Saturday, May 29, 2010
Goodbye Billy, We Love You 1994? - 2010
For a cat that brought so much joy into our household, Billy's arrival was marked by anger and tears.
I'd only owned one cat before in my life, an old stray named Lucky, and when we put him down we were eager to replace him. As we toured the Humane Society I came across Billy, asleep in a cage. I was furious. Nevermind that even as it ran through my mind I knew the idea was insane; I was convinced this was Lucky, that we'd been lied to and tricked by the vet.
When I calmed down it was easy to see it wasn't the same cat. Oh, they resembled one another, but Billy was younger (only two or three)and his face rounder - he had, in those early days, features that had an oddly Asian appearance. We spoke to a clerk, filled out the paperwork, and were told we could take him home.
And then, as we were getting ready to leave, we were told we were unsuitable to adopt. Some higher up caught wind of the fact we were moving in a weeks time and denied our application. By the time we were 'suitable' Billy would be long gone. I launched an epic fit, as did Lisa, and for no other reason than to shut us up, they rubber stamped the purchase.
Over the years Billy would move with us many times. From 31st Street to 26th; from there to 56th, then on to 23rd, back to 31st and finally to the home we now occupy. If it 'stressed' him out or lessened the quality of his life, it did so without changing his personality or appearance. Start to finish we was a huge, calm, loving cat.
He was never *the* biggest cat in town (at his heaviest he was 22 pounds) but he carried himself lightly, with a spring in his step that was disconcerting to someone who was confronted with his size for the first time. Petite he was not. For all his size, he wasn't much of a fighter; he killed a mouse once on 23rd St, which forever cemented his place in my heart, but he got along fine with animals and humans alike. He resembled a lion, but his idea of a hunt was a search for a warm lap. This was a cat that would come running when you called his name ("BillyBillyBillyBilly, Billllly!", that would knead your belly until you ached, that purred with a loud, deep rumble that left no doubt when he was pleased.
In all the years we shared together he gave me trouble on only two occasions. The second, when he fled in a snowstorm, was documented here. The first was only months into our time together, when he snuck out the window of our second floor flat and jumped to the neighbor's roof. Two, three in the morning, in the middle of a shady neighborhood (26th and Orchard) and I go and knock on a stranger's door and ask them to shoo my cat back towards home.
Oh, I was ticked.
If I'd known then how patient Billy would be with my children in the years to come, I'd have given him a pass for that night. He was with us four years before YaYa was born, but he never once gave in to jealousy when we became parents. William Sonoma would find his way into the cribs of all of my children, and do nothing more than curl up at their feet and keep them company. As they grew into toddlers he was tolerant of their curiosity, putting up with far more than the old man deserved, but never snapping or growing angry. He was so ingrained in their lives that at one point YaYa's Kindergarten teacher approached us about her 'imaginary brother' - they knew she had no brother at that time, but noted she'd often talk about her 'brother Billy'.
In his final years he had a set routine. He would spend the morning and early afternoon on the 2nd floor, napping with our cat Angelcakes. As the kids came home from school he would vanish into the basement, and after bedtime, when the house was quiet, he would emerge to prowl the first floor - and find a kind lap to explore.
About a month ago we noticed he was missing a patch of fur. We assumed one of the kids had tried giving him a haircut, but it was only the beginning. He would continue to lose hair, weight and energy. By a week ago his routine was gone, and his existence confined to the first floor. Last night he soiled himself, and we could deny it no longer; it was time to put him to rest. He himself seemed to know; before I went to bed he walked up to me, meowed once, weakly, then retired to sleep.
This morning, with tears in my eyes, the family (minus Ginger) took him to the Pahle Clinic. All three kids had cried when we told them of our decision. An hour later YaYa was still weeping, and could not stop; Smiley was too young to grasp the situation; Lulu was sad but controlled.
We were given time alone with him, and we all cried openly. When the vet came back to finish the deed she too was upset, with tears flowing down her cheeks. She'd never met Billy, but said it was obvious how great he was by how much he was loved. She injected him as we held and petted him, and a moment later, his eyes still open, he was gone.
They let us take him home, and we placed him in a pillowcase and buried him in the backyard, laying a concrete stone over his resting place. I wouldn't allow the burial to become a 'production', and turned down the kids' requests to include notes or toys, but I let each kid toss a clump of dirt over his body and say goodbye.
We aren't going to replace him. Someday, yes, of course, but we have Angelcakes, and that's enough for now. Billy was with us for fully a third of my life; friends who returned to our lives after a decade's absence were greeted by his familiar purr. Right now, any replacement would feel like a poor substitute, and that's not fair to Billy, to us, and most importantly to the new cat.
Rest in peace Billy. You are, and always will be, The. Best. Cat. Ever.
We love you.