We were all excited to dock in Tampa this morning, but I don’t think anyone was more excited than I. Last night, while Dan and I enjoyed a beautiful sunset from the top deck of the ship, we got news from Roland, the young man who was housesitting, that our cat, Bullseye, was in really rough shape. Roland said he didn’t think Bullseye would make it through the night. Bullseye is one of two ‘dumpster cats’ we acquired when someone bagged three adorable kittens in a Hefty bag and tossed them into the dumpster at Big Apple Pizza several years ago. When one of the kids working heard mewing from the half-filled dumpster, they told their boss, who called us immediately because it involved animals in need. Dan and I headed down, and Dan climbed into the dumpster, found and retrieved the kittens, who were, understandably, terrified. In his fear of humans, Bullseye bit Dan in the process of being rescued, and though we found a home for one of the three kittens, no one wanted to take on two kittens who’d been abused and were afraid of humans.
It took months for us to train Bullseye and his brother, Mortimer, to trust us and love us, and then it took longer to introduce them to the other three cats in the house and establish a hierarchy in the community, as all animals seem to do. Bullseye was always afraid of people, hiding whenever someone would come to visit, and only becoming brave and venturing out after a long time. And though he and his brother grew to be really big cats, Bullseye was always wary of Dan and always loved being as close as possible to me. If I sat on the couch, he either climbed onto me or perched on the back of the couch as a neck pillow for me.
He’d been dropping weight quickly in the last month or so, and I suspected some form of cancer. When we left for the cruise, I kissed Bullseye and cuddled him extra and last before I left the house. When Roland called us to tell us Bullseye might not make it through the night, I spent the evening alternating between trying to push him from my mind and trying to accept that what was meant to happen would, and if I never got to see or hold him again, it would be the way the universe intended.
We dashed off the ship this morning and made it home as quickly as we could, knowing we might find him gone when we arrived. Dan made a point of getting into the house first to make sure I didn’t come in to the worst case scenario, and fortunately, Bullseye had held out and was waiting for us. He was so happy to see us. Dan fixed some medicine for the cat, and I administered it, but my heart told me it wasn’t going to change anything. Bullseye had been waiting for us to come home before he went home.
He rested a bit, cried a few times, and nuzzled me happily, not complaining a bit when I cleaned up his backside, which had become messy since he’d lost his strength and could no longer stand or clean himself. Dan and I loaded up the couch with blankets and towels, and I carried him gingerly to the couch, setting myself up next to him. He spent several hours there, curled up next to me, using my arm as a chin rest, and just being with me. Then, just about 4:00, he cried a few times, coughed a bit, and, though I hate the pun it creates – became catatonic. He died shortly thereafter, and Dan made a grave while I prepared him to join Lacey, Baby, Cagney, Minerva, and the other animals who have called Jakewood home.
The gift I received today was the time to spend and see off a beloved friend. The gift I gave was the permission I gave to Bullseye to go and be at peace. While I know I don’t control the world, I am sure we could have rushed him to the emergency veterinary clinic, where he would have been frightened and confused and completely uncomfortable, and I don’t think it still would have mattered. But I think if I had begged him to stay another day, Bullseye would have tried to hang in a little longer, just to please me. Knowing it would be selfish and stroking his head while I told him he could leave and it wouldn’t change my love a bit, was a very conscious and very difficult gift for me to give. And while I may be crying now because I miss my silly friend so much, I am happy that I made the choice to let him go free, and I hope he is snuggled up next to our dog, Lacey right now, telling her how much we miss her and getting his tour of the beautiful beyond where he can be happy, healthy, and never afraid.