Today we said goodbye to our beloved cat Mackeson.
He had been sick for about a month, losing weight and not eating. We were never quite sure what it was, but it felt like it was time to let him go. Last night, I knew the time was drawing near, so we had one last sweet snuggle together, him purring on my pillow and me petting him as we both fell asleep. In the middle of the night, I woke up to find him snuggled at the end of the bed with our other cat, Simone, spooning and purring like they always did. I buried him in the mid-morning sun in the front garden, a place of honor next to the hydrangea, the perfect spot for a new lavender bush, with silver leaves just like his fur.
I found Mackeson 13 years ago when I lived in a rundown farmhouse on Vore Ridge Road in Athens County, Ohio. I had an eccentric roommate who named him, after the triple stout beer. At about the same time, a woman brought a little brown female tabby cat into the vet clinic where I was working. She had found her in a storm drain by the highway. I had been thinking about getting a cat of my own, and suddenly I had two, who promptly fell in love and were closer and more loving to each other than any two pets I've ever known.
Mackeson came to us as a young, unneutered male - killing mice, disappearing for days at a time, yowling in the middle of the night, "teaching" the dog tricks (according to my roommate). On one particularly hard day, I had called home to ask my roommate a question and she told me, "some guy stopped by here looking for you today". I was intrigued. "He had gray hair, and green eyes, and whiskers..."
I move around a lot in the years since - home, to another apartment in Athens, to Michigan, and eventually to North Carolina. Simone and Mack (and my dog, Murphy) followed me on all of those moves, the cats snuggling together in the window hammock in whatever place it was installed. Eventually, we added another cat to the mix, a black and white kitten named Baldwin. She took on both Simone and Mackeson as surrogate parents, nursing on them, being groomed by them. I would come home to find all three of them squeezed into the hammock, licking and purring and blissed out on each other. That was the only opportunity Simone and Mackeson had to try kitten-rearing, and I think they loved it a lot.
Mackeson saw me through a long period of my own growth - through college, boyfriends, roommates, trying to pick a career. He settled into any new situation just fine, making his place in whatever life I was living at the time, sleeping on my pillow every night, me falling asleep holding onto one of his paws.
Mackeson made a place for himself in my marriage, too, winning Brian over right away. When we moved to Asheville, we only had each other and our pets, and we spent countless hours at home playing with the cats - giving them catnip, playing fetch with toy mice. We would use "the Mackeson test" to decide where to eat dinner when we were feeling indecisive, writing down restaurant choices on pieces of paper and seeing which one Mackeson smelled first. We knew our cats so well, we could identify them by the smell of their fur, the sound of their meow, the rhythm of their purring.
To love an animal is to make a connection that transcends all we understand about communication or love or the boundaries of humanity. It is a perfect love, even when we ourselves are far from perfect, one that brings a richness and depth to our lives in ways that nothing else does. Though having a child certainly curtailed the amount of time spent focusing solely on our pets, there is always a place for them - with their heads on our pillows and their love snuggled into our hearts. Losing a pet is as painful as losing a human family member, but I wouldn't trade the pain I feel now for the wonderful life I shared with Mackeson. I am so happy, so blessed that I got to experience that love with him, that I got to give him a safe and happy life he probably would not have had otherwise.
My friend Mandy lent me a book today that included a quote from Will Rogers, who said "if there are no dogs in heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went". It won't be heaven for me if it doesn't include my pets in some form or fashion. I believe Mackeson is there now, back in his prime, fat and beautiful, laying in the sunshine, enjoying the garden of St. Francis of Assisi, purring and loved and full of life, waiting for the day he gets to sleep on my pillow again.
We love you and miss you already Mackeson, and we always will.