Remembering Maya

Maya's last photo We found Maya’s body at the back door this morning. Her condition had deteriorated with alarming speed over the weekend, to the point where even swallowing water last night had become too great an effort. We feared we would have no choice to put her down when we took her to the vet today; we feared that she wouldn’t even last that long; we feared that she wouldn’t last the night. Some time during the night, in the dark, she climbed out of the basement, came to rest on the doormat, and, at that point, simply stopped.

Maya was always a difficult cat, though not as difficult as some; but she was born in difficult circumstances. Her mother was a co-worker’s roommate’s cat, whose owner couldn’t be bothered to get her spayed. She decided, instead, to just keep the cat indoors — anyone who’s had a female cat go into heat will not be surprised how that turned out.

Maya on the shelf Maya didn’t have an easy kittenhood: she was probably separated too soon from her mother (who was apparently given away shortly after her birth), and several of her siblings died; I don’t know exactly how or how. But whatever happened, she missed out on at least one or two stages of a cat’s development: she never seemed fully socialized, had bad habits, and just seemed a little off by cat standards.

She was a lifelong suckler — probably a result of her abbreviated kittenhood. As often as twice a day, she would try to clamber on to one or the other of us to suckle at the crook of an elbow or the corner of a pillow. That was the extent of her affection. She wasn’t much of a lap cat, nor was she as in-your-face affectionate as some cats I’ve known. She preferred to be near you, but not too close — in the same room was enough.

Bathtime for Maya, part nine (2003) She was messy, even by long-haired cat standards. When you have a long-haired cat you inevitably have to deal with shit hanging off the hind end from time to time, but Maya was not fastidious about her grooming. A dirty butt, dandruff, and mats of fur led, respectively, to vigorous brushing (which she hated), occasional baths (which she also hated) and, on two occasions, getting her fur shaved (which caused lacerations on those doing the shaving).

She was declawed. This is something that some cat owners have very strong opinions about, but Jennifer felt she had no choice. Cats freak out in several ways; Maya’s was to jump up and down against a doorframe, dragging her claws against it on the way down. Jen declawed her because she was afraid that Maya would cause serious damage to rental apartments. Whatever you think about declawing, it didn’t impinge upon Maya’s ability to defend herself. Until she got sick with what we think is cancer, she had a powerful kick and a surprisingly strong, if clawless, left hook. She hit harder than I do.

Both cats This is not to say that her qualities were few and hard to see. She was playful throughout her short life, and while she may have been shy among other people, she got along surprisingly well with other cats. We got Goober in part to keep her company, and chose him with her in mind: male, and younger than her, and at a point where she wasn’t so old and grumpy. They got on well enough: not snuggling at all times (though it was known to happen), but playing a lot more than they fought.

She was also, in some ways, “my” cat, if only because Goober was so strongly Jen’s — despite the fact that we both got him, whereas Jen got Maya before she even met me. (Now, by “my” cat I mean that she was only 60 per cent Jennifer’s, compared to 80-90 per cent with Goober.) Chalk it up to female cats liking men, or simply because I was the only one in the house during the day and was available for suckling — or maybe it was because I was always in her chair.

Cookie monster It also didn’t hurt that she was a very pretty cat, above and beyond the faults and complexities that made her interesting. She was extremely photogenic. I liked this cat, and I’m pissed that she’s gone.

This came a decade too soon: she wasn’t even six years old. We weren’t prepared for this; we didn’t expect that her bout of vomiting was the first sign of an inevitably terminal illness. We thought she was going to get better. Her final decline was so sudden, we had less than 48 hours between discovering she was terminal and having to deal with disposing her remains. From ostensibly healthy to absolutely dead in four weeks. We’re still reeling.