There was a television show in the late sixties called Julia about a single Mom and her adorable son Corey. Corey's best friend was a little red-haired boy named Earl J.Waggedorn who had a habit of using his entire name every time he was introduced. I loved that show and I loved the name. When we got ourselves a male red kitten some 13 years ago….there was no doubt what we would be calling him.
Earl J. grew up to be a big, beautiful, and fairly atypical male cat. He was not at all a wanderer and tho occasionally would get into a tussle with a neighbor cat, fighting was always in defence of his turf. He was naturally good-natured and quite charming but often overlooked in our ever-expanding feline zoo (which is why I had trouble finding a decent photo of him).
Sometime after Brad’s accident at 13, Earl J. attached himself to our oldest son. Never figured out if it was instinctive protection of Brad in his disabled state or just the fact that Brad had his own room away from easy access to other animals. Young Earl, tho tolerant, was not especially enamoured of sharing his digs.
All thru high school and college Brad doted on that cat. Every night before turning in, he would go to the front door and call out his name and Earl J. never failed to respond. Once in the house he would follow Brad to his room, hop into bed, and settle in for the night. If Brad was going to be late, had a game, or spent the night with a friend, he would always call to make sure that Earl J. was taken care of.
When Brad moved to Fresno to attend FSU he smuggled Earl into his no pets apartment and the cat kept him company his first year away from home. When he switched houses the following year, Earl came back to stay with us because of roommate issues .....and he was not happy about it. The sight of that lonely cat sitting at Brad's door (now a newly repainted girls room) quietly crying for him to come home, was slightly pathetic. We were all relieved when Brad decided to commute the second semester of that year, tho not just because of a dejected cat.
About a month ago Earl J. started losing weight. He seemed fine in every other way but was getting skinnier every day. By the time we took him to the vet, he had lost a good deal of muscle tone and his bones were starting to protrude. Told that there was a laundry list of possible culprits, many of which were untreatable, the doctor gave him a shot for pain (which he didn’t seem to be in) and prescribed vitamins, wet food, and ear mite medication. The vet told us that there were a lot of tests he could run or we could take him home and let nature take its course. As much as we loved him, with no guarantee that spending a small fortune would be advantageous in the long run, the decision was made to bring Earl home.
In a week he went from looking sickly to looking like a starving kitten. He lost half his size and could barely move. The night he refused water we knew it wouldn’t be long. Trying to make him as comfortable as possible I set up a blanket on our bed and tho I hardly slept, fretting over whether he would make it through the night, I was glad we had him near us. Through the following morning, and fully realizing that I was a far cry from his beloved Brad (who just last week moved into a drafty cabin up in the mountains…hardly a comfortable place for a sick cat) I tried to offer solace. Though I was never quite sure if I was comforting him or annoying him, I did my best. Each time I walked into our room as I went about my chores, I would pet him, talk to him, and gingerly check to make sure he was still alive. His breathing grew softer and less consistent with each visit. Finally, around noon, he stopped breathing altogether. It seemed a peaceful and painless death and though I will miss him, I’m glad he didn't linger any longer than he did.
So, one week to the day after our visit to the vet, we buried our big red cat in the garden under the dining room window. When my husband asked why that particular spot rather than out in the back, I said I wanted to look out the window and see the stepping stone over his grave and remember him…just a little bit…every day.
I’ve always thought that crying over a cat is something other people do…but I guess today I’m other people.