Gracie was not the first cat that I ever shared a life with, but she is the first cat who has been indisputably mine. Leia, the family's first cat, scratched us all up equally during her feisty kittenhood. Misty, our second (who was adopted in response to my plaintive requests for a kitten of my own), spent too much time hiding from her own shadow to really bond with me. Caesar, our third, King of the Felines, was a personality and force beyond compare. He had the love of everyone, but shared his with no one in particular. Then there was Alia- taken in for a friend who could no longer keep her- who so resembled Leia that I could not look upon her in the weeks directly following Leia's death. That same resemblance led me to eventually seek her out through the toughest stretch of the grieving process. I could never not see Leia when I looked at her, though.
The summer that Gracie came to us, Caesar had died some months before, Alia had recently joined the crew, and my parents had gone from three cats, to two, to three again. I was living at home with them, where I had moved back in to work on my Master's, a goal that I had abandoned the previous winter during a particularly trying time in my life. By August I was working a new job, but still struggling to make sense of my life. My mother's friend had just rescued an abandoned kitten- Katie- that she needed to find a home for. At the same time, another friend knew of someone who had found a pair of very young kittens who also needed placement.
Somehow, even though plans were in the works to bring Katie home, my mother and I went to visit the other two kittens anyway. They were seven weeks old, and absolutely miniscule. The woman who was caring for them was insistent that they be taken together, since their whole world was each other, and I was eager to oblige. However, there were three cats already at home and another prospect waiting in the wings. I knew the impossibility of my desire, but I felt such love for them, especially the little grey ball of fur that I knew right away would be "Gracie." Seeing my growing attachment, my mother reluctantly agreed to bring home Gracie and her sibling, and made arrangements to cancel her plans for Katie.
Upon our arrival home, my father was understandably displeased and frustrated. He had not agreed to such a plan, felt badly about my mother's sacrifice (as did I) and did not really want to take on two additional cats. I begged, pleaded, swore I would take full responsibility, and finally, full-out defied my father. I could not let Gracie go. Nor did I want to give up her sibling, a marmalade tabby who in no way resembled her, but something had to give. The final, painful resolution was to send home Gracie's brother in order to hang on to her. However, in exchange, my mother was able to follow through with Katie, and our furry family nearly doubled overnight.
We had a pretty full house for awhile, but I did my best to keep my promise. I wasn't always perfect about keeping up with litterbox duty, but I doted on my "baby," nursing her through her early kittenhood with multiple daily feedings; taking her to the vet when she was ill; cuddling, playing, snuggling. When I finally moved back out, I took her with me. She followed me from apartment to apartment- five places in four years. The stress of her initial separation from Katie and all of the constant change took a toll on her, I could tell. But she was ever loyal, and my closest companion. That is, until I met Tom.
He's not a cat person, and she's not an overly-affectionate cat, so they've never been best buds. However, he's cared for her when I could not, keeping up her litterbox through each of my pregnancies, attempting to brush her as my allergies have gotten too severe for me to want to try, helping me clean her up on the all-too-frequent occasions in which her long, wild fur has gotten in the way of her poo. He's even been blessedly patient with her as the years have proven that her aversion to small children is not something that will ever go away.
I've tried to be patient, too. She was my only baby once, and it hurts my heart to consider giving her up in favor of the babies that followed her. However, I'm unsure whether it's love or loyalty that's really holding sway. There's a little pride mixed in there, too, of course. And an ongoing internal struggle over what is truly honorable. I vowed to take responsibility for her once, and I want to hold to that. However, I have to consider her happiness and health as part and parcel of all that.
I do not think she's happy. At least, not as happy as she could be.
She used to spend her entire day in view of me. Now she spends her entire day avoiding the children. Since I am nearly always with them, that means avoiding me, too.
I used to take time out to play with her. Now I hardly have time to take at all.
I used to keep up with vet visits. Now? I am far too embarrassed to admit how long it's been since she's seen one.
I used to bathe her every three months to keep her allergens under control, so that I could enjoy her company. I haven't had the energy since Abby was born, and now I can't allow her in the bedroom anymore if I want to be able to breathe.
Her nails go far too long without getting clipped. Her fur (which really needs to be shaven at this point) hardly gets brushed. It's full of mats. And the hairballs- oh, the hairballs- as a result.
Long story short- I'm a terrible companion now, and she deserves better. I've tried to make the argument to myself that she's better off with me because I'm all she knows, but I don't know how true that is anymore. More and more, it seems to simply be the voice of guilt- guilt over the possibility of turning her away. No matter which way I look at it, I can't escape that guilt- it's justified- but I truly think she'd be better off with someone who can give her the attention that she craves, and an environment that is not so fraught with people who scare her.
It's taken me a long time to reach the conclusion that I should definitely start seeking a new home for her. However, the finality of it is dragging me down. I just can't seem to take any action on it, and continually obsessing over it is causing me pain.
Especially when I look at her. Though I don't see too much of her during the day, every night she waits here, by my computer.
When I take my seat to blog, per routine, she always jumps away in protest of the intrusion. Not tonight. Tonight, she stayed.
The doubt crept into my heart again. The fear of imparting betrayal. The sense of potential loss.
I got up one last time to take another picture. Saw the sadness in her eyes.
And when I sat back down? She was off, and could not be coaxed into returning.
It occurred to me then that perhaps we're in the last phase of a doomed relationship now, clinging to something that has long since gone. Only it's entirely up to me to end it, because I'm the one with the voice, with the power, with the choice.
I just really want to make the right one.