It was spring, 1998--the spring before I left Portland for Salt Lake and graduate school. I don't know why he crawled up the front steps of our blue house. We already had four cats living with us--Rhett's cat, Smile, and my three cats, Jelly, Phaedra and Box. Maybe he could smell that we were a cat-loving people. He was skin and bones. His eyes were pools of blackness. His breathing was thick. We pulled him in the house and fed him bowl after bowl of cat food. We thought he was just hungry. That He was just the world's thinnest, stray gray tabby. We fed him some more. We named him Darth, after his heavy breathing.
Rhett's friend Noelle took him to the vet. He supplied her with fluids we could give him intraveneously. He also gave us a diagnosis. Cancer.
When Noelle got home, he seemed sicker. Diagnoses always seem to do that. We installed him on the futon in the front room. We put water and food in front of him so he didn't have to move. We learned how to insert the needle under his skin and thought, we could be nurses if we wanted.
A couple weeks later, I hosted my friend Rebecca's wedding shower at the house. I made Jello, as a you-live-in-Utah-now-and-I-will-be-there-again-soon joke, while Darth wheezed. We had other Utah food too--possibly pigs in a blanket. As we ate, our friend Julie's daughter, Calista, wondered what that noise was. She went over to Darth. He breathed at her. And then he didn't. I don't think this was the best shower I've ever thrown. It might have been the only shower I've ever thrown.
We buried Darth in the backyard, under the cherry tree that listed neighbor-ward. It happened so fast. A few days. Only two bags of fluid.
15 years later: When my sister left from her visit Monday morning, I looked at Box's eyes. He had Darth-eyes. He was thin as a stray. I fed him can after can of Fancy Feast but he wouldn't eat. I called the vet. He came immediately. His kidneys are failing, he said. I gave him fluids, electrolytes.
I said, can I give him fluids? I had a cat named Darth once. I think I remember how to do it.
He said, let's give it a couple of days.
I am slow. I thought, "let's give him a couple of days" meant "let's see if he gets better on his own." What he meant was, "This probably isn't going to work. Let's not put carts before horses or fluids into seeping cats."
Box ate a little bit of cat food this morning. He jumped up on the bed last night. Maybe he'll rally. Kidney-failure isn't cancer but they don't do kidney transplants for cats, even if that cat has ocelot-like markings winding through his orange fur, kneads your leg whereever you sit, purrs like a train, plays tiger in the grass with wayward leaves, or sleeps every night at the back of your knees.