Onyx died last night. Bruce and I are heart broken because this cat walked into every part of our lives including our sleep time. Just yesterday he was sitting on the tack trunk looking at the robin’s nest and running down the hall. He slipped into Bitsy’s room and I snatched him up before she could hiss and growl. I set him on the guest bed and petted him, his back and tail arching up to my palm. His whole attitude towards her was curiosity and grace. Even though he was a black cat, he was full of light and good humor and affection. He sought us out like a good dog.
We don’t know what caused him to crash so hard and so fast. Bruce found him panting in the bathroom, drooling. I rushed him to the emergency vet to see if the shots would bring him back. Our regular vet, Dr. Guedet said he never expected him to live this long, that he had collapsed lungs, that other families might not have been able to give him this much time. (Dr. Guedet bought us time. It’s been nearly a year since we discovered Onyx’s lung was collapsed, his heart pushing against his trachea. Doc researched medication that would help him stay the course.)
This free cat appeared at the bottom of our field a good five years ago and worked his way closer as the days shortened and cooled. When he got to the barn he’d hiss and meow at the same time. I didn’t force him to be my friend. Somehow he discovered that when I drew water for the buckets he could hop up on the straw bales and get petted and that felt very good to him. But I knew his name was Onyx.
We tried moving him into the house that winter but he sprayed on the corner of the bed, so we moved him back to the barn with an insulated box. Wanda Giles said that she was betting on Onyx winning, that he’d find his way back into the house. She was right. Bruce reminded me there was a bitter night when we opened the door and he flopped down in front of the fire like he belonged there.
That hard summer when Nate died, and my horses proved me an idiot at a clinic I was sponsoring and my novel was accepted for publication, Onyx’s back paw was gloved. You could see down to the bone and tendon. We put some tuna in a cat carrier and shoved him into the crate and off to the vet.
She called and said we could either amputate his foot or do laser treatments. I had no idea if this cat would become a house cat, because they don’t always stop spraying after they are neutered. I had a busy week with the clinic and I was hosting the teacher. Dr. Verace said, “He’s a good cat. We’ll just charge you the cost of the laser treatments. We’ll keep him this week while you have your clinic.”
Onyx lived six weeks in a dog crate with a litter box. We took him to the vet three times a week and his paw healed so well fur had grown back when the bandages came off. Then Onyx owned the house. He could move the dogs with just a look. Just the other day he’d walked up to my hands and held Little Dog back as she turned her head away. At times he crawled into my arms and we both slept there. The weight of him at the foot of the bed anchored Bruce and I as we slept.
He should be sitting next to me while I write this. But nobody stays around long enough. Death seems like a winner, but it’s not. When I sent Onyx away, I asked God to gather him up and comfort him, because this is a cat who called for us when we were in another room, and we called back to bring him to us. I could call him off the Peterson’s fence when he was headed out to hunt and he’d come back from a quarter mile away. This is a God who knows when sparrows fall, who says that creation is groaning, but one day it “will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” Rom. 8: 20 – 21). This is a God who smashed death to smithereens, who gathered Onyx into His arms as he left mine, but we sure are lonesome. Onyx left a big hole on our laps, where he often settled, weighing us down with a good weight and warmth.