"A bright core of raw perception unmediated by conceptual intelligence suddenly presented itself to him, its quicksilver emotions, predatory without guilt, filling the lack and bringing with it a selfless loyalty the lost one never could have offered."[Sherwood Smith and Dave Trowbridge, Exordium #5: The Thrones of Kronos, p. 382.]
|April 23rd, 1997, 2:03 pm
A little over two hours ago I sat in Examination Room #2 at the Barcroft Cat Clinic, saying Goodbye to Rusty. By that point, it was clear that Rusty was very sick. Dr. Crist, who regularly performs miracles in her clinic, had said his time had come. My wife Susan couldn't bring herself to go for a last visit, but I couldn't bear not to.
Rusty had been found as a stray by my wife 12 years previously, as she and a friend were stuck in a traffic jam along I-95. She saw him by the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. They stopped the car and Susan picked him up; he curled up in her lap and went to sleep.
He soon grew into a huge (at one point, 19 lbs) orange tabby with a sweet disposition and a talent for trouble. Rusty was Susan's constant companion, through good times and bad. Whether it was playing tag with Ashley (Susan's other cat) at 3 o'clock in the morning, or curling up beside Susan to spend the night guarding her, Rusty was there.
Rusty the kitten peaking out from behind a bed.
|I came into the picture much later,
a mere four years ago. Rusty won me over at first
sight, a big orange bundle of energy and affection who
would hammer at the front door of Susan's apartment,
but then couldn't quite seem to decide that he actually
wanted to go out when the door was opened. Whenever new
people came over he would work the room, knowing both
that there would be plenty of affection from us later,
and that new people found him irresistable. At night he
would climb up on the bed, and Susan would wrap her
arms around him like a teddy bear, and they would
Rusty always seemed a little bit jealous of me -- as the male of the household, he didn't quite seem to understand why I was there. That was okay -- I knew why he was there (and I am smart enough not to press my luck /grin/).
Rusty taking a break from playing string.
|The past couple of years have been
rough on Rusty. First, Susan and I (and Rusty and
Ashley) moved into a townhouse together. Rusty and
Ashley had lived in the same apartment for the past
nine years, so a new place was a little traumatic for
them at first. They had never seen stairs, and couldn't
quite figure them out at first. Rusty, with his usual
aplomb, was the first to decide he wanted Out of the
bedroom, so we walked through the entire house with
him, patiently opening closets and such so that he
could investigate his new digs -- I think this is when
we gave him one of his many nicknames, "Opener of
Shortly thereafter, we discovered that he had actually had a bowel problem for some time; it had been previously brushed off by Rusty's old vet as "sometimes cats are like that", but Rusty's new vet, Dr. Crist, diagnosed the problem and began treatment. (Sometime in that time period he earned another nickname, "The Pooper", for reasons I won't go into here. /grin/)
A very young Rusty, lounging on a chair.
|Unfortunately, treating the bowel
problem was not without its risks, and one of them came
true about a year or so ago -- Rusty developed diabetes
from the prednisolone he was taking. Luckily, though,
diabetes in cats is fairly treatable; if we gave him
his insulin while his head was in the food dish, he
often didn't even notice the injection. He even
remained his old affable self, whereas many diabetic
cats become testy.
Diabetes was not the last of Rusty's problems, however; a heart condition was diagnosed, and arthritis. Eventually we were giving him seven pills and two shots of insulin each day, which he wasn't exactly thrilled about, but which he tolerated in good humor. All through this we were asking Dr. Crist: "Is he in any pain? Is it time to say Goodbye?" "No," she said. "When it is time, I will tell you."
That phone call came this morning. Rusty had been sick for a couple of days, and had lost his voice. Most of the time he was hiding in the closet or behind the couch and, most disturbing of all, he was not joining us on the bed each night. Susan and I decided to take him in. We dropped him off yesterday morning.
|Dr. Crist called a few hours later:
Rusty was sick, much sicker than any of us had thought.
In addition, he was blind (which explained why he was
not jumping on the bed). He was getting lots of
attention -- Rusty was a favorite of the Barcroft
staff, and they were taking turns being with him. We
anxiously waited for another status report. It came
that night -- after a very close call earlier in the
day, he was doing a little better, but the early signs
indicated that it was probably a late stage of cancer.
We would know more in the morning. This morning.
Susan called me about 10 am with the news: Rusty was weak, his blood pressure was back down, and he was fading fast. It was time to say Goodbye. Susan was in no shape to go there, but I knew that I had to. Rusty was my responsibility. He had given us his love and devotion and brought a great richness to our lives, and I wanted to say Goodbye.
An older Rusty.
|So, I sat there, rubbing his ears
and stroking the fur down his back, telling him what a
great cat he was, and how much Susan and I loved him. I
told him that, from now on, whenever we get a new cat,
I will tell him or her the Story of Rusty, so they know
of him. I told him he was going to a better place,
where he wouldn't need any more pills, where it was
always sunny, and where any door he pounded on would
instantly open at his command.
Did he understand any of this? No, not really. But he did know that his tummy was full, that he wasn't in any pain, that he was surrounded by people who loved him, and that it was time to go. Dr. Crist gave him the injection, and before she had finished he lay his head down on his little paws, and he was Asleep.
Goodbye, Rusty. I will miss you.
Rusty with Dr. Crist, December 1996.
|December 19, 1997
Susan's mother died three months ago, after a long battle with cancer. Rusty and Mickey were old friends; during the years Susan and her parents lived in the same building, Mickey would come down to Susan's apartment each morning and Rusty would be waiting for "Grandma" to open the door and let him into the hallway, where he would sit somewhat befuddled, as if he couldn't quite remember why he wanted out in the first place.
It's odd how Rusty's and Mickey's health declined in parallel. We first realized they were sick about the same time; they had ups and downs together. As Rusty's problems were chronic but did not appear life-threatening, I was counting on Rusty to be there for Susan when her mother did go. Alas, it didn't work out that way.
When Rusty died in April, Mickey was already far along down the path towards her own departure. We decided not to tell her; Rusty had been her favorite, too, and we knew this would upset her at a time when her failing mental capacities needed to be focused on more immediate needs.
Eventually Mickey left us. Afterwards, I took some solace in an image that came to me shortly after she had gone -- Mickey, feeling a familar form rubbing against her leg, looks down and says "Rusty! What are you doing here?"
Rusty and Susan's mom, Mickey.
October 31, 2001
Life moves on.
As one might expect, the defining event between then and now was my divorce. As divorces go, it was relatively painless, affecting me materially more than emotionally -- and even materially it wasn't bad, just different. Still, it's worth remembering that of the eight years I lost with Susan, five of those years were also with Rusty.
I think of Rusty often. Late last year, my cat Morris got very sick. He stopped eating and developed liver problems as a result. For a while there it looked as if he wasn't going to make it. I was distraught, as you might imagine, and I sought relief in the way I usually do -- I wrote. In this case I wrote a children's story about a cat named Morris who dies and goes to Heaven, where he meets a cat named Rusty, who tells him how to help the young man who had cared for them both overcome his sadness at Morris's death. I never finished the story, although someday I know I will need to.
When I look back over my personal life during the past four years, over the victories and defeats, I take some comfort that there were more of the former than the latter. I'm working at the place I've always wanted to, doing work that is both important and enjoyable. I'm single again and quite happy about it. And I have three adorable cats that take great pride in competing for the privilege of sprawling all over me as a lay on the couch, reading.
And Rusty is there, too, if only in spirit.
April 25, 2002
Morris, too, is gone.
In addition to his liver problem, Morris had a bad heart. He responded well to treatment, but we all knew that he was living on borrowed time. That time ran out yesterday morning, almost five years to the day after Rusty left.
Strange. I knew Rusty for five years, and then Morris for five years. It's almost like there is a time limit.
I've finished the story about Morris, Rusty, and the young man. And starting now, I will tell new felines in my household not just the Story of Rusty, but the Story of Rusty and Morris.
Take good care of him, Rusty. I miss you both.