Saturday, March 12, 2011

Dear God, this is Raven. Try not to piss her off.

This was originally posted on my favorite message board nearly a year ago. Raven, the cat who adopted me in college, had chronic kidney failure. She lived nearly two years after her diagnosis, when the average was six months. She was about the toughest living thing I've ever met, and I was privileged to be part of her life. Here is the eulogy I wrote for her:

Dear God, this is Raven. Try not to piss her off.

On a grey and rainy morning in January 1992, a small black cat wandered into my life. She came through the open apartment door, jumped up on a stool beside the table I was scrubbing, and announced herself. Last Friday, I held her and cried on her and thanked her for being my friend while the vet gave her an overdose of barbiturates. She was eighteen and a half years old.

I could easily write 10,000 words about my kitty. She wasn't actually black. She was a very dark tortoiseshell, and as many cat owners have learned, those lovely markings come with a special attitude.

Raven hated all other animals. At best, she could tolerate their presence in the room, but if they came within two yards of her, she hissed and spat. Closer, and she would attack. When I had roommates with pets, I kept a water pistol to chase Raven away from the other cats. Small as she was, she won nearly every fight she started, and she started a lot of them.

But she liked me, preferred me even. Given her choice, she would always join me at bedtime and sleep curled up next to my head or with her paw over my wrist. As I survived bouts of depression, with nightmares, loneliness, and feelings of utter and absolute failure, Raven stood as guardian and healer. I would wake in the middle of the night from a bad dream and find her awake, standing watch over me, purring. If I cried, she left what she was doing and came to me, and purred and nuzzled me until I could bear going on.

She was no pushover. I could play with her, but if I teased her, I found out (as Calvin and Hobbes once put it), that she was pointy on five of her six ends. The only person who could ever manhandle her was my younger brother. When I was home from college for the summer, I put him in charge of bathing her, after I'd found him holding her by all four paws and running her under the faucet, while she purred contentedly.

She loved men, the smellier the better. If my brother came in from mowing the lawn in July, she went into the throes of ecstasy over his armpits. She made sweet love to a friend's down vest when he was over for a visit. He said he'd seen less explicit porn.

Raven was probably the toughest living creature I have ever known. She was six months old and pregnant when I adopted her. The most she ever weighed was nine pounds. I could not make her an indoor cat; she wouldn't tolerate it. Instead, she would go out and pick fights with whatever pissed her off, and I would patch her up. At least three times, she had to go to the vet for an abscessed wound. She survived her first months on the street, survived an early pregnancy, then being spayed, then her Fight Club injuries.

In January of 2009, the vet told me she had kidney failure, and most cats at her stage lasted about six months. I got to keep her for 15 months. It wasn't even the kidney failure that did it, though it played a role. I noticed about nine months ago that she was losing vision. She didn't really play or do her psycho-kitty-zoom-zooms anymore. She had arthritis in her hips, and it spread. She crept. She was sore. She disliked being handled. Two weeks ago, I finally realized that it was no fun for her being the cat anymore, and to keep her alive any longer would be selfishness on my part.

She was my pet for eighteen years. Usually, I felt more like her pet than anything else. She was not some mellow, lovey-dovey, velcro cat. She was a perpetually pissed-off bitch kitty, and I happened to be one of the few humans she trusted and loved. I have an image in my head of St. Peter desperately holding Raven at arm's length while she twists and claws. He grabs the PA and shouts "We need St. Francis up here, STAT!". Hell certainly wouldn't let her in. They know trouble when they see it, down there.

If anything, perhaps she's at the end of the Rainbow Bridge. She'd make a most excellent Valkyrie, and I'm sure she'd appreciate the day-long brawling and sweaty Viking men at Valhalla. Save one for me, baby cat. I miss you terribly.

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