"A house is not a home without a pet" - Anonymous
It was my mom's idea to get a pet. I was living in a dark, dank apartment. I spent most of my days at work or at school, and most of my nights drinking vodka and trying desperately to sleep without nightmares. I was like a threadbare sweater--not so much unravelling as coming apart in huge, gaping holes.
What you need, Mama said, is something to come home to. Something that needs you and loves you.
Leaving a living thing in my care might be an act of criminal negligence, I replied. Or something to that effect. I couldn't even be counted on to brush my teeth. I once fell asleep on a chair in my kitchen trying to put together a manifesto out of magnetic poetry. I read morse code in streetlight blinkings and was convinced my reflection was trying to kill me.
But, Mama is not a woman to be deterred. We drove to Brooksville and I spent the afternoon in the sun playing with kittens. I wanted a pretty female Siamese, but she wouldn't come near me. Instead, a scrappy little tuxedo male kept climbing up my back and arm to sit on my shoulder. He'd drape himself across me and purr, every now and then giving me a little headbutt of affection.
Pick me, nice lady. Pick me!
When it was time to go, my mom picked up the tuxedo and said, "What about this one?"
And so Vanamee came home with me. He rode the whole way home in my lap, purring contentedly.
Vanamee got his name from one of my favorite books, The Octopus by Frank Norris. Vanamee was a telepathic shepherd. He couldn't read minds, per se, but he could "sense" other people's feelings, and even sense coming events just on the amount of tension in the air.
Vanamee was just like that. That little kitten seemed to know I was never to be left alone. He followed me from room to room, he slept on my chest or on the pillow next to my head, he even sat in the tub while I showered. He hated every minute of it, but he wouldn't leave me! He even woke me out of bad nightmares by headbutting me or pawing my face and crying. What would I have done without him?
Baby Van and I used to snuggle a lot.
We went everywhere together, too. Van loved car rides. No, I know, cats don't like cars. But Van loved being in the car. He would climb up on the dashboard of my truck and just stare as we drove all over town. When I was really bad, we'd sit in the McDonald's parking lot and eat french fries together.
He was the smartest damn cat I ever saw, too. He hid my keys so I couldn't leave for work in the morning. He knocked anything (and everything) off shelves and bookcases if I ignored him. He brought toys to you so you could throw them in the air. He loved to jump and twist and catch things in the air, then shake them until they were good and dead. Then he brought them back to you.
And he never stopped riding around draped over my shoulders.
The one thing he hated was being stuck inside. When we moved back to my parents' house, Van became an outside kitty. I'm pretty sure he single-handedly reduced our lizard and squirrel populations by 50 percent. He just loved to hunt!
Everybody loved Van. Our neighbors called him Van Da Bad, because he was such a precociously naughty boy. He stole the food dish from their house when he was done eating!
Around our house, he was Vanamee, Van, and Prince Vanamee. He was extremely spoiled from our time in the apartment--he would wait patiently while different types of cat food were set in front of him, until my mom or I would relent and give him fresh chicken or tuna or some other kind of "people food meat."
But he was still our favorite boy. What other cat comes when you sing to him? What other cat puts his big white paws on your chest and headbutts you with his pink, perfect nose? Vanamee was a prince--a charming one.
The prince rests on one of his subject's chariot.
As he got older, he also learned to love relaxing as much as playing and hunting. We could always find him in a basket or a hamper or even curled up on Mama's bed. He was a great snuggle partner!
A cat's true passion in life is sleep.
Van was diagnosed with diabetes the summer of 2011. We learned to give him his shots, and he was a trooper through all of that. He also suffered from pain in his right hip, so his gait became slower and he no longer liked to jump up on the counters or climb trees. But he always came when Mama sang "Danny Boy," and he still draped himself across my back and purred.
When Van got sick, it was unexpected and devastatingly sudden. I expected to have him for several more years. Sure, he was almost ten, but we've got a cat who must be almost seventeen!
In the end, I knew that Vanamee was too special a creature to die alone in an animal hospital, or to languish and suffer in a box in one of our bedrooms. I didn't want him to die, but I didn't want him to suffer, either. It was my own pain, I knew, that I was really fighting. I didn't want to lose my only baby, my savior, my prince. But, keeping him here when he was so obviously suffering would have been selfish. If I truly loved him, I needed to give him the peace he deserved.
My dear friend Cherie, from Lap of Love, came over. She gave Van a sedative. He was sound asleep and out of pain as Mama and I said our goodbyes and told him how much we loved him. I have never--ever, in my life--had to anything as hard as to say goodbye to him.
But, now my sweet Vanamee is out of pain. And I know that this pain in my heart, this feeling of being punched through the chest, this raw gaping hole where my heart was, will heal in time. It will because Vanamee loved me and I loved him. And nothing, not even his death, will ever take that away from me.
Vanamee, you were the best friend I could have ever asked for. I hope in cat heaven there are bottlebrush trees for you to climb, birds and squirrels to chase, plenty of baskets to sleep in and fresh chicken to eat. And I hope someone is always singing "Danny Boy" just for you.
I love you, buddy.