Our cat Moss woke my wife and me up in the middle of the night. It wasn’t the first time, and it wouldn’t be the last (Moss is a snuggler, whether the snugglee likes it or not). Something was different about that night. She walked on our pillows, nudged our heads with hers, and mewed softly, then louder. I don’t know why, but I mumbled to myself in the dark, “We’re going to lose Roi.”
We had adopted our cats Moss and Roi a few months before. Stickers on their kennel named them “Augusta” and “Savannah,” sisters from the same litter, just a few weeks old. The two were tortoiseshell negative images of one another: Moss dark with light flecks like the night sky and Roi bright with shadows like a smoky fire.
We fell in love immediately.
We tried to talk ourselves out of it. Our wedding was still months away; my fiancée was living with her parents. We didn’t have any cat stuff, which was just as well since we had nowhere to put it. There was a house we were looking to buy, but it was a fixer-upper where we would have to be careful with cats. I could imagine one of them slipping into a hole in the drywall, disappearing into the ventilation, becoming a meowing ghost we may or may not ever see again.
But we had fallen in love, and so we came back the following day to adopt them.
The next few months were difficult but good ones. We replaced walls, laid flooring, patched, painted, and re-painted. We renamed the cats from their “old lady” names to Moss and Roi after gender-bent characters in the British comedy IT Crowd.
Finally we were moved in, and life settled down a little more. The cats loved the new house, especially all the boxes to climb over and semi-arranged furniture to hide under. Their room, our library, was the first to be finished. They were allowed out during the day, but we closed the door at night to keep them out of trouble. They would knock, making ominous thuds as if politely stating, “We’d like to come out and play now,” over and over and over again until we gave them full run of the house twenty-four hours a day. They accepted nothing less.
Moss and Roi loved to play chase, running and sliding as fast as they could over the wood floors before bounding on top of furniture. Meal-times had to be punctual, as if they knew to take turns to keep us on our toes. Closets had to be opened for inspection. When my wife and I settled down for a movie, they would settle, too, on the back of our couch: Moss on the right, Roi on the left. Always.
Roi was the sweetheart of the two. She would sit in my lap while I graded papers or wrote, always seeming to know when I needed company. When I had a case of food poisoning, she waited at the bathroom door until I had finished evacuating bad chicken wings and then came to nuzzle me, as if checking to make sure I was feeling better. It was so adorable that we decided to get her a nurse’s costume for Halloween.
She didn’t live that long.
Roi never seemed to grow much. We did not think much of it until our regular checkup at the vet where Roi had a low fever. The doctor gave us some antibiotic that we had to give to both cats to make sure Moss didn’t catch anything, too. It was an orange-pink solution that smelled sweet as it came out of the dropper. The cats hated it. Roi didn’t seem to struggle nearly as much.
They didn’t play chase anymore. Roi spent most of her time in warm spots under the bed or in a sunbeam. Moss outpaced her growing so much we joked about her being a football player, never realizing it was Roi who wasn’t normal. Even though we loved her and were with her every day, we had no idea her little body was giving out.
Moss nudged us urgently that late Sunday night. I woke up first, but I was too tired to move. Then my wife said, “Do you hear that?” Soft coughing sounds.
Little Roi was in the living room. She had thrown up something watery and lying nearby. As we came in, she got up, took several steps, and then slumped back down to the floor.
We petted her gently, asking in soothing voices what was the matter. She made a brave face, as if it were nothing she couldn’t handle by herself. After a few minutes of petting, she seemed better and walked casually to the little fabric cube she used as her own little room.
Between teaching classes Monday, I took Roi to the vet for some blood-work. She still stumbled as she walked, and she didn’t fight like she usually did going into the carrier. I held the carrier on my lap, petting her with my fingers through the wires of the gate.
The vet came back to say that she tested positive for FIV—feline immunodeficiency virus. The two cats had tested negative when we adopted them. Where had she gotten it? Had the neighbor’s cat spread it to them through the screen door we left open? Did we bring it home somehow?
It was hard not to blame ourselves, especially since there was so little else we could do. FIV itself just meant that we had to be careful to certain she didn’t come into contact with other cats. The real danger was the secondary infections, which is what made Roi sick. Like many cats with FIV, she developed a buildup of infected fluid. Other cats typically had a buildup in their abdomen like a squishy belly, but Roi’s settled in her pericardium. If it had been anywhere else in her body, anywhere, we could have had the fluid drawn off. Instead, the fluid was building up, giving our little kitty, still months from being a year old, congestive heart failure.
The vet asked if I would like to have her put down. I shook my head. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye like that.
I took her home, and my wife set up our guest bedroom just for her. We gave her fresh soft towels, her own water bowl and litter box, anything a cat could want. Her food bowl was filled with the best canned food we could find.
Not salmon, though. She didn’t care for seafood.
My wife and I wrestled with what to do. Roi was dying of a broken heart, and there was nothing we could do. We sat with her when we could. She lay still most of the time.
About two in the morning that Thursday, my wife woke me up. The coughing sounds were back. Moss was already at the door to Roi’s room, ready to be with her sister. She didn’t knock; she just waited.
Roi was splayed out like a ragdoll, panting as if she could not get enough air. My wife petted her while I got out the carrier to take her to the all-night emergency clinic across town. It was time to go.
It wasn’t that cold of a night, but despite my heavy jacket, I couldn’t keep warm. I drove faster than I should have. Roi coughed in the backseat. After just a mile or so, she went quiet. When we hefted carrier out of the car, her weight didn’t shift.
The vet at the clinic confirmed that she was gone. The vet gave us a cardboard box that folded up into a little coffin, and we went home. We didn’t talk much, except that my wife said we had to show her to Moss.
When we got home, we laid out Roi’s coffin in the front hall and let Moss come see her sister. Moss sniffed at the box and then sniffed at the Roi’s body inside. She seemed to know it was no longer her. While my wife held Moss, I went into the garage and found a shovel.
Under a full moon, I dug next to the big tree in our backyard, splitting roots and digging deep with every ounce of sorrow I had. I wanted to be angry at God and the universe and myself, but I just couldn’t do it. There was so much good in the few months that we had spent with Roi that all I could do was to be thankful for that time.
There, under a tree under the full moon, at three in the morning, we had our little funeral for Roi. We placed a little stone over her that rests there to this day.