I watch the lights flicker past outside the window.
I want them to slow down. Too fast means we will reach our destination too quickly.
I usually can't just watch the night and the lights go by when in the car. I usually do the driving and it is my wife sitting in the passenger seat, relaxed and able to watch the lights.
Tonight, she drives.
Forest was always the more curious of my two cats. Originally there were three – Cecilia (Cecil for short), Scott, and Forest – named after my favorite writer. But Scott turned out to be too young to separate from his mother so I brought him back to the farm.
I was left with Cecil, the grumpy, lazy one, and Forest, the cross-eyed neurotic one who eventually discovered a new side of herself as the house badass when my my wife brought Annabel into the family. Together they were a striking pair, a mix of Siamese and farm cat. My original vet joked that they were so distinctive that they should be a breed of their own. So I dubbed them "Mongolian White Breasted Calicos.
I want my wife to slow down even though I know that she isn't driving quickly. She doesn't want to reach our destination any more than I do. But she keeps her hands on the wheel, shifting when necessary, and trying to choke off the sobs.
I simply sit there in the passenger seat, my arms wrapped about the warm bundle of fur, stroking her head and ears and chin, murmuring how she is such a good cat and such a funny girl. I ask her who else was I going to scold for sneaking potato chips off my plate.
She doesn't really respond. She curls up quietly, burying her head in my arm and occasionally turning her head to look out the window at the lights flashing by.
When she does, I look out the window with her.
She adored potato chips, especially Cape Cod Reduced Fat and Wavy Lays. You haven't laughed until you've seen a cat try to eat potato chips using those stiletto-like teeth...crumbs everywhere and this wide open mouthed smacking of teeth and lips. And then she'd run laps around the island in the kitchen when my wife would open a can of tuna. We counted nine non-stop laps once before she got to attack the plate of "tuna juice." We'll just ignore the great "walking on the warm brownies" incident.
She was a leaner. It was like she was part golden retriever. If you were on the couch, she didn't want to be in your lap...she wanted to be next to you and leaning against you. Or burying her face in the cushion next to your hip with her butt in the air like a somersault frozen in mid-tumble.
She never really liked riding in a car and she loathed cat carriers. The 15-minute ride to our vet usually involved a healthy amount of low moaning, occasional yowls, and once a bout of projectile vomiting right through the grill of the cat carrier that would have done Linda Blair proud.
Tonight, she isn't going to ride in the carrier.
Tonight, we don't want her to be scared or stressed or upset or sick.
Tonight, my wife drives and Forest lies curled protectively in my arms. She looks out the window, her tired eyes lighting up with curiosity at the shapes and lights and noises and I turn my head and rest my cheek on her and watched the lights go by with her.
She shifts in my arms, opening her mouth with one of her distinctive soundless meows. I think she just forget to make noise sometimes.
She'd been losing weight, which was a surprise given that we'd nicknamed her "The Stomach" years before in tribute to her frenzied desire to eat her food and everyone else's though she never got fat. This time was different. This time it was cancer and only six weeks after the disease took our beloved Annabel from us. It isn't fair. How could we be faced with losing two of our cats in such a short span of time?
However, she wasn't in pain and was up and about. If she kept eating and staying involved with us, then we should enjoy the time, our vet advised. If we wished, we could have attempted surgery but Forest was fifteen and a half years old, a tiny little cat who hadn't been eating much. It would have been cruel, unfair, and selfish of us.
So I brought her home from the vet and we hoped we'd have at least another few weeks before she let us know it was time.
We had two days.
And so we're riding in my car, this furry little creature who won her way into my heart more than 15 years ago cradled like a baby in my arms. I think she knows that something different is going on, that something's changed.
She looks out the window at the farms and the houses and the fields going by. She's not trying to go anywhere but she's engaged by this new experience. She stares at the taillights of the cars in front of us and then twists around as colored holiday lights pass on our right. I wonder what she thinks of them.
I don't want us to reach our destination. I want the lights to either slow down or just keep moving, whatever way will keep us from arriving at the vet's office.
And then we're there and my wife goes inside to make sure that it will be OK for us to bring Forest inside just in my arms and wrapped in her favorite blanket, a red afghan knit by my mother, rather than the cat carrier that will just upset her.We want to keep her calm and relaxed so that her last minutes with us are not filled with fear.
Forest had a purr like a Mack truck. It was an almost deafening rumble. As we sat in the house before we left for the vet, I held her in my arms and closed my eyes and listened to her purr. It made my chest vibrate. In the car, she watches the lights go by. In the vet's office, she looks around but stays in my lap. But she never purrs again. The last time was when we were sitting in our living room.
She goes to sleep quietly, with my wife and I stroking her fur and telling her through the tears how much we love her and how she's the best kitty. Her head droops and then she's gone.
We drive home, my wife in the passenger seat crying quietly and me driving, numb, heartbroken, watching the lights go by outside the windows.