eye contact with us when she wanted something, which was a skill Snickers never would have figured out on her own. She also taught Snickers how to purr, although Snickers never got the hang of that very well. She learned how to open cupboards and was adept at prying the lid off the can of treats. She was fiercely territorial and would fight any animal that strayed into our yard, including the poor golden retriever next door who just wanted to be friends.
Once, when she was still quite young, she had an unfortunate accident with our garage door. She liked sitting on top of the minivan while it was in the garage, and apparently one day, while the garage door was open, she climbed from the roof of the minivan to the shelf made by the garage door. When I hit the button to close the door, she panicked and tried to escape, but got her foot caught in between the slats and ended up dangling by her hind leg from the middle of the closed garage door. It was only luck that I heard her crying and went out to investigate. It was also luck that she didn’t break her leg. Frankly I’m not sure how she managed that one. Decades later, she still was terrified of the garage door, although I don’t think she remembered why.
Another time, she cheerily went to greet a neighbor of ours who was watering his plants. She was so friendly that he decided this meant she was rabid, so he sprayed her with the hose. She fled into his garage (again with the garages) and, not knowing she was in there, he shut the door. We searched for her for three days. Finally the neighbor opened his garage door and found her. She hissed at him and he phoned us, saying she was rabid and we should get her before he called animal control. Of course she was more than happy to see us and gratefully went home.
In later years, she tormented Snickers. Rather than wake us up to get her breakfast, she would settled into Snickers’s bed when Snickers got up in the night to pee. Poor Snickers, who by this point was suffering dementia and arthritis, would wander the halls meowing, begging for help at evicting the other cat from her bed. Skittles didn’t particularly care about the bed; she just wanted someone else to get her breakfast.
When Snickers died at age 19, a dramatic change came over Skittles. Maybe she had considered Snickers company, even if she had hated her. She was suddenly lonely. It became apparent that at some point she had gone mostly deaf and mostly blind, and was also suffering from arthritis. The other cat had been so old and bedraggled that Skittles seemed young by comparison, but now it was clear that Skittles was almost 18 years old. I started letting her sleep in my bed, even though I was allergic, because I felt bad for her. Claritin became my friend.
She became desperately clingy, which is apparently something that happens to cats when they get very old. If I was home, she needed to be within three feet of me. Ideally she would be on my lap, but she would settle for my keyboard. I set up a cardboard box on my desk so she could sleep on it and not bother me. When I got my standing desk, I had to drag the desk chair next to me so she could sleep on that while I worked. If I went away for a weekend or, worse, when I went to Ireland for a month, she got deeply depressed and stopped eating.
She also got very talkative. She would meow when she walked into a room, or when she saw me for the first time in a while, or if I touched her. Sometimes, when she was lazy and didn’t feel like making a full meow, she would kind of huff and nod her head at me. She would still start purring at the sight of me.
In March, we took her to the vet because she had stopped eating. By this point she was down to 6 pounds. At her prime, she had been 12 pounds. It turned out that she had a tumor underneath her tongue that was making it hard for her to eat. Since she hadn’t had it in December at her last check up, it was clear that it was growing fast. The vet gave her 1-3 months to live.
It seemed impossible. She was still so vital! She was happy! She took her painkillers without a fuss. Surely she would last longer than that. And for the first two months, she seemed fine.
Three weeks ago, she stopped grooming herself and stopped being able to pick up food. She could only eat if you hand-fed her tiny bits that she could swallow without chewing. She straight up refused to take her painkiller no matter how well we hid it.
Two weeks ago, we decided it was time. We gave her all the treats we could over the next two days, and on that Thursday we took her to the vet. Her tumor had grown so much she couldn’t use her tongue, and she was down to 5 lbs. It would have been cruel to make her continue on.
It was so hard. I can’t tell you how hard it was. I’m 32, and she had been around since I was 13. She had been my constant companion for the last couple years. We knew each other so well that we could practically read each others’ minds. Even on Thursday she curled up happily in the crook of my arm to nap. I know she would have soldiered on to the bitter end because she had no other choice, and I felt partly as if I had betrayed her by making that decision for her, but I also know that she probably only had another week or two, or at most a month, before the end was inevitable, and it would have only gotten worse. I hate that it had to happen, but it had to happen. I will miss her.
I love you, my darling. Good night.