But I tell you this, we do not break.
* * *
I still hardly have words, and therefore can not even begin to thank you for the love, the light, the sharing and the kindness you've shown to me in this last week. Thai was something to me for which there is no human language. This is how we began.
It was April 12th, 2000, and the first hard rains of the year had hit. Sacramento is forever declaring drought, but when the storms hit, they fall in blinding sheets. I left work in the black of night as the drops began to land, pressed shirt crusty with food stains, legs aching from the long shift. A few miles south, in the sprawling suburbs, a feral cat labored in a musty wood pile. I drove my hulking truck up onto the freeway, hit the first dip in the ramp and lost all traction, spinning out of control until being hit by another driver who never even touched the breaks. About the same time Thai was birthed, in an anonymous litter, in the wrong, but so very right, backyard.
The next day, while I stayed at the hospital, fractured and laid flat, he was found, alone, smaller than the palm of the hand and utterly, utterly helpless. Some well-intending homeowner scooped him from the wood and dropped him off at their closest veterinary hospital, sure that the semi-rural clinic had plenty of room for one more kitten to love. The tragic point few seem to understand is that it is a rare clinic who can take on and raise wild infants; but this clinic had something else to offer in the form of a huge-hearted technician and her animal adoring roomie. Me.
On the 14th I was released back to my little apartment, a.k.a. "no pets allowed," a.k.a. "the animal shelter," about the same time my roommate brought Thai home to the fray. I couldn't walk, I could barely stand, and I certainly couldn't take decent care of myself. But I could care for that kitten, and did, as both our lives depended on it.
I fed him with a tiny dropper, wrapped him for warmth, and held him against my throat so he could fall asleep to the sound of a beating heart. He first opened his eyes to me, my voice was the first he heard. He grew healthier, fluffier, stronger-willed, and when he ran through the apartment, his massive striped tail would stream out behind his tiny body like a lemur.
That spring we took in so many forlorn beasts I lost count, healing them, feeding them, finding them homes and kissing the tops of their furry heads. But Thai was different. He was all mine, and I was all his.
He was dapper, debonair, independent to a fault, spunky, utterly striking, and full of charisma. He was a talker, a luxury hound, a rabbit-furred little man who should have worn a velvet smoking jacket. He rode my shoulder like a parrot, kept company in the studio every day, and slept at night nestled into the crook of my shoulder, face against my neck.
Last April he turned 12, but a younger 12 the world has never seen. We joked about how he was probably going to outlive us all, but at the very least, pass the 20 year marker.
Then a couple weeks ago he started getting sick here and there. He showed not a single other sign, so we just kept a tight watch. Then he suddenly refused food, and a semi-lethargy set in. Somewhere buried deep inside I knew. At the vet we had a slew of tests run which led to a sonogram. Four days passed with no food and no water, no matter the delectable concoctions I attempted to whip up for him. The results were the worst they could be. He had pancreatic cancer which had metastasized to his stomach, and a tumor that had grown so quickly, eating and drinking were no longer even possible.
I held him against me at the end, and when he left I felt him tangibly rest against my chest for a few blindingly bright seconds. He left because that body was no longer what he needed, but in that moment, he also left me with a reservoir of peace inside.
I miss him more than I can even explain.
I'm just so sad without him; he would be sitting right here on my lap if it was but a week ago. The house feels less-than without his huge presence. And even now, my fingers are choked up and my eyes burning.
So I ask this of you:
Whoever you have that you love, be they furred or feathered or smooth skinned, kiss the top of their head, not for me but for you, because love is what we have.
* * *