Tuesday, September 4, 2012

11 Years

Sometime during the summer of 2001, I read Even Cowgirls Get the Blues by Tom Robbins, and I was introduced to Bonanza Jellybean, the cutest cowgirl in the whole damn world. I decided it would be an excellent name for a cat.

In November, 2001, a fellow bookseller at Barnes and Noble offered to let me adopt her adult cat. She had adopted the cat from a relocating family just a few months before, and had discovered that she was not yet ready to own a cat after losing her old cat of 12 years. (She also would probably never have been ready to own this cat. It took a special woman to be this cat's owner.)

The relocating family had called the cat Smokey. My co-worker had renamed her Precious. Since I will never willingly call any animal by that moniker, I changed her name yet again. Bonanza Jellybean Cat became mine just before Thanksgiving of 2001.

I stayed home with her for two days after I adopted her. On my first day of work, I found myself worrying about how she had fared all day alone in my apartment. What if something had gone wrong?

Bonanza, of course, had done just fine. In fact, she had caught a mouse while I was away. She hadn't actually killed it. But still, she had earned her keep her very first day on the job. Torn between disgust and admiration, I praised her hurriedly, put her in the bedroom, and called my mother, because that is what 22-year-old new pet owners do in times of crisis. After a short argument about why I did not own either a broom or a dustpan ("why would I have a dustpan if I don't own a broom, Mom?"), I rolled the poor mouse out the back door with a magazine. Bonanza wanted to know where her second dinner had gone.

We got into a good rhythm of single young adulthood. She would graciously sleep on my head and I kept her in kibble. When I impulsively took in a kitten for a week, I discovered that Bonanza was a dedicated singleton and had to keep the cats separated in my 500 square foot apartment--the kitten in the bedroom, and Bonanza in the rest of the apartment. I'm such a sucker that I would get up early in the morning that week and lie down on the sofa for a few hours so that Bonanza could get her usual cuddle time with me.

The day I found a new home for the kitten, I came home to my Bonanza and felt a sense of rightness and relief. It's just us again, I told her. She was thrilled.

A few years later, however, she found herself sharing quarters with another cat who was not so easily gotten rid of. Charlie belonged to my new roommate, and there was some disagreement regarding Charlie's proper place in the world. According to Bonanza, he had no proper place in the world and really ought to exit her space and most particularly her time with her Emily forthwith. This was not to be.

J adopted Charlie from my roommate about a year before I moved in with him. When Bonanza and I decided to live in sin with the boys, J and tried to find a method for reducing the eardrum piercing yowls of rage Bonanza was wont to deliver around 3 in the morning as she attempted to school Charlie in his territorial rights. Those plug in hormone things had no effect, other than Charlie deciding he LOVED the wall under which they were plugged in. Otherwise, it was pretty much kitty WWIII for the next several years.

My favorite Charlie and Bonanza moment occurred when I was making the bed one day. Charlie loved to made into the bed, and was completely covered by sheets and comforter while I finished straightening up the bed. Bonanza came late to the bed-making party, and I saw the Charlie-lump under the covers tense as Bonanza jumped up onto the bed. Charlie pounced (as much as one can be said to pounce when under two layers of fabric) and scared the bejesus out of Bonanza. She jumped up in the air with her legs windmilling for traction, much like the way Scooby Doo does when being attacked by a ghost. She made sure to stop her headlong flight halfway down the hall to lick an errant hair and pretend like she'd never been in the least bit surprised.

When I was pregnant with LO, I was a little worried about how Bonanza would react to the new baby. While Bonanza would grudgingly accept attention from J or others who deigned to pet her, ultimately I was the only creature she ever showed any real affinity for. I was her favorite piece of furniture, her favorite toy (provided I was wearing something that dangled), her favorite kitten-substitute (she would groom and lick me all the time).
Surprisingly, she handled the transition to second fiddle pretty well. She learned that LO would sometimes ensure I was immobile, leaving my lap available for sitting. She found he was okay to curl up with, at least prior to his becoming mobile. But also, she was slowing down. She didn't come upstairs to curl up with me at bedtime anymore, preferring to sack out on the couch. She was becoming quite an elderly kitty.

Several months ago, Bonanza grew a strange hump on her shoulders. I knew it couldn't be a good sign, but I'm also a big believer in lying to myself, so I tried to convince myself that she had developed feline osteoporosis, even though I didn't have any idea if that was a thing. When I picked her up one day and realized that my former fatty boombalatty could be carried off by a stiff breeze, I decided it was time to have the vet look at her.

The vet didn't know what the problem was. The biopsy was inconclusive. But it seemed likely she had cancer. I don't believe in putting a cat through chemotherapy, and I knew it was unlikely a second biopsy would provide us with a better prognosis. So I decided to do nothing.

A few weeks ago, Bonanza got her hump caught in something and gave herself a terrible flesh wound. It was slowly healing until Friday, LO's birthday. That day, J discovered that some flies had laid eggs in her wound. We gave her a bath and cleaned out the wound, and I realized that the end had come. My fastidious, constantly-grooming friend would never have allowed herself to get so disgusting. She was not herself.

I waited to call the vet until today. I couldn't bear the thought of dealing with this on the same weekend we celebrated LO's 2nd birthday. At 11 this morning, J met me at the vet where we said goodbye to Bonanza. My sweet kitty, who was always bitchy, full of piss and vinegar, and quite the loud mouth, went peacefully to sleep while J and I held her.
When you're a child, adulthood seems like a specific destination. Once you turn 18 or 21 or get a job or get married or have a baby, suddenly you're an adult. I now realize there are many way stations along the path to adulthood. I've reached one today that I've never anticipated: making a decision that hurts you in ways you can't even express, because it's what's best for someone you love.

Bonanza was not an easy cat to care for. She was yowly. She was bitchy. She fought constantly with Charlie and was so very territorial of me. But something was going very right when she and I found each other all those years ago, because no other cat-owner could have appreciated her malevolent charm like I did, and no other cat could have been such a good and faithful friend for 11 years like she was.

Dearest Bonanza, may you rest in peace.


  1. Oh, I'm so so sorry, Emily. I can't even imagine. I hope Bonanza's in peace now.

  2. I'm sorry too, and crying, and hoping Bonanza is in peace.

  3. Poor kitty! I am glad she had someone like you to live her final 10 years with. That's a special thing.

  4. Thank you for sharing this with me today. I'm so sorry about Bonanza. You know I get it, and I have no doubt it still hurts. xo