The cat who would be Zeus was stuck in a tree, the night I met him. January 2000, Seattle. I was leaving law school and walking to my car. I passed the tree, heard a cat in the tree crying, and I helped the cat out of the tree. I walked away; the cat followed.
I called Holly, told her that a cat was following me to my car, and she reminded — not that I needed reminding — that we already had three cats and couldn’t take in another cat. I agreed, though when I got to my car, and opened it, the cat who would be Zeus jumped into the driver’s seat, put his paws on the steering wheel, and made his plans of coming home with me clear.
Confusion and misdirection are two easy ways of introducing a new cat into an environment where other cats are. Run a towel on the new cat, then rub that towel on the old cats. Rub towels on the old cats, then rub the towels on the new cat. They won’t be able to distinguish new cat from old cat.
Our three cats — Madeline, Xyler, and Eros became four cats. January 2000. Seattle. The cat who would be Zeus became Zeus, named by a friend of Holly’s who lived — and lives — in Gainesville, Florida.
The four cats, and a bird, moved to Boston with me and Holly. And here we’ve been, mostly stable. Around the time Holly and I were thinking about having a child, and failing, I fell in love with a kitten. I brought her home. Didn’t ask for permission. Just did it. Congratulations, it’s a girl, I texted to Holly, who, despite her better judgment, made room in her heart and in our home for the girl we named Sabine.
In 2006, we think Zeus had a small stroke. His head tilted to the right. He walked differently. In 2007, he was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism. We radiated him, and when we brought him home, he had to spend a few days in the bathroom. He was radioactive, and baby Avery was susceptible.
In 2010, Madeline jumped out an open window in our third-floor condo, and was hit by a car. She was delivered to a vet more than 10 miles from where Holly and I lived. We knew Madeline had jumped, but we thought we’d find her nearby. We put up signs. We blamed each other for not knowing the window was open. We said that we were lucky that Madeline had been the one to jump out the window, and that Avery hadn’t fallen out the open window.
I put an ad on Craigslist looking for Madeline, and a woman responded. A cat matching Madeline’s description had been turned into an emergency vet. She had been hit by a car, and was in pretty bad shape. I called Holly, who went to look at the cat who couldn’t be our cat. But it was Madeline there, mostly broken, alert enough to recognize Holly, and then me, when we came to be with her. Thousands of dollars to maybe extend her life but not take away all of her pain, or we could decide to let her go.
Madeline, the cat who had been a kitten, Holly’s kitten, when she and I met in college, when Xyler, my cat, had been a kitten. The love story of Madeline and Xyler, who had 10 babies — Eros is one of their children — mirroring the love story of me and Holly. Madeline’s death, which happened near the middle of my affair with D seemed to take on more meaning, after.
While Holly and I were with Madeline, making the decision to end her suffering, Avery was with D, who told me to take as long as I needed with Madeline. Avery was two. He knew that Madeline wasn’t at home, but Avery didn’t understand where Madeline had gone.
Last year, Holly’s mother convinced us that Sabine deserved a better home. She had never adjusted to sharing a space with children, and she peed on our bed, and then Holly’s bed, every day. Once, Sabine peed in the baby’s crib. Holly’s mother found a place to take Sabine, and she did, by herself. Better that way, we thought, if Holly and I didn’t know where Sabine was.
When I moved out of the condo Holly and I owned, Holly kept the cats. My landlord didn’t want cats in the apartment. When Holly and I sold our condo, she moved into an apartment that didn’t allow pets, so she called my landlord and convinced him to relax his rules. The cats relocated to my apartment, where I was better able to gauge how well Zeus was doing.
The radiation, we were told, should have been part of his yearly maintenance, but the cost was high, and Holly and I decided that we couldn’t afford it.
Six months ago, Zeus started having blood in his stool. He’d spend all day with his head in his water bowl. He started drinking around a gallon of water every day. He couldn’t jump into or out of my bed. He didn’t want to play with the kids. He didn’t do much of anything.
Holly and I knew his end was nearing, and I think we’ve been mentally and emotionally preparing for a few weeks.
This morning, in the litter box, I found a pool of blood, which only could have come from Zeus.
I called Holly, and the vet, and Holly and I decided that I’d take Zeus in to the vet, and if nothing could be done, then we’d ease Zeus’ suffering the best way we could. When I put Zeus in his carrier, he didn’t struggle. And he didn’t cry.
I think he knew. But his knowing, if he did, didn’t, and doesn’t, make any of this easier.
A little more than an hour ago, Zeus died.
He’s gone, the vet said to me, or I think she said, he’s gone. I had been crying for nearly 20 minutes, since before Zeus was taken from me to have a catheter put in his leg.
The vet offered me, however inappropriate, a hug, which I accepted.
I called Shaun, while I was walking to my car, and I told him what had happened. When he and I finished talking, I called Holly to let her know that Zeus was gone.
I hope he forgives us, she said, while, in the background, Avery was telling Aurora to stop crying because that moment wasn’t about her but was about Zeus, who Avery knew had died because Holly told him that Zeus had died.
Holly and I talked until she was parking outside of my apartment. Tonight, she and the kids are here. Xyler and Eros know something has changed, but they don’t yet know something has changed. If that not knowing but knowing makes sense.
When Madeline died, Xyler knew. He could smell her on the clothes Holly and I had been wearing. He looked for Madeline in our home, turning in circles, convinced that he could find her.
I’m the one who found him, I said to the vet, while the medication was being injected into Zeus.
I believe that cats come back to us, the vet said. He’ll find you again.
Holly and the kids and I are inside my apartment. April 2012. Xyler and Eros waiting for dinner. The apartment seems emptier.
Later, once the kids are asleep, I’ll clean out the litter box and put away the cat carrier. When Zeus’ ashes are returned to us, we’ll put him in his urn on the shelf where Madeline’s urn is.
In my apartment, I washed the dishes in the sink. Avery took off his clothes to dance naked in the living room. Aurora gave up trying to walk. And Holly put on the Florence and the Machine Unplugged album. Something seemingly right about listening to Florence, while I was washing the dishes and Avery was dancing naked and Aurora was trying to, but opting not to, walk.