Saturday, May 14, 2005

Baby Meu

I just read a post on Joanna's blog here, about her two cats, that made me cry so much. It made me think of my own baby Meu - who was in fact 11 when she died, and not such a baby after all.

There's no reason particularly to commemorate her here and how - she died in the July of 2003, and her birthday was 11th March (six days before mine - she was such a Pisces), but I will, because I loved her, and I still love her, and I miss her. She was big, ginger, lazy and beautiful, and I adored her. I was ten when I finally convinced my parents to let me have another cat (we had two, four years old, black and white littermates called Tinker and Willow. Willow is a girl and Tinker... thinks he is). Meu came from a local farm, where three mama cats were nursing litters. She was the last of her litter, a tiny scrap of ginger fur who squeaked all the way home. I called her Meu because I was fascinated with the Egyptians (they worshipped cats as gods, and cats have never forgotten it) and Meu was an Egyptian word for kitten. I thought she was too small to ever grow up properly. I thought she'd be tiny forever.

Turns out I was completely wrong. Whereas my other cats weighed about seven pounds, shiny and healthy and full of cat food, Meu came in at about ten pounds. Her fur was inches thick, her legs were strong, and she was solid muscle, not fat, which I could never understand since all she ever seemed to do was sleep and laze around. She had a favourite lazy trick: you'd see her sitting in the hallway, then she'd furtively look around, and somersault backwards, rolling around on her back on the carpet. She was so silly, this big heavy cat wriggling around like a kitten.

She loved to play. The other cats got confused by cat toys and trailing strings, but Meu knew how to duck and cover. She'd pounce on the string, then let it go so she could play some more. Even my brother, who'll loudly tell anyone listening that cats are bloody useless, openly loved Meu. She used to swing the cat flap open from the wrong side, bounce through and chirrup her hello. I loved that chirrup.

She was the baby of the family, tolerated by Tinker and Willow, for a year. Then we got Candy, a tiny, terrified, delinquent tabby, and Meu got royally pissed off. Not the baby any more? Not the tiny cute one? She never liked Candy, and didn't make a secret of it either. I'm afraid I overcompensated and lavished affection on my big fat ginger furball to assure her I still adored her totally. She mellowed towards Candy after a few years. Sometimes they'd even eat together - well, you can't expect feelings to get in the way of food, can you?

One day in July two years ago my mum woke me up and said Meu wasn't well, and she and Richard were going to take her to the vet. No bloody way, I said, I'm coming instead. She's my cat, not his. I threw on the beach skirt and vest I'd been wearing the day before and went to see what the matter was with my baby. She was lying beside the sofa in the sitting room, mewing in distress, unable to move her back legs or her tail. We scooped her up in a towel (having long ago learned that a cat carrier was never going to work for any of our animals) and walked up to the vets. It's about fifty yards up the road, so the cat carrier would have been redundant anyway.

I was expecting some expensive treatment, anticipating telling my dad he'd have to shell out again for the cats (Tinker already being on pricey thyroid medicine). In fact it was terribly cheap. It didn't take the vet long to tell us Meu had thrombosis and there was nothing she could do. For a moment I thought that meant it would go away by itself. No. She meant the other kind of nothing.

I held her while she died. She was pretty brave - all our pets have always hated the smell of the vets, it panics them into remembering painful neutering and jabs when they were babies. Come to the vet, return home in pain. Meu was calm, my sweet, easygoing baby. I didn't cry then. Neither did my mum. The vet let us out the back so we wouldn't have to face the waiting room with all its living animals, and we walked home in shock.

I cried when we told Richard. He was so shocked, only just out of bed and dressed, and angry. I remember how angry he seemed to be that his favourite cat, the only one he'd ever confess to liking, had been so suddenly taken away, and he wasn't there with her. He went out to dig a grave in the little orchard behind the garage while mum and I looked for a box for her. She was too big for a shoebox, even the ones Richard had with his huge fat trainers. We found a box that had held kitchenware when we moved. It still said 'Old plates and dishes' on it, and I scribbled that out, because I couldn't bear to bury her in a box that said that. I wrote her name and dates on it instead, and wrapped her in her towel, and put her in the earth.

She was my cat. Did I tell you that? When I got her my parents said, "She's your responsibility. You're the one who wanted her so much. You have to take care of her." Luckily for ten-year-old me, she wasn't a lot of trouble.

I couldn't look at anyone all day. Dad was away, Richard had to go and play a gig. I don't know how he did it. Mum went to the supermarket, although she probably shouldn't have been driving. I locked myself up here and watched Buffy DVDs on my computer. I couldn't face anyone. Mum eventually coaxed me downstairs to watch Buffy videos (I highly recommend it as therapy) and eat chocolate. Chocolate was all I ate. My throat hurt too much to swallow anything and I felt too sick to eat. But chocolate is chocolate, and it helped.

God, I missed her. The first time I fed the cats again I nearly broke down, because of the two double bowls I was only filling one and a half. Patrick, God bless him, came around and brought me all his DVDs starring Johnny Depp. Tinker, Willow and Candy rallied round. Supercats. Even Honey - our silly blonde dog, only a month younger than Meu and her best friend when they were babies - felt disturbed. Nothing was right without her.

But life goes on, the world keeps turning, and most of the time I can think about Meu and smile, because she was a happy cat who loved her life, and she was loved. In the end she had a bigger influence than I ever thought, because she helped me get rid of a draining friend. One of those 'me-me-me' friends who is incredibly sensitive to the slightest insult and thinks the world revolves around her. A few months after Meu died, my best friend Alysia lost her very old cat, Chinky, and we were united in grief. I compared it to a family member dying, and our other friend - who shall remain nameless - told us that it wasn't comparable at all, because she'd lost her stepdad once and it was worse for her. She'd hated her stepdad - and besides, she only knew him two years. He wasn't exactly a family member. But where a sensitive person would have appreciated our grief in losing someone we really, truly loved, she made it about herself. And that's when I knew it was time to cut loose.

I haven't spoken to her since.

Maybe I'm becoming one of those 'love me, love my cats' women. Do I care? I don't trust people who don't like cats. People who prefer sycophantic dogs are not on my wavelength. I mean, I adore my dog, but I never had to work for her affection. She loves everybody. I had to work at getting the cats' love and respect, and it's worth so much more. To take a tiny, shaking, terrified bundle of nerves like Candy, and a few years later have her come to you, seeking affection, knowing she's secure - that's worth so much. A dog would go to anyone. She comes to me, just like the others do, just like Meu did, because they know I love them. I always will.

We moved her a day later to the front garden, which catches the sun. Mum wasn't happy with her being in the shade at the back. Meu loved rolling around in the sun. she's buried next to the white rose we planted for Roxie, my hamster (an albino, hence the whitenes. She's buried in the garden of our old house). Meu has a flamboyant orange tearose planted above her grave. A small flower wouldn't have been right for such a big cat with such a big personality. But a giant orange rose? That's my Meu.

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