Just this Tuesday, I had lost my cat Rumi to a tumor. It was very sudden and unexpected. It still feels unreal that no more than a month ago, he seemed perfectly happy, a cat doing normal cat things like playing with boxes and paper bags and toilet rolls, waking me up by pawing my nose, and perking up from whatever he was doing when he hears the sound of a tin can opening.
Before Rumi, I did not know how to deal with a cat. I never imagined I would live with one. One time, I saw a cat with a large portion of his skin flapping over from what looked like a burn. As sorry as I felt for that cat, I waited for a random stranger to help me pick him up and take him to the closest vet. I was able to find a home for this cat and I hope he is well taken care of. Like I said, I was not really a cat person.
I was only starting to warm up to cats when I would take my dog Scrappy out for walks, and every so often, a cat would be unafraid of both Scrappy and me and let me pet him or her. Still, I didn't really see myself with a cat in my home. What would I feed a carnivore when I am so strongly attached to my vegan choices?
One Saturday morning, I met a small scrawny kitten and he was meowing non-stop at the park. There was something about someone so new to the world that spoke to me. He was not like the older cats who have somehow learned to survive the streets and the city and sadly the apathy of people. He was a kitten; and so, he still didn't have a stubborn perception of the world. It was not an easy decision for practical reasons. Can I bear buying meat for this cat? Will I get into even more trouble in my building? How much do I have to spend to keep this cat happy and healthy? I sat with this decision for maybe 30 minutes, maybe an hour, I cannot quite remember anymore. But when I picked him up, I just wanted to protect this little guy. He was so small in my arms, so light, so fragile. I took him home. He became Rumi.
Because I was never really around cats, there were many things that were unfamiliar to me. Tiny as he was, I was admittedly a little afraid of his sharp teeth and claws. When he would come close to my face those first few days, I felt myself freezing a little bit, scared that he will for no good reason scratch my precious face or pull my eye out. Like I said, I was not a cat person. Of course, he did none of that. He did not bite nor scratch, not for a while anyway, not until he learned to play. One time, I was watching a movie on my portable DVD player when I heard a strange sound. I flipped over this DVD player, thinking that some part may have come loose, creating that unfamiliar sound. I saw Rumi and noticed it was coming from him. I thought, was Rumi...vibrating? I was completely new to this concept. He was purring. I had to ask a vet to validate that.
I don't think there are many extraordinary things I can say about life with Rumi, except that I was mistaken about a lot of common beliefs about cats. He was not low-maintenance. I felt as though I was cleaning up his litter box every other hour. I am probably magnifying the frequency because it was never my favorite chore. His poop stunk big time. But he was also quite sweet and responded to his name Rumi. When I am laying down by my bed, I would call out to him, and he would come out of hiding, walk his sexy catwalk, pass through the lowest cubbyhole of the bookshelf to get to me. It was from seeing Rumi walk that I understood why a catwalk is called a catwalk, and why models walk with one foot in front of the other. They're trying to copy Rumi. Well, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, they say. It all makes sense now. And Rumi, after all, was one sexy man cat.
I had taken a video of Rumi grooming himself. Looking good requires maintenance too. It was very cute to watch, but I deleted the video because I thought I see it very often anyway, and I did not know at that time that I wasn't going to get that many opportunities to watch him anymore.
I first noticed something unusual in Rumi's eye around Feb 10. In two days, I took him to a vet. The vet prescribed some medicine, though I felt that the examination was not very thorough. After 6 days of the medicine and his eye getting worse, I took him to another vet because I wanted a second opinion. He was confined in the hospital for observation, and an eye enucleation was recommended. I was told it was a standard procedure that posed very little risk. I was shattered that Rumi will lose one eye, but reassured that that was all it was. The surgery itself was successful, but the vet said they saw something suspicious and recommended a biopsy. I took him home and except for one eye lost, he seemed content. His appetite was back, and he was responding to the sound of tin cans once again. It did not last long. After about two days, I came home and saw him on top of a shelf he usually does not go to. Not only that, he was stuck there, and the things that were in that shelf had fallen to the floor. I attributed it to him adjusting to his one-eyed life. He was limping and I thought it was a sprain from the fall. But it did not improve so I took him to the vet again. He had an x-ray. Nothing was fractured nor sprained. The vet recommended confinement in the hospital again. His condition regressed very quickly. His kidney was enlarged and a new lump formed on his right cheek. I was told these would be consistent with the growth of a malignant tumor.
I was asked how I felt about letting him rest. I had thought of this previously, of myself and my animal companions, and I knew that if my health has declined to the point of no saving and no quality of life, I would rather go. It is also by this standard that I want to base my decisions on. Still, it was difficult. What if we were wrong? What if he wanted to live? What if his condition improved and we stole that from him? What if? I had waited until the official biopsy results came out because I did not want to have those what ifs. But I also could not wait too long because that would be for my own selfish reasons and add nothing to Rumi's comfort.
And so on March 3, a Tuesday afternoon, I changed into all black and made Rumi a playlist to put him to sleep. When I arrived at the vet, I had some time alone with him. I sang Rumi the Maha Mrityunjana mantra for his liberation. I told him repeatedly how much I love him. He must have known he was leaving, because he reached out with both his paws to grab my hand, and I put my face close to him. This time, unlike our early days together, my fear is not that he would scratch me; my fear is that I would not know how to deal with him taking his last breath. I hugged him close. I did not know love for someone I do not even share words with could be this big and deep and shattering. I was angry at many things in that room-- at the insensitivity of the euthanasia form, at the cold stainless table, at text messages, at things random and unrelated. It angered me that the day was so ordinary for a day that to me seemed so bleak. I played the song Lullaby to put him to sleep. He took his last breath and it broke me. How I love Rumi.
Before Rumi, I did not know how to deal with a cat. I never knew I could have a cat in my life and just know that he is who he is, an individual, someone uniquely himself. After his surgery, I thought we were going to dress up as pirates this Halloween and be the cutest one-eyed team. I did not know he would be gone so soon. I have been calling out his name. I am still searching for him. I am still waiting for him to paw my nose. I am still looking at the bottom cubbyhole of my bookshelf expecting him to walk towards me in his cat walk.