Annie Bean was the cat that everyone liked, even if they typically didn’t like cats. And when I say everyone, I mean that fairly literally. Many people close to me passed through Annie’s life at one point or another, making note of any number of various traits: her laid back demeanor, her pleasantly plump figure, or her sassy self-assuredness, juxtaposed with her surprisingly social and tolerant approach to strangers. The fact that Annie was so known, liked, and even loved has made her memory that much stronger and the comfort that much greater in her untimely passing.
I say untimely, but Annie wasn’t exactly a spring chicken. I visited the Fairfax County Animal Shelter with my sister the summer after I graduated college, intent on finding a kitten. It was Bonni that drew my attention to the beautiful, approximately 3 year-old calico-tabby cat that didn’t even have an assigned name. Animal control had found her wandering a local neighborhood alone, clearly abandoned or inadvertently left behind…
I am sure the kittens at the shelter found homes in no time. But that day, I walked out with Annie. I took her to the apartment I then shared with my sister, and within hours, she was in her signature spread-eagle belly flop position in the middle of the floor. Annie Bean immediately trusted us, and she made herself right at home 🙂
In the near decade to follow, Annie was my constant and loyal companion. She had a calm dignity, a sophisticated serenity, and a composed maturity that quickly placed her in a role far more significant than merely a “pet.” My apartment was party central in those days, and many of my girl friends got to know her, as she patiently tolerated our frivolous and tipsy antics.
She had the most amazing and comforting purr, which went into overdrive when I was sick or sad. If something bad happened (and it often did during those years), I could bury my face in her welcoming softness and cry, activating that healing purr.
If I was laying in bed and feeling lonely, I would call “Annie, I need you!” and within moments, she was at my side.
Later, when I married a Marine, moved away from friends and family, and waited through his long deployments to Afghanistan, Annie was my constant. When I unexpectedly had to pack up and move while Chuck was still away, she “helped” by carefully examining every box before I placed things in it. During lonely and stressful times, she was always there. Always calm. Always funny. Always loving, but also admirably independent and slightly snooty, as cats are. She was my role model. I wanted to be Annie when I grew up.
When I flew her across the world to Okinawa, Japan, I thought she needed a feline friend. This may have been more selfishly motivated, as I found myself on an island brimming with cute, unwanted kitties, but it is true that Annie didn’t particularly enjoy being alone all day while I worked. I added Momoko, my Little Peach, to the family within months of arrival. Their relationship, once stable, was adorable and hilarious. Momo loved her big sis. As I plugged my way through grad school, they both spent many hours curled up on the table as I typed, earning that Master’s degree right along with me.
Annie Bean, always the picture of health – to the point that vets kept guessing her age lower than my estimates – showed no signs of illness until this past Wednesday, June 29. She seemed skinny. I felt her shoulders and her hips. I made note of the fact that her and Momo’s food dishes were not emptying as quickly as usual, and she was slightly lethargic. Concerned, but not alarmed, I took her to the vet on Friday, the first available appointment. Her blood work showed nothing worrisome except dehydration, so they gave her an IV with a steroid to stimulate appetite and hypothesized that she was turned off from eating due to a recent, temporary food change I made. Hopeful, I took her home. They promised the steroid would kick in within an hour.
The next afternoon, after no signs of progress and a few signs of regression, I
took her to another vet for a second opinion. By now, I was anxious and fearful. They did an ultrasound on her belly and found fluid. They moved the gadget up to her liver, and found a mass. My heart sank. The vet biopsied the fluid and found malignant cancer cells, showing me the troublesome images on his iPad. Liver cancer in cats, he said, was difficult to treat. It does not respond to chemotherapy, and surgery is difficult, merely buying time. I asked how much time she had.
“If she still doesn’t eat, maybe a few weeks.” My mind raced as he added that it was likely the cancer had spread to other organs. I held it together in the vet’s office, but took her home in tears.
I don’t want to go into details about her rapid decline, but as it turned out, she had days – not weeks. She was weak. Exhausted. Starved. And yet, she maintained so much dignity through it all.
About 50 hours after diagnosis, I stayed up with her all night before we let her go. I followed her to various areas of the apartment with a blanket and pillow as she tried to find a comfortable spot to rest. I tried not to smother her, but checked her often and watched her breathe to make sure. I did not want her alone if she didn’t make it through the night. I would stroke her soft fur, and sometimes she was silent. Other times that purr arose, comforting and strong, but mixed with little chirps, moans, and sighs of suffering. When we said goodbye at the vet the following morning, not even 3 full days after diagnosis, she was in my arms until the last moment. I cried into her fur, as gently as I could and with Chuck at my side, while her soul slipped away from me. In spite of it all, I am so grateful for those final hours.
I’ve been in what can only be described as a “fog” ever since. It is beginning to lift, especially with the outpouring of love I’ve received from friends and family. Many of them are familiar with this sort of pain themselves, and a heartwarming majority personally knew Annie – or felt like they did. The hardest day was actually the day after she passed, when I went through daily routines without her being a part of them. Now, I’m in a guilt stage. I’m sure everyone obsessively ponders what they could have, would have, should have done differently, if they had known. Did I take her for granted? Did I give her enough of her beloved brushings? Did I feed her the right food?
I wish I had known I had days, and not weeks. I would have used at least one of those days a little differently.
The night of July 5, the day she passed, Chuck and I opened a particularly expensive bottle of wine that we had saved for some hypothetical special event. It seemed like the right time, to drink to our Annie. I soaked up all the memories, happy that I had set up a Facebook account for her years ago, in spite of all the teasing at the time. I went through every photo, every video. Smiled at her not-always-voluntary adventures in costume, visits to the beach, and frolics in the snow. It was therapeutic. She lived a good life.
Then, for a reason I can’t really explain, Chuck and I watched The Land Before Time on Netflix. I think I needed an emotional, nostalgic, “circle of life” experience that was easy and familiar. Of course there were many tears, but I got the quote I needed:
“You’ll always miss her. But she’ll always be with you, as long as you remember the things she taught you. In a way, you’ll never be apart, for you are still part of each other.”
Always and forever, my role model and my person, Annie Bean ❤