I've mentioned several times that the first draft of SINCE YOU ASKED involved an opening with Holly filling out one of those Facebook surveys. Back in the early days of FB, it was good times to fill out these "25 Things You Don't Know About Me!" lists and tag people on it.
When I was filling one out, I had thought, what if someone answered these really obnoxiously and got in trouble for it? So I went ahead and did it, and Holly was born.
One of the questions I made up for her was "How many pets do you have?" Her answer to that was something like: "This is the equivalent of asking 'How many gold statues do you have in your house?' Not everyone has pets. I come from a family that doesn't believe in sleeping next to wild animals, thank you very much."
Why I thought it would be funny to make Holly anit-pets, I don't know. Because I have always, always loved animals. And I was one of those sad kids that didn't grow up with a pet. Because, like Holly 1.0, I wasn't allowed to have pets growing up. The main reason being that my parents thought it would be too much heartbreak if something happened to the pet. My sister and I scoffed at the idea, at how flimsy that excuse seemed at the time.
We used to try and trick our parents into getting pets—one time even picking up a dying baby rat off the street, gingerly placing it into an Easter basket filled with tissues. It never worked. I lived 18 years in my parents' home without even a goldfish to my name.
So the first thing I did when I moved across the country, very far from my family, was adopt a kitten. I named her Walnut. She was a 1 lb. tabby with a scratched nose, belly bloated with worms, and the worst farts I have ever smelled in my entire life.
She was so cute but for the first couple weeks, I had complete buyer's remorse, a pet-mom's version of postpartum depression. I would stare at that fluffball and feel a mix of detachment and burden. I can barely even type that now, it makes me feel so ashamed. But after a couple weeks, something clicked. I fell in love with her so completely. I was willing to walk to the vet in a snowstorm with her cuddled into my coat because she had a little cough. I let her poop in my bed and cleaned it up with zen-like calm. I wiped her butt with a washcloth because she didn't know how. I recorded her playing with string for 15 solid minutes.
Walnut was my first pet, and eventually she became my family's first pet. I lived with them for a year after moving back to L.A., and my parents fell equally in love. So when I moved in with my now-husband, I let them keep her. She was way too attached to them and that house anyway. She's fat and happy there.
Then, a few years, ago, I got my second pet. Another cat. This one, a peachy white stray that my husband and I found down the street during a late-night walk. He followed us to our house, then we fed him some salami and he was ours. We named him Oliver, after that most famous of orphans. Then one day we noticed his paw was hurt and took him to the vet. He looked like this after:
He got lost two days after this photo was taken. We were devastated. Because he was an intrepid outdoor cat, we figured he got attacked or eaten by something in his vulnerable state. One month later, he showed up at our house again—castless and coneless, with a new collar and no tags. Suspicious that he belonged to someone, I wrote a little note with my number and rolled it up into his colllar. That day, a woman called to say that Oliver was her cat. She and her family lived (and still live) five houses down the street from us, exactly where we found him on that night walk. With her two small children, my neighbor said Oliver hadn't been getting the attention that he was used to and she was happy he was living with us.
We found out a few things about him:
1. He was 16 years old.
2. He was found in a Home Depot parking lot in Atlanta.
3. His belly once caught on fire when attempting to jump over a bunch of tea lights.
4. He had a brain tumor and survived.
5. He was once very obese but lost the weight with the introduction of a new kitten.
He's been our cat ever since—and he is the best pet to have ever lived. He rides in the car with you, happily. He sleeps on your chest. He follows you on walks around the neighborhood. He eats ice cream off a spoon. He yowls down hallways when he's feeling good. He only drinks running water. He puts his paw on your arm when he wants attention. He sleeps on your head. He likes vigorous pats on his behind. He has a mouth that is black and gross from rubbing it against sharp objects. He has the worst breath which you smell all the time because his face is almost always right next to yours. He will use his litter box no matter where we put it, and no matter what kind of litter or box we change up on him. He doesn't need to hear "no" more than once to never do whatever it is that elicited that no again. If you say "Tree?!" he will follow you to his favorite tree and sprint up the trunk so that you can pat his butt and he can scratch happily.
And now he's 20. And sick. And not himself anymore. And I am now keenly aware of what my parents had been shielding me from all those years ago.
Because it's utter heartbreak.
I have spent the past few weeks vacillating between despair (watching him fall off a table as his hind legs collapse beneath him) and euphoria (He's purring! The meds are working!). I cry into his soft belly. I feed him with a spoon and wake up at dawn to do it. I check up on him constantly when I'm at work and my husband is home.
I would do anything to buy 10 more years of life for the old guy.
But. My parents were wrong, too. Yes, this is terrible and at the moment I am so sad. But, man. What a gift to have even known this guy for four years. A lot of our friends say that he's lucky to have found us, because of how much attention and love we give him. But I can say, knowing full well how saccharine it may sound, that we are lucky to know him. My life is, and will be, 1 billion times better because I had this cat.
So I'll spend the next few weeks, hopefully months, spoiling Oliver rotten. Enjoying having this wild animal sleep in my bed next to me.