It is foggy on this island off the coast of Nova Scotia, the fog so thick it blurs the spiky pines and jagged rocks. You can hear waves crashing, fishing and whale watch boats entering and leaving the harbor, and the foghorn at the Coast Guard station, but you can't see them. The fog thins in spots when gusts of wind swirl it around, smashing it apart. Then it gathers again, seals the fissures of light, and blows in thick bursts over the wildflower meadow. The granite headlands jutting out from the coves are black, the sky straight above--closest to the unseen sun--is white, the fog is gray, and the breaks where light momentarily shines through are silver.
We have returned to this place where we came late last August. I loved the remoteness, the long views across narrow passages, the extreme tides and violent currents, the lighthouses at opposite ends of the island, humpback and minke whales swimming just offshore, sheep grazing outside our window, and the chance to spend a morning with a conservation group banding migratory birds. I held a Black-throated Blue Warbler in my hand at dawn one morning while an ornithologist I didn't know and will probably never see again attached a small metal band around its leg. Then I let the warbler go, and it flew away, and I wondered how far its migration would take it. When I returned to the hotel, the cats were waiting for me. They were happy to see me; it was time for their second breakfast. I remember thinking, we're coming back here next year, and every year, forever. But never would I have dreamt that this summer we would be two, not three.
Tim died one week and one day ago. It was exactly one year and three days after Maisie's death last July. His illness had been swift. He began to sit on my chest while I slept and bite my nose--not hard, but enough to wake me up. This was a change of behavior. He was trying to tell me something, but I had no idea what. Then he, who loved to eat, who would gobble his meals and if he hurried would move on to demolish Maisie's and Emelina's too, lost his appetite. He would take a bite at most, then walk away from his dish.
The first vet visits yielded no useful information--blood tests and x-rays looked normal. I felt reassured by the non-diagnosis, but he still wasn't eating, and he started crouching, immobile for long periods, a cat Buddha in deep meditation on the zebra rug. It seemed, in a way, he was hypnotizing himself so he wouldn't feel pain. I took him to a specialized veterinary clinic in Rhode Island.
An ultrasound showed enlarged lymph nodes and what might be an adrenal mass. To be certain of what the images meant, the radiologist would have to repeat the tests two weeks later--coincidentally, how long it would take to get an appointment with the internal medicine specialist. Tim was so relieved to be sprung from the hospital. I drove him and Emelina back to Connecticut (she went to his appointment with him--they are litter mates, identical twins, and they had never been apart) and he seemed so happy to be home, he ate a nearly-full plate of food. Well, maybe half, or a quarter, but more than the teaspoon-sized bites he had been taking.
New things began to occur. Suddenly he couldn't jump up on the bed. He would make a leap for it, grab onto the quilt with his claws, but be unable to pull himself up the rest of the way. He began staying in that Buddha position on the rug for an hour at a time. Through it all, he was as affectionate as ever. If I lifted him onto my chair, he would hoist himself up on the back to curl around my neck while I read or wrote. Once when I lifted him, he squeaked as if in pain.
On Sunday he began to drag his right rear leg, and that was that. This symptom, plus all the others. I knew, I just knew. I shouldn't have taken him back to the hospital. I should have just called our beloved house-call vet, who knows my kitties, who loves them, who has been Tim's vet since we moved back to Connecticut, who could have given him a gentle end. But no--I packed him into his carrier because--why? I wanted them to do those tests, to tell me exactly what was wrong, what those lumps and that mass meant, to explain to me why he had stopped being able to use his right rear leg. I wanted them to pull a miracle out of the hat. I wanted them to do what it took, to heal him, to tell me that Tim would be fine.
He wasn't fine. I knew, and I should have trusted myself, should have listened to what Tim was telling me. Instead he spent his last night in a hospital, with an IV in his paw. A vet tech told me Tim was one of the sweetest cats they'd ever had there, that he was so shy and nervous they had to put him in a special, quiet corner, with a little box in his cage where he could hide. He spent the night there because they were going to do an MRI in the morning. But when they brought him out to see me--Emelina and I were there to visit him--I could see what I'd already known deep down: he wasn't going to get better. Now, almost overnight, he couldn't use either of his back legs, couldn't get into his litter box. They suspected he had lymphoma that had spread to his spine, but they wouldn't know for sure without doing an MRI--they were doctors after all, scientists with the best equipment, top diagnostic tools. They were kind, they meant well, they loved animals, they cared for Tim, but I said, no, no, no, end his pain, don't put him through this, let him go to sleep now now now.
These are the memories that haunt me:
When Tim saw Emelina in her carrier, he tore himself out of the small bed they had set up for him and dragged himself inside with her--anything to get away, begging me to take him home, get him out of there. But I had to ease him out of the carrier--no, pull him out. I held him in my arms, tried to calm him. Kiss his head, try to soothe what was unsoothable. Hold him, tell him I loved him, my little guy, my Tim. He stared into my face with his gigantic green eyes, but not soothed at all--with pure terror. Animal instinct terror. Get me out of here, take me home, he was saying with his eyes, imploring me with his expression. But I could only whisper I love you Tim I love you Tim, and the vet administered the shots, and Tim went limp in my arms. It wasn't sleep, it wasn't peace, it was the death of my young cat.
Jen, our house-call vet, said she couldn't help thinking that he had been so close to Maisie, and she couldn't help but wonder if his illness, his death, could have been connected to losing her. If that is true, then love kept sick and sixteen-year-old Maisie alive months beyond her time, and the same intensity of love took five-year-old Tim's life a year and three days after she left this world.
Emelina cried for three days nonstop after Tim died. We took off, drove north because I couldn't imagine going home without him, and she searched the corners of every hotel room we stayed in, then searched them again. She wouldn't eat or rest. Both she and Tim had always been great travelers, but in the car she wailed. I think that is because I used to buckle their Sherpa bags into the back seat facing each other, so they could see each other through the mesh, and now he wasn't there. Until Tim's trip to the hospital they had never spent a night apart. He was her twin; they must have been unsure where one began and the other ended.
Emelina and I still haven't been back home. We drove through Maine, into New Brunswick and then Quebec, to the Gaspé Peninsula, finally back to Nova Scotia. We returned to this island where the three of us had come last summer. The fog has not lifted since we arrived. I don't want it to. The colors here are black, white, silver, and gray, just like Tim's fur. I can't stop thinking of his last 24 hours, how I wish they'd been different. This morning I took a long hike along the island's northwest coast. Things crossed my mind like, if I see a seal, it will be a sign from Tim. Or, oh, look, a monarch butterfly, the first I've seen this season, it's a message from Tim. What total bullshit. I can't even bring myself to wish for wishful thinking.
Right after Maisie died, this catbird began to harass me. She was constantly there, wherever I went. She flitted around the oak tree outside my kitchen window, where my desk is, crying-meowing-cawing nonstop. If I went into the living room, the catbird flew into a different oak tree, on that side of the house. Each morning she woke me up, perched on the roof outside my bedroom window, meowing loudly, insistently. I had never, once, seen this bird before Maisie died, and suddenly she was everywhere. "Do you think?..." I asked our house call vet. Jen is kind and spiritual, and she might have thought I needed something to grab onto, even the idea of Maisie returning as a catbird, so she said something "Hmmm." Or "I wonder." Or "It certainly is a coincidence."
Here on the island there is no sweet haunting. I look back, past Tim's last day and night, and remember all that is indelible: the way he loved us all, the way he used to walk Maisie downstairs each morning, bumping against her, not wanting even an inch of space between them as he led her to breakfast; how he would touch a soft paw to my face and leave it there while he gazed into my eyes; how he would put his paw on my palm as if he was holding my hand; how after Maisie died he took a long time to cuddle with his sister, but eventually he did, because that is how he was, he was too full of love not to.
Emelina has mostly stopped crying. She still has moments, searching for her brother. We stayed in this exact room last summer--is she picking up his scent? Is she hoping he'll come out from under the bed, from behind the bureau? She requires constant play--she wants me to waggle her catnip lobster, wave her feather toy, throw her tiny handknit moose so she can fetch it, shake it hard, pretend to kill it, then deliver it back to me. Tim never loved playing the way she does--he would be happy to watch from a perch on the back of my chair, or from the corner of my desk. If a toy came within reach, he would grab it with the swiftest paw imaginable, catch that flying handknit moose right out of the air, hold it just long enough for Emelina to see, then drop it. But Emelina loves to play. She is in constant motion, and I don't mind because I think it's distracting her.
As I write this, I can hear the foghorn at the lighthouse on the north end of the island. The weather report said the fog would burn off this afternoon, and it is starting to. The mist is now more silver than gray. You can tell that blue sky is coming. The fog is dissipating, becoming translucent. Soon it will be gone. You can't hold on to fog. You can't hold on to cats. I want to say something hopeful, like you can hold on to love, but my heart isn't ready to believe that right now. Love hurts too much. It just does. It just does.