In Memory of Mishu
Loss, of any kind, is a difficult thing. There are happy memories mixed with guilt, comfort mixed with regret. We think often about the things we did and the things that we should have done or that we wanted still to do. For anyone who has ever owned an animal, they know that those feelings are no less intense when a pet dies. They become part of the family, as so many say, and for our cat, Mishu, that was twofold; not only was he a part of the family my girlfriend, her daughter and I have been building, but he was also my silent companion in my home office and studio.
Most of my life, I’d always been partial to dogs. My parents were never without a dog (sometimes two) when I was growing up, but with my girlfriend and her daughter came two cats: Mishu and Tino. Mishu was not quick to warm up to me, yet I knew he had a special bond with my girlfriend, and I was determined to form one with him. Little did I know how deep it would become.
Mishu wasn’t cuddly and loud like Tino, so it wasn’t easy. Mishu was aloof, calm and never meowed very loud, if he meowed at all. He was old and had a half-closed look to his eyes, though they would open wide when he was particularly excited. Often he would be content to sit near people, taking comfort in their presence but keeping just out of reach to be pet. In fact, you’d think it would be easy to overlook him, but he had such a presence you couldn’t help but notice him. So much like myself, as I slowly and respectfully got him to come around, he slowly and carefully felt me out.
At first it was just letting me pet him, then he begam letting rubbing his face with the back of my fingers (he loved that). Eventually he even let me kiss him on the head (something he didn’t initially like). By the time we were living in our current apartment, he was spending so much time with me that my office became as much his room as it was mine. It was because of this that my girlfriend called him my “office buddy”.
Mishu was the one who kept me company during the long hours I spent writing in the morning and drawing in the evening. At first, I had only a rolling chair and an aluminum stool in there, and Mishu within a few days of getting it claimed the chair as his own. I never had the heart to kick him out, no matter how stiff my back would get. Hell, when he came in and I was already in the chair, I’d give it up for him. Eventually my girlfriend found his old cat bed and she set it up right in front of the window of my office, positioned behind both my computer desk and drafting table. And there he would lay most of the time, quietly watching the world outside.
Sometimes he’d meow for attention, or on a few occasions the cat actually took his paw and tapped me on the shoulder. I couldn’t help but smile and pet him for a bit. It’s difficult for me to say no to an animal (I fall into the category of people who say they sometimes like animals better than people). Even when I was reading (the thing I do first before I begin writing for the day), I’d roll the chair back to where he sat (slightly out of reach of the lamp on my desk) to scratch his face. I think only two or three times I can recall denying him any attention and that is when he jumped up on my desk when I was writing and walked right across my work. Well, I think I pet him a bit, but after a while I gently helped him down from the desk. He was an old cat, after all.
Yet most of the time we just kept each other company, me working and him sitting and looking out the window. When I was in the office, he’d make his way in or I found him there waiting for me. A few times I even called him to come along. One time in particular my girlfriend and I remember I was about to go into the office and Mishu was on our bed. I called out to him, “Okay, Mishu. Time to go to work.” His half-closed eyes lit up, he moved a little more excitedly than usual, leapt off the bed and followed me in. Then he got into his cat bed and I sat down.
Though it wasn’t all about work. I’d pet him (and Tino) hello and goodbye (I’m always conscious of letting animals know that I’m acknowledging their presence). When I wasn’t working and he was in the office, I’d drop by just to say hello for a minute. In the morning, when I’d feed them, I still recall the sound of the rolling chair scraping against the hardwood floor followed by a dull thud, as Mishu came to eat (he still used my chair a lot, when I wasn’t in it).
At night, he’d come to bed with us, sometimes for a scratch or a pet, though more often sitting on the edge of the bed quietly, while Tino came up to cuddle. And sometimes I’d accidentally kick him when I’d stretch out on the bed. He’d always run off, and I’d always call after him to come back and that I was sorry.
Like many animals, he loved food and try as often as he could to steal some when we were off guard–which is surprising considering he was so skinny. Very recently, I had made ribs for dinner, and that little guy with only maybe three teeth, somehow got a rib off of one of our plates and on to the floor. My girlfriend got to him first, but I stood there wishing he had just gotten one good bite in before she did. I snuck him a little meat later.
There are thousands of stories I could probably tell, and yet I don’t think they’d be enough to describe how much I loved that cat or how much he really filled our lives in such a quiet and gentle way. As I said, he didn’t meow much, he didn’t even move about the house much, but his actions and presence spoke so strongly to his personality. When he wanted to be fed, he’d sit and look at you until you noticed (and it was hard not to), unlike Tino who would meow incessantly. And when he wanted more attention, he’d reach out with both paws and grab your hand or leg or whatever else he could reach to stop you from walking away.
It’s strange to think I’m so devastated by his loss when I haven’t known the cat for very long; moreso that my girlfriend and I have only been living in our apartment for a year and four months. Yet it was in this apartment that Mishu and I bonded most closely, and I do consider it a bond. We didn’t have to do much together, just sit, but I think it meant the world to both of us. He loved being around me and I around him. I always respected his independence, yet I do wish I had taken more time to just sit and pet him. And though he didn’t speak my language, I still wish I had told him I love him more.
The tragic thing was that when I met Mishu he was already quite old for a cat. When I first met my girlfriend he was around thirteen (she doesn’t know for sure, since he was “rescued”–a long story that goes back to their initial bond–and was only given an estimated age). He died at around sixteen. Not only that, he had a load of health problems. Asthma, diabetes, random swelling of the face and paw (we never knew what caused this and neither did the vet). Yet for all those problems, he kept on living. So many times he seemed near death and came back from it. I suppose it just seemed he would live forever–or at least another five or so years. He’d remarkably lived with diabetes for seven years and had gone into remission about ten or so months ago.
The only sign that Mishu might be leaving us soon was that he seemed to be slowing down. He was a bit cranky (hissing at Tino more often), less visible around the apartment and sleeping a lot more (even in the office, he’d sleep on his bed or on the floor, rather than look out the window). Yet he still seemed healthy, certainly moreso than the summer before when I came up to Boston alone since my girlfriend was too nervous to leave him–so often was he going into diabetic shocks. This year, he seemed so healthy, we not only planned to be in Boston for the Comic Con but to go to Salem for a few days (we love New England and had never been to Salem).
I still recall that two nights before we left for Boston he came up to me while I was unwinding and playing a game. He looked up at me and meowed. He seemed so alert and alive. I smiled and pet him a bit. Played more. Pet him a bit. I kept hoping he’d jump on my lap so we could spend a little more time together. But that wasn’t Mishu (not often, at least). I would have lifted him myself, but again, I tried to respect him and let him do as he wanted.
Eventually he walked off, and I had the distinct feeling he was saying goodbye before we left (they were going to stay with my girlfriend’s mother and were going to be dropped off the next night). In fact, when circumstances dictated I might not be home when she dropped them off, my girlfriend asked “don’t you want to say goodbye to them?” I answered, “I already did.” I felt quite confident in the fact; my girlfriend was even a little surprised at my confidence. Little did I know he was saying goodbye for real, and now I wish I had just gotten off the game and given him every last bit of love and attention I could have.
On the Wednesday following the con, my girlfriend got a call from her mother that Mishu was not looking good. After a short debate, we rushed home (a nearly five hour drive) to take care of him. Unfortunately, despite anything we tried, within just a few hours, on the way to the hospital, Mishu passed away. It happened so suddenly, and it’s been hard for the two of us since. She because he’d been with her through thick and thin and she took such good care of him when he started to develop health problems. Me because I really felt I lost a friend and companion that I just won’t be able to replace.
It’s difficult to formulate enough words to really say everything I am feeling over the loss of Mishu. He was a great cat and neither my office nor our home feels the same without him. He was so loved and his absence feels wrong, like some vast void in our lives. Yet he was so quiet and so peaceful, it’s strange to think that, as my girlfriend said, it would take ten animals to fill the hole he’s left.
For myself, my struggles now are in the polarity of my memories. On one hand, I really feel I made him feel safe, comfortable and happy, and that is why he loved spending time around me. On the other hand I have so much guilt that I worked so much and didn’t give him more attention. I tried to respect his gentle, reserved way, yet I wish I had given him so much more. I really hope that he was happy, and yet I feel I came up short in providing that.
I still have bouts of sadness and tears and expect that will continue for some time. I still feel uncomfortable in the house or in the office at times and have to get out. I know that will pass, but I’ll never stop missing him and the deep bond the two of us formed, silently keeping each other company. I wish to death we just had more time together. It’s times like this I hope there is a life beyond our own. I hope I’ll see him again someday, and I’ll scratch his face until he can’t take another minute of it.