21 Nov Goodbye, Simon

Our big brazen tabby, Simon, got out of the house last week, ran into the street, and got hit by a car. He was 12 and in great health. I love a cat that knows what he wants – the kind that’s wholly comfortable anywhere with anybody and unapologetic about his needs. Simon was all that.

He came to us through a consignment store, left among the furniture an old woman had to surrender when she was committed to a nursing home. He had been thoroughly spoiled and, as a result, he knew no fear.  At the consignment store, he lay wherever he pleased – sometimes on the floor in the middle of an aisle during the busiest times. Jill feared somebody would step on him because, who expects to see a cat laid out, napping on his back, where everybody walks?

Jill, who was working at the consignment store then, brought Simon home to meet me because she thought him exceptional. If he liked you (and he liked just about everybody), Simon would — upon being picked up — put one paw on each of your shoulders and then nibble your earlobe. It was as close as any cat might get to hugging. After he spent one night with us, I said, “We’re keeping him.”  He was four at the time.

He became my cat and spent much of his time shadowing me. Every morning, he’d stretch with me as I did my yoga. I’d give him a good massage. He’d stay up late into the night while I worked in my office. If he wasn’t on my lap, he was nearby.  One of the many things I liked about him was that he wasn’t a needy cat. He wouldn’t stay on my lap long, for instance, but he always came back for more. He wasn’t importuning in any way — never a complainer. But he could be a pushy little shit.

Always his tail was flicking. It seemed he could never relax fully unless he was sound asleep. His flick-flick-flicking tail was a sign of his inner restlessness: there was always something to do. He loved to escape to the out-of-doors. Usually we caught him on his way out, but, one time, he got out and stayed out for three days. We resorted to leaving the front door open (with only the security gate closed) and, finally, he came in, waking us at two in the morning as he padded over our bed.

We installed the iron cresting on our brick garden walls in part to keep Simon in. We discovered that he would leap to the sidewalk from the top of the brick wall – a five-foot jump. Then he’d take off. Usually, he’d sneak through the bushes in front of the row houses on our block and end up in a fenced garden halfway down the block. We never imagined he’d cross the street. We’d get him back by clanging an empty cat food can with the flat of a kitchen knife. It almost always worked. But sometimes we’d have to go out a few times before he’d answer.

We were dismayed to discover, just this year, that — as formidable as the iron cresting may be — it didn’t keep Simon from getting to the top of the garden’s brick wall and then, in an impressive leap, hurling himself over the top of the garden gate. We re-doubled our efforts to watch him. But this last time, he bested us again. Apparently, while I was working on the front doors, he sneaked out, maybe when I turned my back for a moment to grab my paint brush.  We noticed him missing within 30 minutes. And we did our usual search of the block. When he didn’t answer after our third round, I worried — as I always worried. I knew that he could tempt fate only so many times. Cats do not belong outside, especially in the city. They are no match for the hard world.

When we got to the vet’s ER, we found Simon in an oxygen tent. He seemed to be doing okay. His hind legs were immobilized. I figured he’d broken his hips. Jill and I were ready to do whatever we had to – it’d probably be a long convalescence, we told each other. When the veterinarian saw us after doing some x-rays, the news was the worst case. Simon was paralyzed, had a broken hip, and ruptured bladder. It was a triple whammy and the best prognosis was that he might be able to drag his legs around with minimal function and feeling.

Our choice was to put him through weeks, even months, of tests and surgery — with little hope that he would be able to go to the bathroom without special help, much less walk again — or we could let him go. Simon was a runner, a restless soul. I wasn’t about to relegate him to the kind of frustration and pain the vet described just to have him by my side for a while longer. So we let him go.

I can’t imagine much that’s harder than holding the animal you love so dearly as the vet is putting him down. We told ourselves the good things: Our neighbor got him out of the street the moment he was hit. He wasn’t in pain at any time because he was immediately paralyzed. He got to see us soon after and we stayed with him during his last minutes.

But, oh, the loss. It took us days to recover our equilibrium. And the emptiness left by his absence echoes loudly. But what is there to say or do afterwards? We go on. We carry his memory close. We try not to flinch when we think we hear his call or see his tail darting in the shadows of our hallways.

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