I wasn't sure I wanted another kitty when Pye came into my life. One of my neighbors, though, was trying to take care of the feral colony of cats who lived across the street in the school grounds and was trying to get as many kittens adopted out as she could, as well as get the older ones neutered or spayed. It was late 1999 and I had just moved back down to Los Angeles from San Francisco, and for the first time in Kiko's life he wasn't allowed to go outside. We were three stories up. I was gone 10 to 12 hours a day at a job across town that was a 1 1/2 to 2 hour bus ride each way. No more chasing mice and birds for him, no more making friends with the neighbors. Poor guy was bored to tears.
So, without really consulting Kiko, or thinking about how I might upset his middle-aged life (he was five at the time), I told my neighbor, Stephanie, that sure, I would go with her when she was feeding the kitties and see if maybe one of them might look like an adoptable kitty.
So, one night in November we took some canned food across the street, opened it up and put it in the "usual spots" and backed away. I wanted the little silver striped tabby who was shy and scared and hiding behind the fence. But it was the bold, orange-striped tabby kitten who ran for the food we set out and got there even before some of the teenagers did (and there was a crowd!). Stephanie decided that was the kitty for me, he was orange like Kiko, but a little different shade, and bold, a survivor. There was something about him. She grabbed him before he could scuttle away and we took him home.
Once I had the name Pye down, I had the rest. Not Pie and not Pi, but somewhere in between. Pye. With a name not as long as Kiko's but just as full of story. He had gold eyes. Not yellow like Paws or jade green like Kiko's, but deep gold. He liked to eat. Sometimes he smelled spicy like curry, and sometimes he smelled sweet, like maple syrup. His fur was rough for many years. It took a long time of good eats before it got smooth and glossy like Kiko's.
In the beginning, he was more Kiko's friend than mine. Kiko was my friend and Pye was Kiko's friend. Pye looked out for and/or harassed Kiko in turns. There were nights when I'd pray for enough money to sleep in a hotel with air conditioning away from the two cats who were chasing each other. I think there were times Kiko was so over it, but amazingly enough, he and Pye were good friends. Kiko was King Kiko. Pye was Prince Pye.
At first, though we did have each other, we didn't know what to do with each other. Pye had never been very good at letting me hold him for long, preferring to curl up with Kiko. After Kiko died he definitely blamed me. Every time I picked him up, he'd bite my arm. Not hard, just a quick, sharp bite to let me know it was all my fault (something he always did ever after if I crossed a boundary. If I stepped on a tail or bumped into him, etc., he accepted my pets and rubs for apology, but still always had to nip me somewhere to let me know I was wrong — a couple of times he bit me deep enough for the bite to be infected).
Where Kiko had slept curled next to my chest or tummy, Pye preferred sleeping near my feet. I'd always shoved my face in Kiko's face or on his tummy, and that was something I never dared do with Pye until just the past few years. Where Kiko always wanted to go out and explore, Pye was frightened of the great outdoors, wanting to hide underneath something whenever I took him outside. He preferred cruising through the hallways of the apartment building, smelling under the doors to see what was happening with the other animals in the building.
Only read further if you want to read the end of the story...
It wasn't until the very end of April that Pye was acting a little poorly. It was close to my birthday, but I thought he just had a cold or indigestion. He was trying to eat grass and catnip and eating a little less. I saw him straining to poop on my birthday (the 26th) and started to get all sorts of kitty constipation aids for him online. I massaged him with warm wet towels. He appreciated the help, never once hissing at me or getting mad at me, but nothing worked. He just got worse and worse. He was just laying under the table and having a hard time breathing. From Sunday April 26 to Sunday May 3, he'd gone from "a little down" to dying. I'd taken some time off to try to finish writing a novel, but it ended up being my time to nurse Pye. At least I had that.
My first day off was Thursday, April 30, I was researching kidney problems in cats and pulling out all the old syringes I'd used on Kiko when he'd had trouble eating. On Friday, May 1 I was trying kitty metamucil and laxatone and ordering slippery elm bark. On Saturday, May 2, I was getting desperate and ordered a Pet-ema, three actually, because all the instructions said it took more than one. By now he wasn't eating on his own at all, and barely drinking. I would pick him up, sit on the bed with him and use the syringes to get milk or broth or tuna juice or water down him. It was Saturday, and I knew by then it was serious and I needed a veterinarian, but I still hoped for the best. "Just one big bowel movement, God! How hard can it be?"
By Sunday morning I realized he was probably dying, but I didn't know what to do, so I kept trying to feed him, hold him, comfort him, try to have him hang out in places he wasn't able to get to anymore, but I knew he enjoyed, like the bed and the window. Sunday evening I thought I had a reprieve as I found a little turd and thought maybe things were turning a corner, but that night as I held him, I realized he was having such a hard time breathing. It was so hard. I tried to keep him on the bed with me, but eventually he wanted to be down and under the table again. I cried and cried that night. I knew in the morning I'd need to be an adult and find a vet to help him one way or the other.
I woke up Monday morning, May 4, still crying. My last day off. Pye was still breathing. I called a vet who couldn't take me until Friday, or maybe Thursday. I tried one of those home vets, not wanting Pye to have to be stressed out by a metal table and a strange hand, but the home vet refused. Thought Pye might need more than he could handle, and I thought, "really? You offer to euthanize pets at home, but seeing a sick kitty at home to determine what's wrong might be too much?" So, I went back to the internets and found someone who would take me and Pye that afternoon.
Pye knew something was wrong. He got into the carrier without a fight. He rubbed his face against my fingers in the waiting room. The doctor took his pulse, his heart rate was erratic. They took his temperature (it was low) and he seized right there on the table. And there was oxygen and adrenaline and then he was gone. Just like that. The vet said he'd probably had a couple of heart attacks in the last week or so, and had probably been ill for the last year and a half. But Pye hadn't told me he was sick. He'd just been Pye. My Pye. My Guy.
When Kiko died, I had Pye to help me mourn. Now, I look around and there is no other being breathing in the same space as I do. As long as I have lived in this apartment there has been at least one kitty, sometimes two. I have been the almost constant companion of one cat or another for 21 years.
Now there's none. For years I have lived around the needs of my cats in this apartment and now, there is no reason to have a broom near the bathroom anymore to sweep up the litter. No reason to take up the bath mat anymore (no litter to get on it, no cat to pee on it). No one to escort me into the kitchen or hang out by my hand as I type on the computer. No cat to remind me it's time for bed or time to eat or time for a hug. No reason to save the last cereal milk or the pasta sauce or pizza for a kitty treat.
It's just empty; my apartment is just a big hole where I keep my things now.
Another friend of mine was helping me walk through my grief last night. She pointed out that our furry four-footed friends work hard to be our true companions. They have worked hard to teach us lessons in unconditional love, forgiveness and patience. They have earned the right to the grief and loss we feel when they are gone. They have earned the hole they leave in our hearts once they are no longer in our lives. The hole that Pye leaves in my heart is significant and I will treasure it always.