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Pamela Fagan Hutchins | I guess I always loved her after all.

Ours is an animal-crazy household. We’re currently housing four dogs, one fish and an unauthorized duckling named Daisy. And, until very recently, one pissy, neurotic Siamese cat named Juliet.

juliet and flowers by the fire

Juliet has long delighted in tormenting me. I’m allergic to cats. She spreads dander with gleeful abandon. I’m a light sleeper. She taunts the tomcat outside our window. I like to leave the side door open while I shuttle armloads of groceries into the house. She streaks out the door and pretends she’s the neighborhood bad ass from the safety of our driveway.

Office cat.

Office cat.

Juju appointed herself keeper of the house calendar. She learned that swim practice for our daughters meant a five a.m. wake-up, and she didn’t much care if they had the day off. If we were late to feed her and her lesser canine brethren, she scolded us like a fishwife. Nobody kept a clock on the arrival home of Eric and the kids like Juliet.

Petey hiding his eye ;-)

Suz and her kitty, always

All beds in the house belong to Juju. Many mornings the kids would complain about her walking across their faces, but more often one would admit they’d received her snuggles all night long. One time my mother-in-law visited and was determined to keep Juliet out of her room at night. She tried shutting her door, but it made her room too hot. She piled cushions in the open doorway, but Juliet climbed them. Finally, she convinced us to lock Juju up in the downstairs bathroom.

Have you ever heard of a shit storm? Because that’s what hit our bathroom that night. Eric wouldn’t even let me out of our bedroom until he’d cleaned it three times. When he opened the side door to take out his dirty cleaning materials, Juliet bolted and only came back two weeks later, gaunt and hollow-eyed. Her neuroses flared in the wake of that urban trauma, but she got over it eventually.

"Pet bathing" (Juliet)

Bathing Juliet

She loves a clean litter box. I’m with her on that one, but I’m sure as heck not gonna be the one to do it. Those times I couldn’t get one of the kids to take care of it, she just twizzled on the floor around the box until they got the message that her need for cleanliness wasn’t to be trifled with.

Yet she hated to be cleaned, at least by anyone other than herself. Only Eric was able to bathe her, because to bathe her was to endure her peeing on you and leaving deep scratches down the arms, chest, neck and sometimes face.

Oh, Juju…

A neurotic cat.

A neurotic but well-loved cat

Juju was our family cat, but even more, she was Susanne’s. When all the rest of us would complain about her, Suz would scoop her up and coo in her ear. Nine times out of ten, it was Susanne’s bed Juliet slept on. It was always that way, from the first time my mother found the tiny stray kitten beside their cistern cover at their house on St. Croix. Susanne was only a little thing back then too, and she loved Juliet with a great ferocity that belied the size of either.

So it came to pass that Susanne recently had a terrible, scary week. She had another attack of anaphylaxis (which I promise I will write about soon), much worse than last time. She finally had to accept that her problem wasn’t A FOOD, it was HOW SHE ATE. I kept her home from school for a week without letting her out of my sight. And partway through that week, she brought Juju to me.

“Mom, I think Juju is really sick.”

She was. The normally well-groomed cat had tufted fur and had lost a noticeable amount of weight. I don’t pay much attention to her, usually, since she’s not allowed in my room or office because of my allergies. Besides, she’s Susanne’s baby.

We took her to the vet and they ran tests. She had lost 30% of her body weight since her last visit six months before. They called us with the bad news later that day. Juliet was in complete, late-stage kidney failure. She had no chance of survival, and very little time left.

“It’s not unusual for a cat to remain mostly asymptomatic until they’re at 75% or greater kidney failure,” the vet consoled me. “Your choice now is whether to let her die of natural causes, or bring her in.”

We let Susanne make the call.

“I can’t let her suffer. Let me give her one last day with me, sitting in the sunshine and looking out the window, then let’s take her in.” My strong young lady didn’t have a need for her cat to suffer for her sake, and we were so proud of her.

So that is what we did. Late the next afternoon, we loaded the ten-year old kitty into my Malibu and together we drove her to our vet’s clinic. Susanne held Juliet to her face. Tears dampened the cat’s once plush fur.

“Do you want to be with her?” I asked when we arrived.

“I can’t,” Suz snuffled.

The staff ushered us quickly into an exam room so Susanne could say her goodbyes privately. Then she left, her red face awash in tears. My throat seized up. I was the grown-up, the mom. I owed my daughter giving this my best, in her place.

I put my hands on either side of the thin face I’d rarely touched and leaned my nose down to Juliet’s. I scratched her gently behind the ears.

The vet explained, “We’ll give her the shot, and then she will close her eyes. She’ll slip away in a minute or less.”

I started to answer, but I couldn’t. My eyes burned. I nodded my head and swallowed. Then, as they slipped the needle under her skin, I told this cat what she needed to hear.

“Susanne loved you more than anything in the world. You were such a good kitty to her. And you had a wonderful life. Remember when you lived on St. Croix, first at Whispering Palms, then up at Annaly? Remember your boyfriend Romeo? How about your time in DeLeon? I don’t think you liked that much. You were so glad to be back with Suz in Houston, and you ruled our house. Thank you for always keeping us on schedule, and for being so generous with your snuggles. Everyone loved you, and I’m so sorry you got sick and don’t get to be with Susanne anymore. She is going to miss you so much.”

The vet tech squeezed my arm. “She’s gone now.”

Out of habit, I turned to wash my hands, knowing if I touched my face after handling Juliet that I would fight hives and puffy eyes for hours. I couldn’t see to turn on the faucet. Damn cat. My eyes were already tearing up. But it wasn’t my allergies.

The vet tech turned on the water for me and held out a paper towel. I confessed to her on a sob, “This cat has been the bane of my existence for ten years. Why am I the one with her? Why am I crying now?” I took the towel and swiped my face. “I guess I always loved her after all.”

And I had, but I was crying about more than that, really. I was crying about loss itself, about my carefully guarded fear of losing not Juliet, but Susanne. It was tears for my memory of Susanne’s blue face and inert body five days before. Of our panic when we couldn’t read the instructions on her epi-pen and neither Eric nor I had our glasses. Of Eric carrying her limp body to the car and literally folding her into the back seat. Of that moment I was about to start CPR when she said, “Mama, the top of my head really hurts,” opened her eyes, and sat up. Of my collapse four hours later into Eric’s arms, as I wailed, “She’s going to die and I can’t stop it, Eric, I can’t keep her from dying, I’m going to lose her,” and he shushed me and promised me everything would be all right, as if he knew, as if anyone could possibly know that.

The vet tech patted my shoulder and slipped out.

I gathered up the towel we’d wrapped Juliet in for her last car ride. I drew a breath from that strong place tucked just beyond the scared one deep inside, and I walked back into the waiting room and put my arms around my very-much-alive teenage daughter.


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48 Responses to I guess I always loved her after all.

  1. Oh, Pam. I know. I know. {{{hugs}}}

  2. rebeccanolen says:

    I’m so sorry. We have had cats for thirty years. (different ones) Each was/is special)

  3. Christie Beyer says:

    I need a mascara alert next time, please!! This was a tear-jerker!! :(. Knowing the loss of a beloved pet all too well, my heart is breaking for Suzanne. Knowing the fear you’re feeling, my heart goes out to you!! Sending hugs and prayers to all!

  4. Eric Huthchins says:

    At her best she was an amazingly smart cat that truly was able to manipulate the household to get things to happen. I know how crqazy that sounds but…… its true. She was also a royal pain, and I miss her. I love the rawness of this post and I get it, I understand, its been a very tough time.

    • Pamela says:

      Yeah, this was one of those where I didn’t know what I had to say when I sat down, other than the words uttered at the vet, which were as verbatim as I could make them. I love writing for this — that it helps me put it all together. My fears, my baby, our daughter’s loss, her “baby,” the juxtaposition of their illnesses, how the universe only let us keep one. The push/pull, the tide of life and death. Juliet, despite being a pain (and she was, just a very funny one and such a busybody) needed a tribute, and I needed an outlet for all this fear.

  5. Susie says:

    Read blog at 4 am. Cried and cried. Wonderful.

  6. Betsy says:

    Good grief, I’m bawling right now, about to walk into my fitness class. Your writing and stories PIERCE my soul. Love you so much.

  7. Rhonda says:

    No polish needed, in my opinion. Very touching.

  8. Meghan says:

    Oh, God. I love you guys. I’m sitting here crying. Love, love, to all of you.

  9. Lisa says:

    Thanks for the cry!

  10. Michael says:

    amela, I’m used to how powerful your writing is – but this piece is on a whole different level.

    I’m (almost) speechless on how touching a story this is. And for full disclosure, I am in no way, shape or form a cat lover – but I do strive to understand those who are.


  11. Myrna Gatheridge Mibus via Facebook says:

    Wonderfully written. Hugs to you all.

  12. Made me a little teary-eyed.

  13. “I drew a breath from that strong place tucked just beyond the scared one deep inside” – beautiful…

  14. Ally says:

    That was a release of tears that I apparently needed.
    I’m so sorry about your family kitty. My cat was the bane of my husband’s existence for many of the same reasons as you, including allergies, and I saw the tears slip down his cheeks when we had to do the same thing for her. I’m so sorry for Susanne’s loss, as well. No matter how many you have, it’s always hard to say goodbye to our pets.
    And as for Susanne, wow, how awful that she had another attack and it sounds terrible. SO, so, scary!! As a mother, I cannot imagine.

  15. Tina Blair via Facebook says:

    Sure made me cry. (And I’m super allergic too. I don’t know how you lived with a cat in your house.) I’m really glad Susanne is ok :) thanks for sharing such a relatable story!

  16. Stephanie says:

    Wow! Shedding tears. Lovely lovely story!!

  17. Powerful tribute to beloveds – Susanne and Juliet. This came from so deep in your heart and is one of the best posts you’ve ever written. It brought back so many kitty memories for me, all the loved and lost ones. Poignant. Thank you for sharing your heart.

  18. walt weaver says:

    This is beautiful. My throat hurts trying not to cry. It reminds me an awful lot of my law partner’s story (the bell ringer). While he is tough in court, he’s a softy. His daughter recently suffered from an Arterial Venous Malformation (AVM). They found her in their lawn almost catatonic and by nightfall, she was in the ER with a brain bleed. That morning, she was flown to Dallas where she suffered another brain bleed but was resuscitated, several times. For 46 days, Paul and his wife slept at death’s doorstep, never leaving the hospital for fear that they would be gone when…their daughter died. But after seven brain surgeries, they got Hannah back.
    That was a year ago last week. Paul threw a Happy Brain Burst party.

    • Pamela says:

      I love Paul’s love for his daughter, and his sense of humor about it as well, b/c what doesn’t kill us we must learn to face with a sense of humor, right? I have been thinking about Hannah and her parents since last Saturday.

  19. Peter says:

    I cried.

  20. Pam says:

    Animals can be as close to us as other people. Thanks for sharing the story and insights.

  21. So moving and beautifully written, Pamela. Even my husband shed a tear when I had him read it.

  22. I had to read it again…. still cried… still loved it

  23. I am crying.

    So sorry, my dear. So so sorry for your great loss.

    XXxxx HUGS

  24. […] Not knowing the answers, living life with her as a human chemistry experiment, is horrifying. Remembering her blue, inert body as Eric ran with her in his arms to the car is horrifying. Counting the seconds between recognition […]

  25. […] lucky. Very, very lucky. More lucky than she deserved? Maybe. She’s had her share of unlucky (an anaphylactic condition that baffles the experts and missing six weeks of her senior year to a vasculitis usually seen in four-year old boys), but, […]

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