As I type this, it's been two months and three days without my kitty. That's compared to the nine years, 11 months and 28 days I had with her.
"We've got three kittens, you have to take one."
That's phone call I got from my mom on a summer day in 2004 after my parents, somewhat by accident, brought home three kittens from a shelter. As I'm not one to turn down a free kitten, ever in the history of the universe, I brought Harley home to my upper flat in Waukesha on August 1, 2004.
Boy, was Chicken pissed. So pissed. She'd been my lonely-only kitty for two-and-a-half years by that point, and man, that was okay with her. I kept the new kitten in the bathroom while I was away at work so both cats could safely adjust to the new life, and I'd cry often when I'd realize I upset the balance of the feline universe.
"I'm sorry, Chicken," I'd say, stroking her soft kitty forehead, while she cowered and growled in my bedroom, aghast at the tiniest, fluffy creature who'd invaded and personally offended her world. "Please love the kitten. It'll be okay."
The aggression and despair lasted about two weeks, until the day Chicken cautiously approached Harley on my bed, sure to eat her. I watched nervously, prepared to intervene when Chicken decided Harley was lunch, not a playmate.
Instead, Chicken gently licked Harley's soft kitty forehead, as if to say, "It's okay, kitten. This can be your safe place, too."
And for nearly ten years, that's what we were -- each other's safe place. My cats became my world. My only constant. Jobs went, apartments went, boyfriends went, friends went. Cats did not go. Harley and Chicken, together, were never best friends, but Harley and Chicken were my best friends. My family. Where there was Krista, there were Krista's cats. They were always there, always mine.
I haven't been dubbed a cat lady for no reason.
Harley was like an additional appendage. I'd say, often, that if she could crawl actually inside my skin, she'd have done it. She wanted my attention at all times, regardless of any other thing happening around us. In my lap, in my face, tucked into my arm, under the blanket, nuzzled into my neck, under my shirt, wherever she could crawl into.
Her personality was so goddamn big. There was so much personality in that one cat who was so small. The mischief in those giant green eyes never wavered. She wanted in your glass of milk, in your bowl of soup, on your laptop, in your purse, on the kitchen table, and back into my lap. Always in my lap.
I miss that fucking cat in my lap. And in my face. And on my table. And in my glass of milk. And on my laptop. Everywhere. She was everywhere and now she's nowhere and that void is gigantic.
The void is in my home, in my heart, in my clothes, where I'll occasionally find one of her ever-fading hairs. The void is in the stupid water fountain I purchased just for her that still sits, running, in the room where she was, even though Chicken won't touch it with a 10-foot pole. The void is in the crook of my arm when I sleep and in my lap while I eat and in the cat toys that Chicken won't touch, but Harley loved.
Harley's favorite fuzzy glitter ball now sits next to her picture on a shelf, which is next to the clay impression of her paw print, which is the only physical evidence I have left of her, other than those ever-fading cat hairs on my clothes.
A fuzzy glitter ball, a photo, a paw print, and the most broken of hearts that has a cat-sized hole in the middle of it.
I have a distinct memory from all those years ago, when Chicken was still a clumsy, sassy kitten, of realizing, "Wow, cats live so long! I'm going to have this cat until well into my thirties. THIRTIES! This is going to be the greatest, longest adventure."
Yet here I sit, at 32, understanding that already one of those great, long adventures has come to a close. Ten years wasn't long enough. The very first pets you have on your own, your very own, are everything. You love them, you spoil them, you feed them, you care for them, you let them melt into your heart. But what I didn't prepare for was the moment you realize you loved, spoiled, fed, cared, melted as much as you could, and now you have to say goodbye.
I didn't talk about Harley's messy health here because I didn't like to accept Harley's messy health. Not my baby kitty, no way. In the end, it was cancer. It was kidneys. It was everything. It was the look in her big green eyes that was no longer mischief.
In her last months, I was it for her. She got along with no one, nothing. Not Chicken. Not Travis. Not anyone. Just me. She loved me and she trusted me. When she wasn't curled into the closest possible space between us, her fire had gone out just a little. She'd cower. She'd give me the signs that there was hurt inside her. I'd ignore them, of course, because no fucking way. Not Harley. I was all she had, and she was mine, and if all I could give her was my love and my lap, then that's what I'd give her because I loved that cat as if she were a piece of me.
The moment I realized my love and my lap were no longer the safe place for her was quick. It had to be. I couldn't think about it, I couldn't talk about it. I scooped her up in her favorite snowman blanket and left home for the veterinary clinic. But not before leaning her down close to Chicken's face so my companions could have, at the very least, that moment.
Neither understood, of course.
"Mom, get that cat out of my face," was the general consensus of Chicken.
But I felt the weight of the moment, and I still feel the weight of the moment. I feel the weight of those next few hours, still, so heavily in my chest. I held her, I snuggled her, I cried tears on her soft kitty forehead, I laughed, somehow, with my sister, who was with me every moment of my goodbye, thank whatever god exists.
The thing about deciding the fate of a pet you've loved for a third of your life and who depends solely on you is that it's impossible. The thing about being in the room when the life leaves their sweet body is that it's impossible. The thing about leaning down, tears all over your face, to kiss that sweet kitty forehead one last time, and to tell her that you're so, so sorry, and that grandma will take such good care of her, is that IT IS IMPOSSIBLE.
The thing about deciding that fate is that it never leaves you. At least, it hasn't left me yet. Not in two months and three days. I feel guilty. I feel like I let her down. I feel so many things. But mostly I feel like there is a giant hole in the space she used to be.
I should see it as a small blessing that to date, losing my cat is the hardest thing I've had to endure. A cat! God, life's about to get so much harder, I'm sure. But the pain is so palpable.
When I returned home that night and crumpled to the floor, which is exactly how I notified Travis of the day's proceedings -- with that crumpling, I was sure I'd never recover. That was it. I'd be crumpled on that ugly brown carpeting until the end of time.
Turns out that wasn't true. I cried every single day for a solid two weeks. Every single day. Those tears tapered. I still cry. Now, for example. But less often. When it hits, it hits. It took me two months and three days to have the nerves to write this blog post because I knew I'd cry again, and I'd have feelings, and I'd miss that smooshy, little, green-eyed baby.
Chicken, well, she doesn't miss her. In fact, Chicken's become a new cat in the last two months and three days. The little asshole (who I love so very dearly). Travis, who's allergic to cats and who never fell under Harley's love spell, well, he's quite okay in a one-cat home. But that doesn't mean he hasn't been wonderful every time I sob every tear imaginable into his t-shirts. He's caught me more than once in a pool of snot, laying on the bed downstairs where I last snuggled with Harley.
So it's just me at home in my single-cat grief, and that's okay. I mean, my grief is large enough for an entire home. I'VE GOT IT COVERED.
But Harley, my baby Harlequin Robert Frank Lloyd Wright Brothers Grimm Reaper, my baby. My kitten, my sweet, sweet, snuggly noodle who curled in the crook of my neck, in the crook of my arm, in a ball on my lap, in a ball on my table, in a ball wherever you could fit your small, noodle-y body, I love you. I love you so much, and I am so sorry. So very sorry every day.
I hope you feel happy, and I hope you feel loved, and I hope you're never scared, and I hope grandma's lap is as warm and comfortable as mine. If I could kiss that soft kitty forehead one more time, I would, and I'd tell you one last time that you're my favorite baby cat. All the time, forever.