April 19, 2012

Oedipa's Story

Free kittens.

They were the most magical words I'd seen in the Humboldt Sun since my own byline.

It was 1999, and Sam and I had just moved to Winnemucca, Nevada. My college dreams of a career in journalism had brought us to this dusty mining town, half a continent away from our family and friends. It was lonely. We didn't fit in. We lived in a duplex that ached with disappointment, despite being painted an impossibly cheerful shade of teal.

The ad led us to a trailer park at the edge of town, where a group of children had gathered stray kittens to keep them safe from coyotes and other perils of the desert. You could say that we rescued Oedipa, a frail and tiny Siamese mix with bright blue eyes and white "socks" on her feet. The truth is, we needed her as much as she needed us.

Our sweet little kitten was afraid to walk on linoleum or in the middle of any room, but she felt safe with me and Sam. She cuddled with us, came to trust us, and eventually became comfortable in our home. We named her Oedipa, memories of Thomas Pynchon and our Carleton English Comps still fresh in our minds.

Oedipa filled our home with joy and and humor and sweetness. She slept on our pillows, cuddled on our laps, and chased bits of sunlight around the house. She tried to drink the milk out of my cereal bowls and I used string cheese to teach her patience. We fell in love with her quirks: Her chatty Siamese conversational style, her purrs that could be heard halfway across the room, her pathetic moth hunting abilities.

It was there, beside the sunburned mountains, that our family began to take shape. In that improbable place, we drew the rough sketches of what would someday become the Wiant family, the rudimentary brush strokes of a love that started with us and extended beyond into something altogether new.

We were excited to leave Winnemucca after a year and move to Reno; Oedipa disagreed, meowing the whole way and spending her first weekend at the new apartment in exile under the sofa. It was only a matter of time until she owned the place, and the same was true of the house we bought two years later, the summer we married and officially became a family.

For the next five years, our trio lived in harmony and predictability. Oedipa loved to run up and down the stairs, knead her claws into our legs as we watched TV, and sleep between Sam's feet at night. She'd hide when our friends came over and insist on being involved when I'd crochet. We learned that she had food allergies and tooth decay and an extreme distrust of veterinarians.

The arrival of Evie downgraded Oedipa's standard of living. She never complained about the baby, but she usually kept a respectful distance. Evie was also a little apprehensive.

I used to think that having a baby would be like having a pet but with more diaper changes. Only after I became a mother did I realize how completely different the two are. I'll always feel a little guilty for how Oedipa faded into the background after Evie's arrival. I'd like to think she forgave us, as she spent more days in her solitary pursuits of snoozing in the sunshine, gazing at birds outside the window, and shredding the carpet on the stairs.

In 2009, Sam packed our Winnemucca trailer park kitten into a carrier and drove 2,000 miles with her meowing most of the way. We settled into a new house, then another. Felix arrived on the scene and Oedipa curiously sniffed him before resuming her respectful distance approach. The moment the kids were tucked in, however, she'd be right there and ready to stake out our laps.

Oedipa slowed down and mellowed out as she grew older. We spared her from trips to the vet, her least favorite place, until it was clear that she was ill. Just before Christmas 2011, she was diagnosed with cancer and we knew that our time together was short. We bought her soft food and canned tuna and took heart in her moments of happiness while secretly hoping that she'd go peacefully in her sleep and spare us the last heartwrenching decision we'd have to make as her owners.

She hung on, but with each day it became more apparent that she was suffering. Her beautiful fur was patchy and bald around the scabs on her ear. She could no longer make it to the litter box. The only things she could do were eat, sleep, and cuddle.

This morning, we're taking her to the vet for the last time. The kids said their goodbyes this morning, and Sam and I will hold her and comfort her just as we did 13 years ago when she was a scared little kitten.

Goodbye, Oedipa. We'll always love you.


Margaret said...

Beautiful post, Monica. That you for sharing with us.

Mel said...

Your post brought me to tears :( So sorry for your loss Monica.