Strap in, folks–this is going to be a sad one. This is probably one of those weird things you aren’t expected to write about or share, but I’m a writer. I process things through writing. It’s what I do. And I believe, firmly and truly, that it is important to share when we are in the bad times, not just in the good. Because when the bad times come, it’s a comfort to know you’re not alone.
On Friday, June 14th, I woke up to a difficult reality. My alarm went off, but my cat, Artemis, didn’t come to greet me. For the past five years of my life, ever since we first moved out into our first apartment together, I’ve been woken up by the sound of his meowing (or, some mornings, the sound of him knocking something off my dresser if he felt I wasn’t getting up early enough). So, even though he’d been acting a little off the last couple of days, not seeing his face staring up at me was a huge warning sign.
Sure enough, my dear sweet boy was lying on his side, unable to get up. I rushed him to the emergency veterinary hospital, to the sound of those soft, occasional mews protesting the existence of cars. I knew, as they rushed him away, what I was going to hear next.
It was time to let him go.
It is never easy to say goodbye to a pet. They truly become part of your family, as small or silly as that sounds when someone outside of your family is saying it. I was able to hold my sweet boy like a baby, just how he liked, while we said goodbye. It was hard, but I am glad he held on until morning, glad I had the courage to be with him in those final moments.
Artemis came into my life when I was a junior in high school. I’d started volunteering at the animal shelter down the road, an effort to bulk up my resume for college, and fell in love with the kitten room. After some convincing, my parents agreed to let me pick out a kitten, with one condition–it had to be a female cat, because they don’t spray. You may have noticed, Artemis is not a girl.
We met under mistaken identity. His name at the shelter was Avery, and he was, they believed, a six-month old female grey cat. They found him in the Wendy’s parking lot with a cup stuck to his head, and he climbed right up into my lap. So, we took the baby girl home and bought her a pink rhinestone collar.
I still remember when we walked out of the shelter with him. He braced himself up against my chest at the first touch of a gust of wind, his first time being outside since he’d come to the shelter. Artemis was afraid of the wind, and, over the course of his life, pretty much everything else. I believe his being mislabeled as a female kitten was just the universe’s way of making sure we could be together–this cat was meant to come home with me, and if that meant the shelter had to tell us he was a girl, so be it. For the record, of all Artemis’ faults, spraying to mark his territory was never one.
For the past 12 years, Artemis has been a constant in my life. He has seen me through so many difficult times. When my high school boyfriend pushed him off his lap and said, “Get this thing off me,” I broke up with the boyfriend. Artemis has been there, judging the men in my life and comforting me through breakup after breakup, ever since. While he absolutely loved being held like a baby, he absolutely loved pretty much only me, and a few select others (such as my dad, who took care of him while I was at college and got him nice and fat on turkey).
I know everyone says their pet is special, or has the best or biggest or most unique personality, but I don’t care. I’m going to say it, too.
Artemis didn’t fully understand how to cat. He didn’t like boxes, or playing with catnip, and he loved to be held upside down–sometimes, he’d just sit and meow up at me until I held him that way. He demanded two litter boxes because just one was simply not good enough for him, and heaven forbid you forget to give him both dry and wet cat food at meal times.
Artemis loved pushing water glasses over. He used to knock them off my parents’ island–I think he’s probably earned me a triple digit debt in broken glasses over the years. Even though he loved my parents’ house, his home for nearly 10 years, he led an adventurous life once I graduated from college. He moved to Clifton with me, where he got to be the king of our castle in my studio apartment. I had big windows there, and he could sit in them and watch the birds. Which he did, frequently.
Sometimes, he annoyed the hell out of me. He would go through phases where he felt that 4am was the only acceptable time for breakfast. The thing they don’t tell you about being a cat mom is that you lose a lot of sleep. But, you also get so many cuddles, especially in the winter before the landlord turns the heat on. Artemis earned the nickname “cuddlebug” (one of many nicknames throughout his life) for his tendency to insist on being on my lap pretty much any time I sat down.
As weird as it is to drive your cat to the hospital before 6am, it makes a certain kind of narrative sense. Mornings were always our best and our favorite time together. Artemis would curl up in my lap, getting in the way while I tried to drink coffee or eat breakfast. When I tutored online in the mornings before my AmeriCorps job, he’d sit in my lap while I tried to type. For all that he hated most people, I know that he loved his mommy–sometimes, maybe a little too much.
Maybe it’s silly to want to say “gone, but not forgotten” about a cat. But he’s been in my life for 12 years, and frankly, that’s longer than most people have been. Whenever I brought a boy home, Artemis would give them the biggest glare. And most of the time, he was right–in a day, or a week, or sometimes as much as two weeks, he’d be snuggling while his mom watched The Mindy Project, ate ice cream, and cried. In my saddest moments, I’d kiss him on the head and tell him he was the only man his mom would ever need. I think he maybe took that to heart a little too much, and has given every man he’s met the cold shoulder.
When Andy came into the picture, Artemis was wary as ever. But slowly, he decided that maybe this one was allowed. Sometimes, he’d even sit on both of our laps at once. Even so, I made sure to always let Artemis know that was my first and my best boy, always. And he absolutely was.
While it was a shock to learn the female kitten we brought home would be getting neutered instead of spayed, I’ve always been incredibly grateful. They say male cats are more affectionate, and the bond Artemis and I had was really something special. I will miss him, forever and always. He lived a shorter life than some cats and a longer one than many, but I hope I have made it a good one.
I’m learning how to grieve a pet–in so many ways, that word feels so big for a cat and so small to fill the hole he’s left in my daily life. I’m learning to wake up and not immediately get out of bed to silence hungry meows. I’m learning that I can reach for my own food, make my coffee, first in the mornings now. I’m trying to fall asleep without a warm, purring body next to me. I know that in time, this will feel easier. I’ll be able to look back and laugh without turning immediately to tears. But before that, I just want to be sure that I say thank you, dear Artemis, for letting me be your human. I hope wherever cats go when they die, there will be plenty of glasses full of water for you to knock down.