In late August 1999, a long-haired calico known only as “Mama kitty” due to her numerous pregnancies gave birth to a litter of kittens in a garage on a farm somewhere in Iowa. Winter came early that year and was not kind. The kittens quickly succumbed to upper respiratory infections that eventually spread to their sinuses and eyes, sealing them shut behind a wall of crust. They all needed to see a vet, and fast.
I don’t remember how many actually survived, but it was at least three. I know all of this because I had only recently graduated college and that farm just happened to be the childhood home of my girlfriend at the time. I was visiting for Thanksgiving and got to keep one of the kittens as an early Christmas present. I named her Luna after a character in Lunar, Silver Star Story that captured my heart during the playthrough.
Luna’s persistent weepy eye was the only reminder of her early brush with death. Beyond that she was a healthy and vibrant kitten who delighted in keeping me awake by yelling in my ear and licking my face. Soon after taking her home, I moved into an apartment in Lisbon set above some shops on the main street there. It was a sprawling cavern with a galley kitchen and nearby bathroom, bookended by a master bedroom and the living room with a side room in-between.
All of that room for a tiny little kitten, and she managed to strand herself in the top shelf of my closet by climbing up my graduation gown on her first day left alone. Her tiny cries for help were the first thing I heard when I got home. Not too much longer after that, she took after her mother and started going into heat when she was barely eight months old. I could have sworn that I had at least a few more months before it was necessary, I rushed her to the vet to have her spayed anyway.
And then? She was a cat and did cat things. I lived in a lot of apartments where I didn’t think it was safe to let her outside, but she made the best of it anyway. Eventually she grew up into an exuberant and extremely fluffy testament to her species. And much playtime was had.
Luna inherited several attributes from her mother that made her one of the most adorable creatures I’d ever encountered:
- She was ridiculously fluffy, with a mane and tail that belonged to a Maine Coon
- She enjoyed, and even demanded belly rubs
- She was a lap-cat through and through
- She loved and trusted me implicitly
Sometimes she performed several of these feats simultaneously.
Eventually I moved into a house where she could “spread her wings” so to speak. It was a raised ranch set in a wooded enclave complete with fire-pit and deck. The house itself was probably smaller than my first apartment, but it was mine, and also hers.
I never begrudged her trips outside, and she knew to jump into the deck window to alert me that it was time to come back in. I certainly enjoyed that more than my childhood cat which jumped onto the screen door instead. Still, the veritable forest in my back yard was like a wonderland to her. It wasn’t uncommon for me to look outside and see her running head-first down a tree either chasing something or just stretching her legs. Even the rain wasn’t enough to dissuade her on occasion.
I don’t have a lot of pictures of this since my only camera was a “modern” Kodak DC240; digital or not, it wasn’t exactly as convenient or ubiquitous as a camera phone. It was still only 2004 after all. I regret both that, and the fact I moved away from that house given how much Luna enjoyed it. She’s been cooped up in Chicago and suburb apartments or homes ever since.
This is probably for the best in any case. In early 2008, Luna revealed she had a heart problem not uncommon in cats. I was actually ready to say goodbye to her even way back then, given such a diagnosis usually brought death within a year. But she took well to the appetite stimulants and heart medications and eventually got better.
This isn’t to say that she fully recovered though. It was pretty obvious that she’d lost something in the exchange. She’d grown thinner, weaker, and less active, and started matting more frequently. But she was still Luna, and still sat on my lap while I messed with my computer or read a book.
And then time passed as it always does, and Luna continued to defy the odds. One year post diagnosis became two, and then three. By the time we moved to a sleepy college town it was already 2012 and I’d long since stopped worrying about Luna’s health. Instead, it was time to consider her age.
She was 13 by then, and she’d long lost her ability to jump to 5-foot-high window ledges. When we first moved into the house, we stayed at a nearby hotel for the night so the moving truck could deliver everything the next day. When we returned that morning, she’d somehow gotten onto the kitchen counter and was yelling for our aid. We still don’t know how she got there, but it was an isolated incident she never repeated. Instead, it was time to live the easy life.
Time marched on and the combination of her age and heart problems gave way to some kind of seizure disorder. Though she always recovered from these once-a-month bouts, each one left her weaker, stiffer, and tangibly older than the last. Despite all of this, she was still my Luna. Still demanding my lap any time I was sitting down, still coming to bed and resting between me and my book before I went to sleep, still standing tall when she wanted to.
But it also became increasingly obvious she was winding down. She was starting to walk with her feet turned out and disliked having her hips handled, two sure signs of arthritis. The seizures were lasting longer. Her sleeping more frequent. Eventually even ascending the couch or bed became too difficult at times, so we placed a wooden footstool nearby so she could always be with us. Surely her time was coming soon?
Instead, she’d reached some kind of fragile equilibrium. Her decline continued, but she maintained her trips around the large ranch home. From the giant LoveSac in the rec room to our bedroom on the complete opposite side of the house, there was no nook, cranny, or hamper she didn’t impose herself upon. She pawed at our legs for attention even then, insisting we never forget she was there before Salem and Lorelei in 2014, and Ash in 2017. My lap was hers, and hers alone.
And then Jen got a job in 2019 at a university further downstate in anticipation of finishing her doctorate, so we moved for the first time in seven years, Luna still in tow. By now Luna was extremely thin and her fur was starting to look ratty and uneven no matter how often I combed her. Though she still followed me around the house and imposed herself upon my lap, we’d started feeding her wet food. It was the only thing she would consistently eat, and she needed to maintain her strength. I’m pretty sure Fancy Feast Savory Centers saved her life for at least the last two years.
And then some time in 2020, it became blatantly obvious that Luna had dementia. Instead of following me around the house, she was set in a kind of pattern. She would go to a room where I was supposed to be, and if I wasn’t there, she would yell at the top of her lungs in distress until I showed up to calm her. Sometimes I just hadn’t gotten to my office yet, or was late going to bed; she’d yell all the same.
When winter arrived, she began to actually prefer the furnace registers to my lap, pressing her whole body flat into it for hours. A cat that old should be under as little stress as possible, so I ordered a cat bed heated by a small coil similar to a heated blanket. While Ash was the first to try it out, once I let it reach operating temperature and introduced Luna to the warmth, she rarely left.
And then Luna began to die. It’s much easier to see in retrospect, but it was as if the warmth of the bed finally allowed her to succumb to the years and rest comfortably. She ate less, sat on my lap less frequently, and stopped coming to bed to say goodnight in her special way. Eventually she only left to eat and use a litter box.
When Jen found her gently swaying next to the fridge one afternoon, it was obvious something was wrong. Her nearby food was untouched and she yelled when I tried to pick her up. Eventually I managed to move her to her bed again, but her breathing was hard and fast. I brought her to the vet the next morning under the assumption I would be putting her to sleep. Despite her survival nature, she was too old to weather a true health crisis.
The vet convinced me to give her one more chance since this could be transient, and how could I refuse? So Luna received a two-week bolus of steroids to try and encourage her appetite and maybe give her enough strength to defy the odds once again. And for the rest of that day, things had improved somewhat. She insisted on spending the rest of the day in my lap, and purred for most of it. She happily chirped random meows that sounded encouraging. Then she went to her bed for the night, and never really left again.
I think that was her goodbye; the last burst of energy the dying often have when the end is truly near. I moved a water bowl one foot away from the bed, and a food dish two feet. While she licked the food listlessly once or twice, she never actually ate. She barely drank. And from Friday to Monday morning, I don’t think she visited the litter box one single time. I could see how every breath wracked her whole body, and picking her up to comfort her promptly resulted in loud wheezing.
It hurt so much seeing her like that. I called the vet again Monday morning and explained the situation. This time there was no argument; Luna deserved a second chance, but it simply wasn’t enough. At twenty-one and a half, she was about 102 in cat years, and sometimes you just die of old age. She spent her last few hours in my lap, and then at 5pm, she went to sleep one last time while I stroked her. I had the vet take a clay casting of her paw, and gave her a few quick pets before leaving.
I honestly don’t remember the last time I cried—even thought myself incapable at this point—but I did after we left. I’m even having a bit of trouble writing this through tears, trying to do her life justice and missing her at the same time. After 21 years, she was my daughter; old enough to have finished college and vote. Old enough that I knew it was inevitable. Yet I’ll miss her interminably.
She was the cat that would lay on her back for the full extent of my arm while I held her aloft and rubbed her belly. She was the cat that navigated the wooden rafters in our townhouse even though she was 11. She was the cat that never bit or scratched me and purred seemingly without end. She was the cat that defied the odds so often, I almost thought she’d tricked death into forgetting about her. She was the cat that loved me above all else.
She was the cat that never left my side until she had absolutely no choice. And she’s the cat that has left my life, but will never leave my heart.
I hope you can finally rest, Luna. You’ve earned it many times over.