I've often joked with my son that he should be grateful I met his father before I met my cat Bustopher.
"If I'd met Bustopher first, you probably would have never been born," I tell him.
Indeed, I had a much better time with Bustopher than I ever did with my former husband. Bustopher liked me just as I am, for one thing, and he never scowled at me or let me down.
Bustopher was never embarrassed by my politics or sometimes funky way of dressing. In fact, he would often call me onto the back porch at 3 a.m. to loudly and proudly introduce me to passing raccoons and opossums.
He didn't mind that I spent three hours reading the Sunday papers, instead of preparing his breakfast. He'd munch a little dry Eukanuba, then sit on the paper, patiently waiting for me to get through Doonesbury so I could read him his favorite, Mark Trail.
Bustopher never compared my cooking with his mother's; he was a foundling, so he didn't know who his mother was.
Bustopher was unfailingly courteous to my friends and family, loved me unconditionally, let me snuggle him all I wanted to, kissed me sweetly, even when I had been eating onions. I was sure he would never pack up one cloudy day and leave me.
Until Sunday morning.
As you might have noticed, I'm writing about Bustopher in the past tense. My little Bustopher died Sunday morning.
It's the worst hurt I've ever felt. He was only 9 years old, in his prime, pleasingly plump, with excellent health care by a genuine Texas Aggie veterinarian (see, I'm an Aggie Mom, so I'm a little prejudiced toward A&M). I thought Bustopher and I had at least another decade together.
We had played birdie-on-the-stick late Saturday night after I got home from a concert, then snuggled to sleep head-to-head on the pillow. About 2 a.m., I heard him choking. I got up, cleaned up a white foamy blob and, as he had gone out to the porch, assumed he was okay. About 4 a.m., he jumped on the bed meowing, something he often did when the garbage collectors came because he thought, by jiminy, it was time to get up and get busy.
As I had sometimes done before during his middle-of-the-night frolics, I carted him to the garage so I could get some sleep. He had food, water, a litter box and a soft bed there; he loved to perch on top of my car and watch the world go by outside the little row of windows on the top of the garage door. To him, the garage was Adventureland.
Come morning, he would dart into the house, scolding me for making him sleep anywhere but my bed or his favorite lounge chair, then head for the kitchen, where we shared breakfast.
Not this time. This time, he was under the car, gasping for breath, almost gone. I rushed him to the animal emergency room in Port Richey, but it was too late. He had suffered heart failure _ the foamy upchuck had meant his lungs were filling with fluids _ and nothing could have saved him, Dr. Robert Hase told me after he read the death report.
For some strange reason, I cried harder over Bustopher's death than I did when my father died six years ago. Back then, I think I was trying to be brave for my mother's sake, or that the thought of my beloved dad being gone was just too much to acknowledge.
Perhaps these tears are belated ones for my dad. Perhaps they are for future losses that I can't control any more than I could control when Bustopher's time came.
I only know I wasn't prepared. I wasn't ready for Bustopher to go. I had no time to say goodbye. I felt that I should have, could have done something to save him. But I couldn't. His heart gave out, and he was gone.
People who aren't animal lovers will just roll their eyes at what I'm saying. Pet lovers will understand exactly what I mean.
Dad would understand. He was a dog man himself, but he secretly enjoyed the lavish attention my mother's cats always showered on him.
There really is no bond like the one between a single animal and a single person. To those who have had it, I don't have to explain. To those who haven't, I could never explain.
Friends ask me if I'll ever get another cat. I don't think so. I've had one mother, one father, one sister, one husband, one son, one car and one cat. I can't imagine trying to find another Bustopher or having it in me to build another relationship like the one we had.
What this makes me realize is how precious and fleeting life is and how quickly it can be gone. We must stay close and love each other as much as we can, while we can.
We just never know.