Thursday, March 15, 2012

Mort: I Know You're Out There Somewhere – Part IV

A NOTE BEFORE READING: This is the final installment of a four-part story. To begin at the beginning, go here.

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By the late summer of 1998, I was long-overdue for a two-week vacation. Kitty had died the year before, and at the time of my vacation departure, Mort was doing okay, excepting a runny eye. The vet had given me drops to put in his eye, but more importantly, my friend, Carolyn, had accepted the cat-sitting chore. This was a great relief. Inasmuch as Carolyn is a nurse and a cat person, she was unquestionably up to the task of tending a geriatric feline.

The eye drops, however, were not up to the task.

I got a call while I was in New York. Carolyn had taken Mort to the vet because his eye was bad. It had essentially exploded, and it would need to be removed. I was in my friend Tanya's apartment when I called the vet to follow up. And it was a mixed blessing to have one of Tanya's elderly cats sit on my lap as I made that call.

The doctor already had run the tests to see if Mort could go through the surgery, and the test results were phenomenal for a cat who was almost 18. With the exception of the cancer that was spreading through his head, his blood work described that of a two-year old.

I returned to L.A. on the upcoming Sunday, as planned. And first thing Monday morning, I went to the vet's to visit Mort. There he was in his Elizabethan collar – messy eye and all. I
spoke to him that morning through tears as the vet handed me kleenex. I thanked him for not
dying while I was away, and although I knew he might not survive the surgery, I told him I believed he would make it.

He did get through the surgery, and a few days later, Mort came home. He had one less eye, but he was still Mort. Ever-charming, as he always had been.

Regardless of those charms – his ability to smile as only he could; his willingness to purr whenever there was food in the offing; the impishly clever behavior that always reminded me of Artful Dodger – Mort's cancer grew. It grew through his head and into the remaining eye. But even as that eye became blind, he still continued to purr. He still continued to act as if the next meal were nirvana. He seemed, for a while, to have reasons to live.

But one night, I realized he was no longer happy. And I knew, then, that I had to let him go. I knew we would have to go to the vet's the next day. We just had to.

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That last night with Mort, I looked at him across the room. He was sitting in the wing-back chair, and I was sitting in my usual perch on the couch. I was anticipating the next day's agenda, and I was sad. I had been saying good-bye to him all week, lying on the floor with him, crying as I told him how much I appreciated what he had brought to my life.

That last night with Mort, I looked at him across the room, and I suddenly realized that we might not make it to the next morning. I realized this because the space in Mort's face – the slit where his eye had been – was opening up. And it seemed to be opening up rather quickly.

And so I freaked (albeit quietly).

I stood up and began to prepare. Obviously, the stitches had been taken out too soon. (That's why his slit was breaking opened, I figured.) And while I hated the idea of taking him to an Emergency Place to die, I knew there were no other alternatives.

I had clung to him too long. This was the price. Mort would have to die among smells that were unfamiliar.

I went to the bathroom and then intended to get back to calling a local friend who might help me take Mort to the all-night vet.

But: an interesting thing happened (or didn't) in those fleeting moments. When I returned from the bathroom to Mort, when I walked over to him, I saw that the slit had not come undone. He was still intact. Riddled with cancer, but intact.

That night, he slept on my head. And the next morning, I took him to our vet.

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A few weeks later, I had dinner with Carolyn, and I told her about that last night with Mort. Carolyn's experiences as a nurse, and particularly her experiences with death and dying, had exposed her to so many situations. She listened intently.

I told Carolyn about Mort's “slit” appearing to open up that night – the night before I took him in. I told her about my scrambling to take him to some emergency place and then realizing that I had hallucinated the change in his face.

“Katie,” she interrupted, “When that happened, and you saw the slit open up – did you see a bloody gash, or did you see an eye?”

“Oh my God!” I replied, realizing for the first time what had appeared that night. “I saw an eye!”

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Some months later, Robin was back in L.A. We got together for dinner, and I told her about that last night with Mort.

With a loving smile, she said, “Well, that's just very typical of Mort, don't you think? It was his way of giving you that one last wink.

“But:” Robin added, with the playfulness that is such a strong part of her spirit, “Mort just gave it to you in reverse!”

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And I believe he's out there still. Peeing where he shouldn't. Getting people to feed him.
Feeling no remorse for being happy.

Maybe he's curled up on that bench on 113th Street right now. Enjoying his own quiet spirit, but also knowing he's part of the traffic. Feeling that he's safe, but never completely out of danger.

Knowing… that a one-night stand can last for years.

Wherever Mort is, he's winking at me.

And I am winking back.

***

8 comments:

jenniferpickrell said...

I've loved reading about Mort, so glad you posted this story.

shelly said...

Okay. You got me crying and laughing all at the same time.

Martha Mawson said...

You got me sobbing here... I remember feeling the same way when I had to have Demelza euthanised. We had spent what seemed a lifetime together and I didn't want to let her go, but I had to. Our feline friends become our greatest companions, confidants, bed buddies and family. And the love for them never goes away and they leave that pawprint on our hearts forever.

Sioux said...

Katie--I think your story--condensed and modified a bit--would make a great story for the "mother" collection in the "Not Your Mother's Book" series. Yes, Mort was not your kid, but he WAS your baby. Think about it...

The ending was marvelous. Cats and dogs are wonderful companions. I'm sure Mort WAS winking at you one last time...in reverse.

nadinefeldman.com said...

Hoo, boy. I knew this was coming, but I didn't know it would hit me so hard. Having loved many animals -- and having to let them go -- I relived those moments of deep love and pain.

Thanks for sharing Mort with us. What a wonderful story!

Andrea said...

Oh, I'm sorry he's gone. Because of the way you've written about him, I feel I know him and will miss him now. He reminds me of my Manx cat, Max, who regularly climbed through my neighbor's laundry room window on her laundry day so he could curl up on the warm sheets just out of the dryer. Sometimes he had quite muddy paws from wandering in the woods when he arrived for his nap...He got in other trouble around the moorage too. He and Mort were cousins, I'm sure.
But that last wink - no wonder you wanted to write Mort's story. A magical fellow with a sense of humor to be sure. Thank you, Katie.

Linda Medrano said...

I started crying about the first sentence of this post. My heart aches for you losing your beautiful boy. He had such a good life with you though.

I had to put down my beloved Honey on December 10th of last year. She was old, diagnosed with cancer and in pain. It was an easy decision to make, but that didn't make it hurt less. Honey was my forever girl. She was a pit bull german shepherd mix and such a gentle wonder of a dog. She liked cats. Honey and Mort and together and probably playing.

Deb Shucka said...

No one can tell a story quite like you, Katie. This made me laugh and cry at the same time. I love the magic you find in your life, and that you share it with us. I'll miss you while you're away, and hope when you return it will be with more life-affirming stories. And I'm so looking forward to reading your next book. Hugs.