I booted up my phone this morning, and open the notification from Google Photos. It shows me photos taken on this day, back in 2016. June ninth. It’s June ninth already.
It surprises me and doesn’t surprise me at all that these photos were taken exactly two years before our beautiful Nugget died. Today marks one year since we had to say goodbye.
I didn’t post anything last year when it happened. What I felt wasn’t something that people could understand, no matter how much I tried to communicate it. Maybe cat people would understand, but maybe not. Nugget wasn’t a normal cat. In fact, Ries and I were pretty certain he was an Indian prince in his last life, trapped in a cat’s body to be taught selflessness.
What Happened on June 9th
The morning of June 9th was just like any other morning. It was dark, the sun was starting to peek out, and I was quietly sneaking out of the apartment. Ries and Gus were sleeping in the bed, and Nugget was sitting in front of the glass door that lead out to our balcony. I whispered, “I gotta go to work, Nugget,” and he had turned his head in my direction. He looked a little sad sitting there, so I took off my shoes, crossed the apartment, and petted his little head, “I’ll be back later.”
By the time I got to work in downtown Indy, broke out the housekeeping boards (what rooms each housekeeper cleans), it was a little before 9:00am. Ries called.
“Something is wrong with Nugget.”
“He’s acting feral.”
“Put him in his crate, and he’ll snap out of it.”
“That’s the thing. I can’t get him in his crate. Gus and I are locked in the bathroom and he’s pacing outside the door snarling.”
Ries called his mom to have her pick up Gus, and after Gus left, Ries still couldn’t get Nugget in the carrier. He had gone feral and was jumping all over the apartment, and slamming himself into windows and walls. So I left work, drove back to Bloomington, and by then Ries had cornered Nugget into the bathroom. I covered most of my body with sweatshirts and went in to put Nugget in his crate. He was calmer with me, and allowed me to pick him up, but his pupils were really dilated. My guess was that he’d eaten something toxic or injured himself. We weren’t so lucky.
We called a couple vets in Bloomington and they said we’d have to take him up to Indianapolis because it was a Saturday and they didn’t think they had the capacity to take care of him. So we drove up to Indianapolis, and Ries dropped me off at work, because one of my housekeepers didn’t show up and I was responsible for cleaning about thirty rooms that had guests staying in them. One of my bosses was out due to a medical condition, another boss was out of state, and the third boss had to be somewhere else. I couldn’t leave the hotel until I was done.
Ries took Nugget to and emergency vet and started describing what was happening. They asked a couple questions and things that had just seemed like personality quirks ended up being symptoms of something larger: For example, the color of his iris had started to change color in a way that looked like it was leaking out of his pupil; he was a messy eater (we thought he didn’t like his food); he had recently taken to sleeping in the closet during the day (I thought he was just waiting for me to come home from work); and the list went on.
Some of the things we loved about him as his eccentricities added up to a diagnosis: The vet thought he had a brain tumor, and he had likely experienced multiple seizures. When Ries heard that, things started making sense. We thought he was going into the closet when he felt a seizure coming to protect us, until he felt better. They thought he’d had a seizure right before he went feral, and that it wasn’t something that was reversible.
The vet agreed to do testing for poison and any injuries, but Nugget attacked her staff, and she sent Ries to a different emergency vet who had more resources and test capabilities. On his way to the second vet, the first vet called Ries, “They can do an MRI to make sure it’s a tumor, but it will set you back $5,000, and even if they do find a tumor with the MRI, they won’t be able to do anything about it. So my advice would be to do all the other tests, and if nothing shows up, you need to be prepared to let him go.”
While Ries was experiencing all of this by himself, I was cleaning rooms.
I started the day out thinking Ries was overreacting or that he’d made Nugget mad (they were boys and got in the occasional “Who’s the boss now?” fights) and slowly realized how serious the situation was. I went from a state of disbelief to thinking that something was wrong, but everything would be okay—this was just a warning sign I needed to work closer to home in the event Ries or Gus had an emergency—to realizing that we might not be bringing Nugget home. I would go into a room, start sobbing, cry the entire time I cleaned, wipe my face off, exit the room, and start again.
Ries called me at about five and said the vet was going to sedate Nugget to inspect him for injuries, and draw blood, and they would wait for me since he calmed down around me. I had been at work by 8am, and finished up at 8pm. I took a Lyft across town to the emergency vet.
Nugget let me take him out of his crate and hold him. I was holding a cat that looked just like my best friend, but it was as if it was empty. Who he was wasn’t in his body anymore. They wanted to sedate him with gas, and in order to do that, they put cats in a plastic cube. I tried to put him in the cube, but he was too big. He didn’t fight me, he was just limp and didn’t seem aware of what was going on. Because the cube was too small, they sedated him, drew blood, and ran tests. The tests came back normal. Ries had called our breeder while I was at work, and she and her husband (also a vet) agreed that it was a brain tumor, and that we should put him down. This vet agreed.
They offered to do it somewhere we couldn’t see, but I couldn’t bear the thought of him being alone. So we pet his beautiful, giant body, and said goodbye to our best friend, and first cat.
When he was a kitten he liked to sleep on my lap when I was wearing a pair of flannel pajama pants. We cremated the pajama pants with him.
It was, without doubt, the worst day of my life.
We drove two hours home to Bloomington, and both sobbed the entire way home.
We kept crying for a solid two weeks. I kept cleaning rooms at work—going into them, sobbing as I cleaned, wiping my face off before entering the hall, and going into another room.
If I’m being totally honest, I have never cried so hard, not for a pet death, not for a human death. Partly because when we got Nugget, I imagined him growing up with our kids, and yet he died the week before Gus turned one. I wasn’t expecting it. Partly because I felt like I should have caught the signs sooner—his leaky eye, his messy eating, his obsession with chewing on plastic. I had missed all of the things the veterinarians said were symptoms, and I think he had been suffering for the past year, alone, unable to communicate that anything was wrong. And partly because he wasn’t just a cat to me.
How Life Changed with Nugget
We got Nugget on New Years Day, 2015. I had been begging Ries for a cat since my senior year of college, and he’d said we needed to wait until he got back from Afghanistan.
Ries got back in March 2014, which was good. I had an entire side of my family ostracize me because I was legally married to a member of the military, which was bad. My maid of honor backed out of my wedding a month or two before the wedding, which was bad. We had an argument I didn’t handle well that ended the friendship, which was bad. Ries and I hosted a wedding in Portland that we paid for ourselves (a year we made less than $20,000 taxable income) that everyone seemed to have complaints about, which was bad. (What made it worse was that we’d been married for at year at that point, and we’d hosted the wedding because we wanted to celebrate with family.) We went to Disney World for the first time, which was good. I had housebound anxiety, which was bad.
And all of that I had experienced mostly on my own, because Ries was a Marine who worked a full time job and worked out with his command for 2-3 hours a day. Most of the time, Ries worked nights, and I was scared to sleep alone in our apartment, so I stayed awake while he was at work or PT.
And then we got Nugget.
I had crippling anxiety attacks and would lie in bed for hours crying, and he’d lie in bed with me. The rest of my college friend group showed up on my Instagram feed—all bridesmaids in one of their weddings I hadn’t been invited to. Twice. I had a falling out with a Georgia friend. Ries’ command claimed he was faking an injury he’d sustained in Afghanistan, and we were trying to work with the military medical system to get the proof that something was wrong with his neck. (Surprise, surprise, there was!) Ries was getting out of the Marines, and the job field he was applying in was on a hiring freeze. We had no idea where we were going to live, and we had no job lined up when he was discharged.
But it was okay, because for the first time, I wasn’t alone.
I don’t think it was a coincidence that I started writing again for the first time in 2015. I don’t think it was a coincidence that I decided to apply for graduate schools that year. I don’t think it was a coincidence that my housebound anxiety went away that year, and I started working and meeting new people and making friends in Augusta for the first time since I moved there in 2013. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I trained for a half marathon that year.
He was my shadow and my guardian, and he was a real dick sometimes, but I never doubted that he loved me absolutely.
When I got pregnant in 2016, he knew before I did. Some people say cats can smell the hormones. Some say they can hear the baby’s heartbeat. He was so attentive, and so attached to me, like he needed to escort me around the house all day, because it was his duty.
One of Ries’ favorite stories is that I was really sick one night—I got a stomach bug—and I was lying in bed and it started storming outside. Nugget had historically been terrified of storms. But that night, he sat at the foot of the bed, protecting me, even though he was shaking in fear. It was his duty, and he was not going to abandon me.
What Scared Me Most
Something that I hear a lot from people is:
“Oh, you’re a cat person? Why? I hate cats.”
And then I tell them, “My cat is different.”
“That’s what everyone says.”
I’ve also heard “he’s just a cat,” from a lot of people who have never met my cat.
And oddly, that’s what scared me the most when Nugget died. Forgetting. I was scared of forgetting all of the small things that added up to a whole that made Nugget distinctly Nugget. I was scared that all of the details would fall away, and that my memory of who he was would reduce him to being “just a cat.” I was scared that if I stopped mourning, and if I stopped crying, it meant that I had stopped caring and I didn’t love him enough.
Now that a year has gone by, I can safely say that I haven’t forgotten him. He wasn’t just a cat. He was really special, and he was not normal, and he was brought into my life because I needed him to teach me that I didn’t need to be so fucking scared all the time. And I think he passed away because his responsibility was to help me become the person I needed to be as a mother, and once he saw that he’d been successful, it was time for him to leave.
I haven’t forgotten Nugget. He loved q-tips. He came running if I screamed, “Bug! Kill it Nugget!” and would terminate any bug I pointed to, whether it be a gnat or a cockroach (which we had a lot of in the South.) He was a total bro and loved watching babes in bikinis down at the pool. He hated being brushed, and he was terrible at grooming himself. He loved plants and hiding in them. After we had Gus, he slept in Ries’ black chair so he could watch the front door, back door, and our bedroom door.
I think about him almost every day, and so does Ries, and sometimes we’ll remember something he used to do and remind the other person about it. We still tear up and cry about losing him. We still say, “I miss Nugget.”
I think we’d be a lot more miserable if we didn’t have Whimsy. We weren’t quite ready for her when we got her last year, but we needed her. Before we got her, we cried every time we walked in the door and there wasn’t a cat waiting for us. And I just have to say this: she is more patient with Gus than I am. She’s a perfect family cat. But I’m a little selfish and miss getting all of the attention of a male cat, so we’ll probably get another male in a year or so when I’m ready.
We wish our two cats could have met all the time. He would have been a grump. She would have been a flirt. It would have been perfect.
And no, Whimsy isn’t like Nugget. Nugget was a human in a past life, and I think Whimsy was a particularly rowdy squirrel. But she’s a good girl, and I hope beyond all of our sadness, she knows how much we love her and how grateful we are to have another Maine Coon in our lives. (You can read more about Whimsy here.)
If you’ve read this, I just want to say thank you. It’s not something I think anyone wants to read, but I needed to write and share something in honor of our first cat.