little babe (lil b)
In February 2012 I was in my second semester of graduate school at the University of Toronto. I lived in a tiny, bright apartment with my dear friend Amy and we decided that it was time to add a third roommate to our lives.
We went to the animal shelter in our neighborhood and browsed the cats. I stopped to look at all of the big orange male cats because they reminded me of my childhood cat Paws. “We need a girl cat!” Amy said, “for our feminist apartment!”
She picked out a tiny grey cat tucked away on the bottom row of cages. “Oh look at this one!” she said.
I bent down to take a look. I studied the little cat and said, “This one? Her eyes are almost crusted shut!” Dried green pus covered her eyes. A vet tech nearby said, “Oh she has the cat flu because she’s been in here for so long! She actually came to us from ANOTHER shelter. Poor little girl!”
I took a look at her name and age, “Celine, age 8 years. 50% off.”
“Why is she 50% off?” I asked the vet tech.
“Because she’s an older kitty. All of the older cats are half off because nobody ever wants them.”
“Alright, Amy!” I said, “This is our new cat!”
We took home our beautiful $50 cat and over the next few days gave her eye drops, tons of affection, and fed her the best cat food we could buy. Deciding that “Celine” was too human of a name for a cat, we tried out a few other names including “Paw Paw” and “Emerald” and finally decided on “Little Babe” or “Lil B” for short.
She blossomed over the next few months and Amy and I fell in love with her. Her bright green eyes were the greenest eyes I’d ever seen on any animal and a little brown speck next to her pupil made her eyes even more beautiful. Any time we had visitors to our apartment they commented on how beautiful she was, how much her face looked like a little kitten face, and how big her eyes were.
She also had the scratchiest meow that sounded like fingernails on a chalkboard. We joked that it sounded like the voice of an old woman who had been smoking for her entire life. And Lil B loved to meow. She would run to the apartment door every time we came home and meow non-stop in her scratchy voice. I grew accustomed to that abrasive voice of hers and began to love that scratchy little meow.
When I finished grad school I moved back to Pittsburgh for an internship and brought Lil B with me across the US/Canada border. I loaded everything I owned into my 1993 Honda Accord, with Lil B in her cat carrier on the front passenger seat facing me as I drove. I put all of her adoption paperwork and updated shot information into a folder and offered to show it to the border patrol guard.
“What’s this?” he asked.
“Paperwork for my cat,” I said.
“I don’t care about the cat,” he said, brushing the folder away. “Welcome back to the United States.”
That summer Lil B lived with me and my mom in my childhood home until I could save up enough money to rent an apartment in Bloomfield. “Bloom where you’re planted” was my guiding principle at that time so I thought it was fate when I found an apartment in a neighborhood with that time.
In this apartment I let Lil B outside for the first time since I’d adopted her. She loved to lay on the sunny concrete porch, eat the grass in our 5′ x 10′ yard, and run up the porch stairs to the upstairs neighbors where she would taunt their fat indoor cat who lay in the window all day long.
We moved from that apartment onto the second floor of a large Victorian home on the other side of the city in Wilkinsburg. In this apartment, Lil B only ever went outside to bask in the sun on the fire escape where she would flirt with “Mister” the downstairs cat. Unfortunately Mister didn’t have the same feelings for Lil B and he would hiss and scratch her. But she loved him so much. She would put her butt straight up into the air and become totally passive, purring extra loud when he was around.
When I became pregnant and virtually horizontal for 9 months (first because of nausea and later because of sheer laziness) Lil B never left my side. When I was in bed she would lay on my stomach with her face pressed against mine, as if she knew that I was in discomfort and needed her to stay with me.
When Eliot was born, Lil B panicked. For the first six months after he was born, Lil B would only come out at night while he slept. Tearing through the apartment every night and meowing as loud as she could with that scratchy voice of hers, she made it clear that she was not happy with this new addition to our family.
From Wilkinsburg we moved to Lawrenceville into a hot, second floor apartment with a really shitty front door that never locked properly. One weekend while we were away, the building door was left unlocked and the door to our apartment was kicked down by someone who then stole pretty much everything of value that we owned.
We came home that night to find our front door missing and most of our belongings taken but my first thought was, “I hope Lil B is OK.”
I cried when I found her, hiding under our bed, so relieved that she hadn’t run away or been hurt.
That was a really rough year. Adjusting to parenthood was really hard and I felt guilty for not giving Lil B as much attention as I had before Eliot was born. Lil B developed matted fur along her sides and she often had coughing fits where it seemed like she was having trouble breathing.
I took her to the vet and they said that the coughing fits were due to asthma and that hot weather and stress could bring them about. The matted fur, they said, was probably happening because she was stressed out by the baby crying all the time so she had stopped grooming herself.
The vet gave me a flea comb and told me to brush her with it every night. With its narrow teeth, the flea comb eventually worked out all of her knots and matted fur. After a few months of nightly combing, she looked smooth and beautiful, and began grooming herself again.
Last year we bought a house with a little yard and every night we began to let Lil B outside to enjoy the fresh air and explore the hillside above our yard. She always came back within an hour, scratching or meowing at the back door to let us know that she was ready to come back in. She loved those nightly adventures and I think she looked forward to going outside all day long, although she never wanted to go outside when the sun was still out. Instead, she spent her days napping on the living room chair or on the twin bed in Eliot’s room.
Lil B grew close to Eliot, eventually allowing him to pet her. She would sprawl out and let his little toddler hands pet her stomach, pat her head, even poke her paws. She was incredibly patient with him, never once hissing, scratching, or biting him. She was a tender, kind, loving girl.
Two weeks ago we felt a lump on her belly and the next day I brought her to the vet. They took a sample of the lump and after a few days called to tell me that it was cancerous. It also wasn’t the only lump, there were several lumps all along her mammary glands. Lil B had just turned 13 years old in February of this year.
Two days ago I came home to find her limping, with blood on her paw and on her stomach. Until this day, she had been eating, drinking water, going up and down steps, and even going outside every night, without exhibiting any pain.
I got her cat carrier from the basement and carefully pushed her into it. The only time Lil B has ever scratched me is when I’ve tried to put her into that damn cat carrier. She hates it. She scratched my arm and drew blood but I knew that I had to take her to the vet.
At the vet I was told that when blood starts appearing from the cat’s nipples, that’s the sign that it’s time to let them go. I knew that I didn’t want her to suffer and I was thankful that she had made it to her last day with fairly high quality of life.
The vet tech brought a beautiful knit blanket into the small procedure room and Lil B immediately began purring loudly, and crawled onto the blanket, grateful for its comfort. I held her, crying, while they injected her with muscle relaxer, and I felt her gradually become limp.
When Lil B’s head fell and her breathing became slow and soft, the vet came back in and asked if I was ready. “The last thing she will remember is your voice and you petting her,” she said.
While the vet gave Lil B two short injections into her arm, tears poured from my face onto the stainless steel table as I repeated, “You’re such a good girl, you’re such a good girl.”
I came home that day to Eliot playing basketball in the backyard with Erik. Without me saying anything, Eliot asked, “Where’s Lil B?”
“She has a boo boo, honey, so mommy took her to the doctor,” I said.
“Oh,” Eliot said, “I don’t like boo boos.”
For the last two days since she’s been gone, I miss her the most after Eliot has gone to bed. Right now as I sit here on the couch with my laptop, she would have been sitting on the back of the couch, next to my head, purring loudly and occasionally reaching out with her paw to touch my shoulder or my head. She loved being alone with me and took advantage of every moment that Eliot was asleep.
I cried tonight as I sat in the bathroom on the toilet, a time when she would always jump off the bed and curl up at my feet, then stretch onto the bathroom rug, waiting for me to scratch her back. Tonight as I sat in the bathroom, I looked down the hall at the empty bedroom where she would spend most of her time. No glowing green eyes or scratchy meow tonight.
I miss her for her sweetness, her gentleness, her loving head butts, and her patience with Eliot. I miss her for the way she always ran to the front door when I came home each day, just like a dog, meowing that loud scratchy meow, saying, “Hello! I missed you! I’m so glad you’re home!”
I miss her because my relationship with her demonstrated that it’s possible to care for and deeply love another living being that isn’t a human. Even now it seems strange that I’m crying for a little grey cat, but here I am, crying for her. She was a beautiful girl and I’m happy that we chose to bring her home to our little feminist apartment in Toronto.