It seems strange that it should take me so long to get this out. Then again, maybe not. Important and impactful things tend to take their time. They require processing. They require quiet introspection. They deserve a bit of reverential silence, which, in this day and age, is unfortunately rare.
On the other hand, with everything swirling around in the world these days, to be so thoroughly affected by such a (deceptively) small thing seemed kind of silly. But there I was. Completely invested, all-in…and ultimately undone.
Back in July, we were blessed with a new family member. A tiny and malnourished kitten our son, Casey, brought home from work. Some maintenance guys had found him parked on a log with his eyes pasted shut from infection. Sitting in the sun. Abandoned. Waiting for the inevitable end to his short and difficult existence.
He could barely walk when Lori brought him home. He was probably a month or so old at the time, but he weighed a half-pound or less. He was skeletal. He was a mess. In spite of that, he was alive. And I don’t mean in the mere physiological sense. He was bright and engaged and wanted to be playful. And he was so affectionate and loving.
They say love sneaks up on you when you’re not looking for it. Man, oh man. Are they right. He had us at hello. We named him Bucky.
Bucky had some difficulty the day after we got him. He wasn’t eating, and–after rallying the night before–now he was sluggish and struggling. I was on deadline, but working from home, so I spent the next couple days force-feeding him kitten formula by dropper and holding him on my lap as I wrote. It was one of those touch-and-go things. We brought him into the vet the third day in because we weren’t sure he was going to make it. The vet said we were doing everything we could, and that time would tell. In the meantime, he gave us antibiotic ointment to clear up Bucky’s eye infection and sent us on our way.
The next day, Bucky opened his eyes wide. The infection had cleared, and for the first time we could really see them. Bright. Inquisitive. And by that time, entitled. This was his home. We were his people. He was king of all he surveyed. And he was large and in charge, though luckily, he was a benevolent leader. At night, he refused to sleep on the floor. He insisted on sleeping with his head on my pillow, purr-snoring in my ear.
Geeze. I was toast.
For the next few days, a whiff of anxiety hung in the air. Neither Lori nor I could give voice to it, but it was there. “What if he doesn’t make it?” Then again, hour-by-hour, he was getting better. Day-by-day he was stronger, bigger, more playful. We got him on a Tuesday night. By the following Monday, it seemed like he was out of the woods. Our tiny guy was eating on his own and running around our bedroom like a champ.
And after he’d played himself out, he’d crawl up onto my shoulder and collapse. Purring. Loud. Content.
The next day, I played with him in the morning and then had to head out do get some work done. Around 1:30 in the afternoon, I got a text from Lori. Bucky wasn’t eating (by this time, we had him on semi-solid food). Could I pick up some more kitten formula replacer on my way home?
I got there an hour later, and he seemed fine. I fed him a little–back to the dropper, but he lapped it all up. So…good. He crawled up on my lap, and we played for a few minutes, and Lori and I chatted as he rested for a bit.
When Bucky tried to get back up, his back legs wouldn’t work. He flopped around, trying to stand. He was frustrated and confused because he wanted to play some more and didn’t understand what was happening to him. We didn’t, either. But we knew we had to do something…immediately. Fortunately, the vet was three blocks away from our house. We hopped in the car and were there within five minutes.
The doctor we’d seen a few days before was on duty. As soon as he saw us, he ushered us into an exam room. By this time, Bucky was really struggling. Something was terribly wrong. The best case scenario, according to the vet, was his glucose level was low. Due to Bucky’s size (and considering he hadn’t eaten much that day), it was a fine line between enough to function, and too little. Too little could cause the type of reaction he was experiencing now.
Of course, there was a host of other things it could be, but we couldn’t begin to contemplate all that. The vet tried to give Bucky a glucose injection in the exam room, but he fighting too much. The doctor took him into the next room to get assistance from the vet tech.
He was literally just around the corner. And it was only a few minutes. When he stepped back into the room, he was solemn. His eyes were misty. All he could say is, “I’m so sorry.”
Bucky. Our tiny guy. He was gone.
I lost it. I surprised even myself at tsunami of sobs that overcame me. Wave after wave. Spasms that gripped me, squeezed the air right out of me. And then let go, filling my lungs again for the next wave.
After that, I was spent. I haven’t felt that emptied in a long time. We road home in silence. Without Bucky. A piece of our hearts had been left behind at the veterinarian’s office.
I thought about posting something about Bucky’s passing on social media, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. For one, every time I thought about him I would break out in tears. My heart was so thoroughly broken. I wasn’t even sure what I would say. How could I begin to convey the magic this tiny little kitten, who was in my life for barely a week, had worked on me? It seemed simultaneously overwhelming and kind of ridiculous.
But there was another thing. I wasn’t ready to share the news with the world yet. I wanted to hold Bucky there for awhile longer. In my mind and heart, quietly. Just us. I wasn’t ready to share the news yet because it would really make it real. Confirmation that he was truly gone. And that he wasn’t coming back.
I look over these words now, and they seem inadequate in their conveyance of that tiny kitten’s impact on my life. I do know this…at a time when I needed to be reminded of the gravity and the soul-deep import of love and loss, Bucky was a Heaven-sent messenger. I will be forever grateful to him for being that.
Mostly, though, he just planted himself dead-center in the middle of our family. Right off the bat. And he reminded all of us of both the immense power of unconditional love and the terrifying fragility of existence on this mortal coil.
I still miss that tiny guy. But I feel fortunate to have had in my life for even a week. I am glad he got to experience love and belonging, if even for a short time. It brings me comfort to know that he passed away wrapped in that love instead of dying alone on some log in the desert.
Even now, I am not sure what more to say. What more needs to be said. Except, perhaps, thank you, Bucky. Thank you for being in our lives and part of our family. I love you. I carry you and the lessons of love and life you taught me every day. And I will do so, I believe, for the rest of my days.