Sunday, 28 February 2010

An apology to my parents.

She tucked the end of her stethoscope into her top pocket and gravely lowered the tone of her high-pitched voice. ‘And so I’d say it’s grade three.’
I tried to pretend that it was the straggly fringe in my eyes that was making me cry.
‘You numpty,’ said the old, pre-cat-owning me, hovering above me with appalled derision.
‘Oi, piss off,’ I argued back. ‘It’s not just the sick-cat thing, okay? It’s the grade-three thing. I heard that once before, remember?’
‘Whatever, numpty,’ huffed Old Me.

‘So can you give her something for it?’ I asked, shooing away my shock in exaggerated blinks of damp eyeliner.
‘Not just yet, no,’ said the vet. ‘But we will keep a close eye on her to see that the heart murmur isn’t getting any worse.’
‘And will it?’ I queried.
‘It’s very difficult to say. Some cats’ murmurs don’t get any worse for years and years.’ She paused as I second-guessed her next sentence. ‘But often, they go on to develop hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and their back legs can suddenly collapse with no warning… and that, I’m afraid, is how they go.’ I was grateful for her steering clear of the word ‘die’ in a way I could never appreciate when people avoided saying ‘cancer’.
‘What about her life expectancy?’ I asked, tentatively.
‘It’s impossible to say, I’m afraid. Some cats might live long lives with heart murmurs, but it can get to others early.’
‘But I can’t manage without you!’ I wailed at Sgt Pepper, to the sound of another audible tut from Old Me and a death-stare from my pet that made me feel like I’d just embarrassed her at a school disco.

It’s not going to do my cool-score much good by revealing that I sobbed like a lunatic when I got home, smooshing Sgt Pepper against my face like a freshly-laundered towel and kissing her so much that her malting fur stuck to my lip gloss. Mum did her best to calm me down on the phone and, I assumed, left a ring-your-sister message with Jamie immediately thereafter.

‘Are you okay, sis?’ he said.
‘Muhh, I’m in bits, mate,’ I whinged.
‘The thing is,’ he strained, with an empathy I’d never have been able to manage before I turned into a Cat Person, ‘she’s no ordinary cat, is she?’
‘That’s good of you, dude,’ I said appreciatively.
‘Well she’s not, is she? She’s a magic cat.’ I couldn’t believe what I was hearing; this coming from the boy who used to enquire about the same pet with the words ‘how’s the slag?’ after our neighbour revealed she’d been witness to Sgt Pepper on the receiving end of what I can only assume was a feline gang-bang.  
‘Blimey,’ I replied. ‘Magic?’
‘Yeah, course. She came into your life to help you through a tough time. And she did help you. So she’s part of the family, innit?’
‘She is!’ I exclaimed, swept up in Jamie’s debut of enthusiasm for my cat. ‘She is part of the family!’
‘Yeah, well, give her a, um… prod from me,’ he said in deference to his pet-stroking discomfort.

I sat looking at Sgt Pepper after I hung up the phone, resting tense elbows on my knees and holding my chin nervously in my hands as she absentmindedly licked her tail, keeping herself occupied to avoid making eye contact with her weepy mother. Despite the murmur, she’s absolutely fine, of course. She doesn’t know any better. She’s still out terrorising local birdlife and hurdling fence panels with the best of them, blissfully unaware that the heartbeat beneath her tortoiseshell fur isn’t perhaps what it ought to be.

I continued to stare as she contorted into a comfy, pretzel-shaped sleeping position on the top of the ottoman. ‘But why has she got this heart murmur?’ I thought, ignoring the vet’s advice that it’s just one of those things to which a few cats are genetically predisposed. ‘Perhaps it’s because she had a difficult start in life, being born in that rescue centre to a mother who’d been abandoned? Maybe it’s because of that big bully cat down the road. Ooh, I’ll have that fat git the next time I see it. Or the gang-bang! The bloody gang-bang! I bet that as good as gave her a coronary, the poor snull. Or maybe you can catch a heart murmur? Maybe it’s something she picked up from one of the mice she brought in. Or the frogs. They’re germy and jumpy, aren’t they? Or I suppose we might be giving her the wrong food. Should we have fed her that leftover turkey at Christmas? Is it bad that we just tut and wag a finger when she steals home-baked muffins? Perhaps we shouldn’t have let her lick the cheese dust off those Wotsits the other day, either. Maybe it’s our fault?’

Sgt Pepper sighed loudly as she opened her eyes, glaring at me with frustrated irritation: the cat equivalent, I assumed, of rolling her eyes. I knew that look. It was the same one I’d given my parents when they drove me nuts after Chemo 1 by suggesting that it might be the room temperature/way I was sitting/ginger beer/nerves that were the cause of my continual puking – rather than the litres of toxic chemicals that had just been pumped into my veins.

I couldn’t figure out why they were doing it. And not just back then, either – ever since, I still haven’t been able to understand their searching for alternative reasons. At least not until that moment. Because when someone you love suddenly falls ill, it comes as an almighty shock – not least when they’re a 28-year-old newlywed or an 18-month-old cat – and I guess you just can’t help but search for alternative reasons more fathomable than the completely incomprehensible rationale of breast cancer or a heart murmur. Just like – try as you might – you can’t help but turn into your parents, either.

‘Fair enough,’ I said to Sgt Pepper. ‘You’re right. I’ll pack it in.'
She curled her tail around her body and heaved another sigh.
‘I wonder if she’s sighing because of her heart murmur?’ I thought, knowing full well that the real reason for her exasperated exhalation was her embarrassing numpty of a parent.


fenngirl said...

Aw, Lisa, I totally understand how you feel about your cat. They really are part of the family and you'll feel it especially as your cat has been with you during a really difficult time in your life. I really hope she goes on OK. My 11 year old black cat is probably going to have to have her eye taken out on Tuesday due to uveitis and I'm feeling really wobbly.

I can really empathise with the cancer thing making you flinch at certain words. I had my own brush (ha - how blase I sound) with the Bullshit in Nov 07, aged 33. Whilst right in the middle of the eye of the storm I freaked out thinking I could feel a lump on my cat. I was subsequently shamed to be stood weeping at an emergency weekend vet's appointment to be told the sinister lump that I was convinced was cancer was actually...her ribs.

I just wanted to say hello, send you and Sgt Pepper some good vibes and say how wonderful I think you and your blog are. I will keep reading. Mel x

Paula said...

Hiya - my cat Daisy disappeared just after my first chemo and I was completely and utterly distraught. Of course she returned a day or two later, totally non-plussed and as arrogant as ever.

I am sure SP will be just fine.

- P x

Anonymous said...

My cat was quite young when I got told about her 'moderately severe' heart murmur, but I never noticed it make a difference to her.

She's 15 now and turning into a shouty, cantankerous old lady.

SP will be fine.

Anonymous said...

Pets get under your skin. It's an actual fact.

In twenty years I've only seen my husband cry twice - once when his Mum died and once when the dog broke it's leg and we thought it would have to be put to sleep. Animals - gah!! They make the very bravest of us weepy at times.

Wishing Sgt.P the very long and happy life she deserves.


PS The dog's fine by the way. We spent a king's ransom on vet bills and he still sends us a Christmas card 6 years later.

Fletcher of the Day said...

Sorry to hear about SP! Having gotten Miss Pebbles at the same time (almost exactly!) as SP I can understand the love you must have for her...We always say that Pebbles is pure joy for us...whether she's chewing on the furniture or chasing her rattle mouse in the bedroom at 4am, we find her adorable and pure sunshine. One of my close friends is a vet and I've called him frantically many a times because she was acting 'Strange' only to be told...'She's acting like a cat...'

I'm sure SP won't let a heart murmur get her down. She is a tough young bird!

xx Lori

Charlotte said...

Hi Lisa

It just goes to show that Sgt Pepper has a lot to say for herself and she is very clever, and very special.
I am sure she will live a long and happy life and become a smelly, cantakerous git, just like my cat. Who I love.
I guess it's like having a kid (which I don't), always something to worry about.
Here's to years of hearing about Sgt Peppers antics, and yours - of course.