Shadow was the best cat in the world. Most people say that about their cats, but in this case it’s the truth. I’ve had other cats, and none of them compared. Even the ones I raised from kittens, as I did with him.
I adopted him when he was barely old enough to be weaned from his mother – the runt of the litter. In my usual fashion, I raised him to tolerate my fancies. I’d spin him on the chair just to watch him stumble about dizzily. Daily airplane rides were a part of the routine, insuring that he would never be afraid of heights or falling. And so he grew to be accepting of just about anyone, or any situation that life threw at him.
There came a time when I had to send him to live with my parents. I was away, and unable to house him. He had no problem fitting in with the cats there, as he wasn’t a fighting cat. He didn’t need to be.
When years later I took him back, he hadn’t changed a bit. Just as playful as ever, he had every bit the fun and sensitivity that he had in his youth. No other cat could lick your hair while you were falling asleep, with such tenderness that any anxiety left over from the day would melt away. His purr wasn’t overwhelming enough to keep you awake at night, but just loud enough to be calming, insuring that you could always get back to sleep if awakened in the middle of the night.
My happiness was short lived. Shortly after the reunion, Shadow fell very ill. Practically every cat I’ve owned has had a spring sickness, it just happens with outdoor cats. How could I have known that this was no ordinary sickness? He became sluggish, and unresponsive, as cats often do when they get sick. It was a Saturday, so on the recommendation of the vet I made an appointment for the next working day – Monday. But his condition worsened overnight. He became too weak to move, not eating, and not drinking. It was torturous to see him in that condition – unable to even drag himself to the litter box as his body emptied itself of urine, and as I was later to find, more liquid than his health could tolerate.
Beginning to fear for the worst, I took him to the emergency room the next day. It was the last time I would ever see him alive.
A phone call from the vet a day later explained that he had an acute case of diabetes. I’d never known. No one had. Shadow had never shown any symptoms before. They were trying their best to re-hydrate him, but he’d lost so much fluid that it didn’t look good. So they kept him another night.
The next call I received simply said that attempts to revive him had failed, and he’d died during the night. I was welcome to come and get him, or they could make arrangements if I’d prefer. The doctor seemed surprised when I said I’d take care of it myself.
They gave him to me in a box, wrapped in a plastic bag. Not even my cat anymore, just a cold body with tape wrapped around the feet to keep the bag from coming undone. I took him home, and removed the plastic before burying him in the backyard. I can still see him, as he was in that last moment, his fur matted, so still. And I felt empty as I covered him with dirt. It was as though with him, I was burying the last remaining piece from an entire period of my life.
I bought him a grave marker, I’m not sure why. I think he deserved it. A Gargoyle. The plaque said it represented a spirit of courage, and that summed up Shadow’s spirit as close as I could see. I pictured some other lesser cat coming upon it someday in the future, sniffing it, and having no clue as to what it represented. It saddened me, and I somehow felt that Shadow deserved more.
It wasn’t until much later that day that I began to cry. I didn’t stop for hours.