Steve was always the problem cat. Pulled from a pile of siblings huddled in a Belnan barn on Thanksgiving weekend, chosen because he appeared the strongest. Yeah, right. Neurotic. Spastic. Couldn't seem to meow.
One summer day, when he was three, his bladder became blocked with crystals. He spent the night in an emergency clinic, where they told me cats were not fond of the specific food that was supposed to restore their bladder. True story—Steve rejected the food, of which I'd purchased a case (with what money?), became anorexic, and his big, sturdy body started eating itself. The inside of his ears turned yellow—his liver had failed. Five times a day for five weeks I fed him through a tube. It was all I could talk about.
This all began happening three days after we moved in with Kate, a black-and-brown-striped sweet wonder of a cat, and the reason I didn't notice Steve had stopped using the litter box. She was zero trouble. She purred like there was a button somewhere. She chased string. She would lie on her back in the middle of any table in your eyeline, and sit on the back of your chair while you internetted.
She loved everyone, including Steve, who felt the same once he got better.
Her owner moved to the United States and I happily inherited her. My changing cast of roommates loved her as much as I did (their relationships with Steve varied). She never had any health problems, while I periodically took Steve back to the vet for things like "peeing on stuff" and "pooping only in the hall," convinced every tiny problem could balloon into a months-long, bank-account-crippling ordeal. I didn't worry about Kate, ever.
A month out from Christmas I saw she'd chewed off all her belly fur, as far as she could reach. My sister was a veterinary assistant at the time. "Stress?" I texted. "Maybe?" she replied. A couple days later, I found Kate in the stairwell between our two floors, just sitting in a corner in the dark, on a patch of carpet that was still fluffy for being off the main stairpath.
It's hard to know what's really going on with your animal—during Steve's never-ending liver summer people kept telling me I was crazy to keep him alive, but it wasn't like someone said on the first day, "This is what will be required of you, of your time and your wallet." What was I supposed to do, throw him away because it wasn't easy anymore?
But this time I knew. Kate had been no trouble her whole life and on this day she couldn't hide it anymore. We watched Lovely & Amazing together while I waited for the Metro Animal Emergency Clinic, where my sister worked, to open. Friends showed up to drive us to Burnside. Kate—who had never scratched anyone yet scarred my chest resisting the carrier earlier that year when my landlord needed to spray for ants—just walked into it without hesitation. She knew. I knew.
At MAEC, I stopped listening when they said, "We could send her to PEI to tell you what kind of cancer it is." I'd come in with a cat but I wasn't leaving with one. Did I want to stay in the room? Fuck. OK? My sister was there too, surely that would help. Then the very kind doctor told me something I tell everyone who says they are going to euthanize their cat and they're not sure whether to be in the room: "Their eyes stay open." Their eyes stay open. Their eyes. Stay open.
Her eyes stayed open.
The kind doctor took kind leave so I could sit on the floor and cry for awhile. My sister shaved off some of her fur and put it in a baggie for my best friend, who'd loved Kate the most and was now living in Saskatchewan. In my head, foggy with surreal grief, it made sense that she would want it. (She did not. I kept it for years.) Kate stared glassily ahead during this, too. I kept waiting for her eyes to close, even though I'd been warned, even though my own eyes were looking at the proof.
At Christmas my sister gave me a small, round, silver box filled with confetti, shiny and white. Inside was a tiny ceramic plate, painted maroon, with Kate's paw prints. I keep it on a bookcase near my desk. She is still the best cat I've ever known. Only one day of trouble. Steve is now 15.