Last July an adult cat and two kittens strolled through my backyard. They were hungry or hot, either way, I gave them some milk and food. Then they went away for a while. When they returned, it was just the orange one and the grayish-brown one. I named the orange one Nectarine and the other one Vanderville; their Chinese names Xiao Huang and Xiao Hwa (“little yellow” and “little floral pattern” respectively).
For nearly a year, they’ve been eating on average four times every 36 hours. They puffed up into little balls when it was cold.
By early May, Nectarine had gotten comfortable enough around me that he would let me get within four feet of him. Here is the last time he was all right.
A day or two after those photos were taken, Nectarine didn’t come ’round to eat. When he came back a few days later, he was limping and behaving very scared. He returned to his “normal” demeanor after two or three days. The last time he was “healthy” was when he sat atop my dad’s car the first week of June. He didn’t come back for eight or nine days. When he re-appeared, June 12, something was wrong with his left hind leg. It looked like a chicken wing, retracted, not touching the ground. The weekend was spent figuring out how to get him into a humane trap so that his leg could be treated. A trap is too low for Nectarine to maneuver into and a dog carrier was not something he was going to go near.
I fed Nectarine and Vanderville Monday morning before going to work; and it was the last time I looked into Nectarine’s eyes and the last time he looked at me. I got a better view of his injured leg; his paw looked crushed. When I got home Tuesday afternoon, I saw him sleeping under lower branches in the backyard. He was lying on his side, I saw his chest move up and down. I didn’t want him to die a slow death. I still wanted to help him, but I didn’t know how. Not long after I saw him out there, he disappeared.
I went to the second closest Starbux to my house to wrap a present. I also did some Chinese character divination, asking if I should just let Nectarine sleep. After asking the question five times, the characters my pen landed on indicated that I should just let him be. The first I picked was the character for “please.”
I’m not 100% sure that he’s succumbed to his injuries, but I also don’t know if I’ll ever see him again. Since Saturday, I’ve been volleyed between pleading and sobbing.
No wonder my mom wouldn’t let me have a pet when I was a kid. Taking care of the animal was just an excuse. The reason was because she didn’t want us to experience this feeling of being hollowed-out that comes with seeing an animal in pain and being unable to help it. Yes, I know the discussions surrounding whether or not dogs and cats have enough self-awareness to know its caregiver is trying to help it or feeling sad because it’s unwell. They may not know they’re dogs and not cats (and vice versa) the way humans know they’re humans and not table cloths, but I believe these animals possess, whether conditioned or innate, a degree of understanding of the value of a human’s concern and caring.
Soon after I moved to Dunwoody during Bill Clinton’s first term, a calico started coming around. She hung out with the neighbor’s pregnant cat. I fed the calico some milk one day and she decided to adopt us. I never found out from where she came but she was at least three or four years old and was previously a house cat and shot at with a gun! Her name was Xiao Mi, which means “little cat” in Mandarin. She died from stomach cancer before I graduated from high school in 1999. I didn’t get to say good-bye; I didn’t get to hold her paw or stroke her back while she was euthanized.
I was mopey then but not as much as I am about Nectarine.
I know I shouldn’t be listening to sad Chinese pop songs while writing this entry, because it’s making me snotty and sore-throaty. They hit right to the heart. I can’t help myself.
Sitting Pugs will be taking a very brief intermission until A. I am proved wrong and Nectarine re-appears again B. I stop feeling like the underdog that should’ve beaten the favorite to win but didn’t because of a field goal gone one inch too far to the right.
I’m not accustomed to these feelings. I know wrath and existential melancholy like the back of my knees, but not this.