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Sasha

sashaSasha first came into my life — or rather, I came into hers — in January of 2005, not long after Matt and I started dating. It was my first visit to his apartment, and we were both excited for me to meet his only pet, this dainty little black and white kitty that he’d gotten as a kitten only two years before. She was a cutie, all right, and she clearly adored Matt — and she HATED me on sight.

I spent a lot of time at that apartment over the couple of years that followed, and I tried everything I could think of to get Sasha to like me. Every now and then, she’d seem to soften toward me. She’d let me play with her, trying to catch my hand as I wiggled my fingers over the arm of the couch, or losing her cool (in the good way) over a piece of yarn whenever I brought my knitting over. Every now and then, she’d even let me pick her up for a cuddle.

Except that the games were usually considered “won” once she  managed to inflict pain and draw blood, and the brief cuddles usually ended with her hissing and slapping me in the face. It was abundantly clear that, to her, I was merely “the other woman” and she had no use for me, but I just never learned. Or rather, I was determined not to give up, because it was also abundantly clear that Matt and I would be together for the long haul, so she just had better get used to me.

A few months before our wedding, Matt’s apartment complex caught on fire. Worried that the fire might reach his apartment, he brought Sasha over to my place, and since we were already planning to live there after the wedding, we decided to leave her there and give her time to adjust to living in a new place and get used to my pets — Niblet, my brown tabby, and Fizzgigg, my toy poodle (who I suspect was actually a malti-poo). Fizzgigg had been over to the apartment a few times, so he and Sasha were well acquainted, but this was the first time she’d met Niblet, and, excepting a short time spent at her grandparents’ house and being exposed to their cat, it was her first time having to put up with Another Cat.

Sasha was not a happy camper. We tried to introduce her and Niblet slowly, but somehow, the pet gate between them got torn down and the fighting commenced. Niblet didn’t know what hit her. She was almost twice Sasha’s size, and yet Sasha was a tiny spitfire who kicked her hinder up and down my loft, jumping her at every chance. Eventually, Niblet learned to fight back, and Sasha became less prone to ambushing her, but they still fought like… well, like cats. Once, poor Fizzgigg got caught in the middle and took a claw in the eye. Eventually, they all learned to get along, albeit grudgingly, and we settled in as a family. Except that Sasha still wanted very little to do with me.

2008 brought with it a series of events that once again rocked Sasha’s world. First Fizzgigg, the one family member she seemed to like other than Matt, passed away, and then a few months later we moved into our current house. Shortly after that we got Pete. Sasha spent the first six months or so in our new house hiding behind the living room couch, only coming out to eat. Just as she was starting to come out of hiding for more than just long enough to eat and pee, Boudica showed up and sent her scurrying right back behind the couch. But gradually, she started venturing out, and getting to know the new cat, and she and Boudica eventually became buddies. More amazingly, Sasha even started to tolerate and occasionally even play with Pete. And she no longer fought with Niblet (at least, not often).

And she still didn’t like me much.

Then, something amazing happened. I caught Sasha clawing at the carpet, and Matt wasn’t readily available to get onto her about it, so I had to do it myself. At this point, I had been part of this cat’s every day life for five years, and she still acted like I was an annoying stranger. But once I took charge and disciplined her, it was like a flip got switched, and suddenly she acknowledged that she was my kitty, too. After that, she started letting me love on her, and she even got in my lap a few times (though she was never much of a lap kitty). She even submitted to letting me do things like trimming her claws, and medicating her sores when she developed flea dermatitis.

All the same, though, she was always kind of a loner, and kept mostly to herself. Which is why we didn’t notice the tumor growing inside her armpit until it became the size of a golf ball.

Matt wasn’t available to accompany us the first time I took her to the vet to get it checked out. So it was just her and me in the truck on the way to the vet’s office, her exploring the cab and meowing with a mixture of fear and curiosity, me trying to reassure her while navigating the freeway, and then she ended up in my lap, then up on my shoulder, clinging to me while she watched out the window. She kept clinging to me in the vet’s office in between examinations and medications.

Surgery followed, and we thought maybe that had saved her. Then there were follow-up appointments, and when it became clear that the cancer was back, weekly appointments to get her medicated and hydrated. Matt went with us on most of the subsequent trips, and Sasha quickly got to where she enjoyed the ride, stretched out on the bench between us in the sunlight. With Matt on crutches, I was the one who held her during the exams, the one she clung to once the vet finished poking around on her. It touched me, the way this cat who for five whole years wanted nothing to do with me was holding onto me for reassurance. It also tore at my heart, because I could feel her growing lighter with each passing week as she began wasting away.

We started letting her go outside when the weather became warm. She had been an indoor kitty all her life, so to her it was like a trip to Disney World. It didn’t take long for her to start asking to go out on her own, and she’d just go out and lie down in the grass and sleep, contentedly, in the sun. Sometimes we’d go sit with her, and she’d rouse and go back and forth between us, head-butting our legs, before settling down between us, purring and kneading her claws in the grass. We also started giving her canned food to help keep her hydrated, and she instantly became addicted, following Matt every time he went into the kitchen and demanding her food. She had a voracious appetite for the stuff.

On Sunday, it became clear that her illness was finally getting the better of her. She was walking more slowly, and she couldn’t jump up on the couch by herself, and stumbled when she tried to jump down. That didn’t keep her from following Matt into the kitchen, but she couldn’t eat as much as she had been. By the time we went to bed on Sunday night, we half expected that she wouldn’t make it through the night.

And yet, on Monday morning, she was there to follow Matt into the kitchen. She ate an entire can of Fancy Feast, which gave us hope, and afterwards she begged to go outside, where she lay down in the grass. After a while, when she hadn’t moved, Matt went to check on her, and she couldn’t even lift her head to greet him. I went out with them, and we just sat there with her for a long time, petting her and telling her how much we loved her, what a good kitty she had been, and saying our goodbyes.

But then she found the strength to get up, and we all came back inside. We settled her on the couch, on the quilt she liked so much, and spent the day just being with her. Every now and then, Matt would bring her a bite of food, and she managed to purr as she ate it. Later, we took her back outside to get some more sun.

When we went to bed that night, we both kissed her, and told her again how much we loved her, and that we hoped to see her in the morning. But she left us in the night. Matt found her Tuesday morning in her bed, a bed I had knitted for her and the other cats. We wrapped her up in it and took her out to my mom’s, where we laid her next to Fizzgigg in a part of the yard that serves as a pet burial ground. It’s a pretty, shady spot, quiet and peaceful, with the sounds of the lake lapping against the shore down the hill as background music to the neighbor’s wind chimes.

If you had told me five years ago that I would be so heartbroken to lose Sasha, I might have been a little dubious. Of course I would have been sad, but at that point I still thoroughly thought of her as Matt’s cat, just as she did. But she has been my kitty as much as his these past few years, and especially these last few months. She still adored Matt more than any other human, but she made it clear that she loved me, too, that I was no longer the Other Woman. Somewhere in there, I had become Mom.

Good night, Sasha girl. We love you and we miss you, but you’ve earned your rest. Say hi to Fizzgigg for us, and try not to poke his eye again when you two play together up there.

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