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  • Writer's pictureLaura Botten

'The Goodbye Cat,' a Book I've Never Needed More

Updated: Jan 23

The thing that killed me the most was when the doctor said, "She looks depressed."


The lesion on her tongue? Potentially fixable with this special mouthwash she had to take three times a day. The growth in her mouth? "It could be nothing," said the doctor, "but it might be cancerous." Cancer could be treated though, right? She could fight that. The bladder stones in her urine? Those could go away with a special kind of food.


But depression? That broke me, and I sobbed right there in the exam room. The doctor shifted her attention to my mom, whose arm was now draped around me, my face in my hands. How could I have let my cat get depressed? I put too much on her this past year. I needed to be a better cat mom.


~


Eight years ago, I flew the nest. I was on my own for the first time in my life. No roommates, no boyfriend, just me in a vintage one-bedroom apartment a hop, skip, and jump from Chicago. I commuted via the L to work, but every time I came home, it was too quiet. Too still. Nothing had been knocked off the mantle, and there was no cat hair on my jeans. No furry little body walked among my feet tripping me as I walked through the door.


I missed my mom's cat something fierce (and my mom, too, but I wasn't about to go adopt a new mom from a shelter), so two months after moving in-- before I even had a couch to sit on-- I went to an animal shelter and picked out one that looked just like my mom's cat Tabby. She used to sleep on my feet every night. My feet had become quite cold since I'd gotten my own place.


Thirteen years old and skeptical of all humans, my new pal was nothing like Tabby in personality. But I'd have taken any cat. I used the fact that she looked like Tabby as a tool to narrow down my options, otherwise I'd have been there all weekend petting every feline they had.


Her name was simply Kitty. I felt she deserved a more colorful name. Something memorable, adorable. Maybe even a little ironic. Kitty had the grumpiest expression of all the cats there. She didn't exactly exude "sweetness." She didn't even bother coming out of her little cage to get to know me. I gave her head three pats, and she didn't bite me. "I'll take her!"


Cinnabon, as she'd be known from that point forward, was a big girl. Fourteen pounds. Nearly double the size of Tabby. (The next year, she'd get up to a whopping sixteen pounds, resulting in portion control and an exercise routine of chasing the laser light.) Aside from being on a prescription diet to regulate her urinary tract issues, she was healthy as a horse. And felt as big as one as I climbed the three flights of our apartment with her in tow.


Cinnabon, the day I brought her home back in 2016

For the next seven years, 'Bon was the perfect low-maintenance roomie a girl could ask for. Never jumped on the table (except for the very rare occasion when I'd have fresh cut flowers in a vase-- good thing I never dated that much). Never begged for food. Aside from escaping into the hallway a few times and stealing a few licks of my water on the coffee table (a heavy marble thing from my grandma that I can only describe as "regal," which was fitting because so was Cinnabon), she was the most well-behaved cat I'd ever known.


'Bon 'bon loved that apartment. Her favorite thing about it was the giant radiator in front of the window in the living room. For hours, she'd lounge on it in the winter, soaking up its steamy goodness. In the summer, she'd nap up there, counting down the days until she heard the hissing and clanking announcing it was about to get toasty.


Cinnabon may have loved that radiator more than she loved me. But I was just happy that she was happy.


A cat and her radiator

Eventually, our time at that apartment came to an end. With a new work-from-home job allowing me to live anywhere, and a new neighbor below us whose, um, "quirks" made me want to passive-aggressively stomp very loudly while walking, it was time to move.


The housing market, however, had other plans. It was 2023, and not much inventory presented itself to us. So, we made a pit stop at my mom's for most of the year. Tabby had long since passed, but two other kitties (both rescued from the same shelter as The 'Bon) called my mom's house home at that point. Despite my attempts to start the world's first Shelter Rescue Cat Club, it was clear that 'Bon wasn't interested in making feline friends. She refused to leave the master bedroom, which we had to close off so she didn't have to socialize with her own kind. (Hey, I get it. Remember that old downstairs neighbor I mentioned?) But still. I forced her to live with other cats I knew she'd hate.


I needed to be a better cat mom.


By fall, I found the perfect little house. Three bedrooms, big window in the living room, and, best of all, a driveway. (Cinnabon didn't care about that last detail, but after being ticketed and towed from our old apartment more times than I care to remember, I was done with parallel parking and all of its arbitrary restrictions. Do we really need to sweep up the leaves every third Tuesday of the month?)


It was the perfect house. Room for 'Bon to roam. Windows for her to birdwatch. Heat vents for her to lay on. There was just one problem. Actually two:


I'd recently taken in a pair of kittens.


Why would you take in another cat, let alone two, when you knew your kitty hated other kitties? you might be asking. It was a desperate situation. I rescued them from a maniac. No, seriously. I had to take these kittens. And with a bigger house, the four of us would learn to make it work.


Despite moving twice and meeting a total of four felines last year, Cinnabon took all these changes in stride. She was a champ. But right before Christmas she started straining to pee. Her urine was the color of Hawaiian punch. It was time for a visit to the emergency vet. "She's a spicy Cinnabon," the doctor said. "She's not happy with me." This did not surprise me. Cinnabon had a chronic case of RBF: Resting 'Bon Face. After his exam, he surprisingly ruled out any infection, but other than that, we didn't get any answers.


For a couple weeks, she got better. But then a curious thing happened: her little pink tongue started sticking out all the time. Adorable, yes, but I knew something was wrong. She began struggling to eat. She'd work on her breakfast for an hour, but most of the food remained in her bowl. I'd save it and give it to her for lunch, but I'd be lucky if she even got a single bite down. Soon, she started drooling. I suspected it was difficult for her to swallow. Sometimes though, she'd power through the pain, and clear her plate. I praised her in those moments. She was still trying. She still had the will to live.


But when she started straining to pee again, I took her back to the emergency vet. It was a different doctor this time. A more thorough one. She found the growth and the lesion and the bladder stones, and yes, the depression.


We went home with three medications. Cinnabon would receive a total of six doses a day among these meds, and I had to write out a schedule so that I could keep it all straight. The next two days were miraculous. She interacted with the kittens with no aggression. She explored the house more than she ever had. She no longer slept all day. And despite no longer being able to eat cat food, we discovered her love of Gerber baby food. She was eating something.


The medication was working. She was already over twenty-years-old, but it was not Cinnabon's time. We simply had to adjust a few things. I'd have her for another year or two at least.


I learned all too soon that that was wishful thinking.


By the third day, she could no longer handle eating the baby food either. The drooling became worse. Drinking water became impossible. Her water goblet was more of a bidet for her face than a bowl to drink out of. It filled with gobs of food after she attempted to quench her thirst, but the level of the water never got lower. By dinner time, she refused to even eat, and she wasn't sleeping in her normal spot on the bed. Usually, she'd snooze on my favorite hoodie that I'd leave out for her on the foot of the bed. But now, she was curled up against the pillows. Strange considering she'd never enjoyed the texture of super soft things. I slept with my arm around her that night, the bones of her spine more noticeable than ever. She'd lost so much weight that she was now smaller than the kittens. 8.75 pounds was her weight last Sunday. Nearly half of what she once was.


By morning, her Resting 'Bon Face was long gone. In its place was an expression that showed exhaustion and, in a way, a peaceful acceptance of her fate.


The cruel truth was that it was indeed Cinnabon's time.


~


I'd purchased a book called The Goodbye Cat by Hiro Arikawa a few weeks earlier. Something about the title and book cover (which features a striped tabby who looks rather 'Bon-esque), told me I might need that book soon. I might be a hopeful person, but I'm not oblivious. Cinnabon was twenty. She'd been slowly losing weight the past couple years. She'd been starting to have more accidents. She'd been eating less and less.


And so, last Thursday morning, when I woke up and my cat didn't eat her breakfast and was still snuggled by the pillows, I knew. And, my God, I hated knowing. I hated feeling like I was giving up on her. Why is it always so surprising when this moment comes? It's not as though cats are immortal.


"Everyone's time comes sooner or later," my mom said after we got back from the vet that day, both of our faces red from wiping away tears that would not stop. "It will for your kittens, my cats, it will for you and me." Logically, I knew all this. But in my heart I didn't want to believe any of it. The truth does in fact hurt.


The first chapter of The Goodbye Cat tells the story of a twenty-three year old tabby who passes away. But before it's her time to say goodbye, she figures out a way to become immortal: by stamping her paw print on a document that will make her a nekomata, a supernatural spirit who lives forever. If only it were that simple. If only I could have pressed Cinnabon's paw onto an ink pad and imprinted her grumpy old toe beans on a piece of paper, branding an un-erasable mark, guaranteeing that she'd be with me forever.


Resting 'Bon Face... but sweet as a cinnamon roll on the inside

The day Cinnabon died was the first time I'd ever held her in my lap. She wasn't much for cuddles. If she'd had the strength, I'm sure she would have jumped down. But my only hope is that she felt my warmth, my compassion, and my eagerness to be a better cat mom. I hope she left this physical world wrapped in a hug from the woman who loved her. Even if she loved that old radiator more than she loved me.


***

Laura Botten is the author of A Recipe from Rome. Buy here on Amazon, or head to your favorite online retailer to get your copy!


Not sure if you want to buy it just yet? Grab the first chapter for FREE here!

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