She came into our life like an orange hurricane, and exited in much the same fashion exactly one month later.
Last spring, neighbors put out the word they had found a kitten. Actually, they said, it had shown up at their back door one day and simply refused to leave. It was driving their dogs crazy and they couldn’t keep it. We agreed to “foster” it until a good home could be found.
“Riiiiight,” said anyone who knew us.
When they delivered her to our door, she scrambled over my wife’s shoulders, ricocheted off my chest and did a quick sweep of the house before making herself at home on the couch.
Our other cat was not pleased.
No matter. The kitten settled in as if she had always lived here.
She was a cream and orange tabby with blue eyes. A lot of people assumed we got the sex wrong, because orange females are exceedingly rare.
Clearly she had had a rough start in life. One ear was scarred, and pads were missing from her paws. She also had long, scabbed-over slashes on two of her legs. We thought she’d been mauled in a fight, but the vet said they were too straight, too mechanical–probably caused by a trap.
In spite of this, she was the friendliest cat we had ever met. When anyone came to visit she immediately went to greet them, and she was respectfully relentless in her efforts to make nice with our other cat.
Ever the flirt, with eyes half-closed and chin extended, she would luxuriously stretch out and reach for your attention whenever you passed by.
The one time she hissed at us was when I pulled her out of a large potato chip bag she had rocketed into mere seconds after I opened it. “My kind of girl,” said my wife. “I’d hiss at you too if you got in my way of a bag of chips.”
After a week, we still hadn’t found another place for her. (To be honest, we didn’t try that hard.) “You realize if we name her, we have to keep her,” said my wife. “I know,” I said. We started working on names.
Every smart cat owner knows you can’t just pick a name; you have to live with the beast for a week or so until you realize what its name is. We decided hers had to have an “x” in it somewhere.
Roxy … Moxy …
“Maxy” I stated.
“Maxie,” my wife agreed.
Maxie was fearless. Sure, she was full of the manic energy required by law in kittens–but this cat threw herself into everything with exceptional abandon.
There wasn’t a space she didn’t explore, or a door she didn’t try to open. One morning we found her sitting on top of the refrigerator; in the afternoon, on a 1-inch-wide window ledge in the utility room.
Our other cat, Molly, must have been feeling pressure. One Saturday night, during a full-blown thunderstorm, she refused to come in from the downpour until she brought a gift to the door–a 9-inch-long rat.
Maxie was maybe 5 months old when we got her, and after several weeks we took her to be spayed. Upon waking from surgery, she promptly tore out her stitches. The vet put the stitches back in and placed one of those plastic cones around her head.
Now, every pet we’ve ever owned would hide for days after getting neutered, sulking and sleeping it off. Not Maxie. Shortly after bringing her home, I was on my cell phone in the backyard when I saw a flash of orange in the window and heard a crash from the utility room; she knocked over a tangle of gardening tools while attempting to jump to her favorite 1-inch ledge.
She continued to tear across the house, batting around the foil balls and ribbons she liked to play with, and it only took her a few times of catching the cone on a door frame, or misjudging the distance from loveseat to ottoman, before she adjusted to life as a conehead.
A few days later I was talking to my brother, telling him everything Maxie had been through. I said, “Sometimes I wonder if she used up all nine lives getting out of that trap in the woods.”
I didn’t know how right I was.
The next night I was at my drawing table, pulling an all-nighter. Maxie was in her spot next to me in the wicker chair in my studio. I liked having her around when I drew, and she liked jumping after pencils and erasers when they fell to the floor.
Around 1 a.m. she seemed to get a hairball. She still had the cone around her head (two more days until it could come off), so I kept an eye on her just in case. She became more agitated and even growled when I petted her, so I followed her around for the next 10 minutes to be sure she was OK. Her wheezing subsided and she went to her food bowl and gave me an annoyed look for shadowing her.
I had just returned to my drawing table when a sharp screaming hiss ripped through the house. I jumped up from my chair in time to see Maxie hurl down the hallway–bloody entrails dragging behind her.
Somehow her incision had ripped open and her intestines had fallen out.
Maxie ran to her safe haven, the bath mat in front of the tub. Blood was everywhere. I yelled for my wife to wake up. I put a towel around her as gently as I could to restrain her. My wife got her keys, got her purse. I cut off the accursed cone. I tried to pick up the cat, bath mat and all, but she howled in pain and bolted. I pulled her back and wrapped her in a towel.
We speeded to the pet emergency room, running red lights when we could. Some idiot on I-85 tried to race us. Maxie began panting. It was almost 2 a.m. on a Saturday night and I started imagining how I would deal with the police if we got pulled over. We arrived without incident and handed her off to the vet. Only later did I realize I didn’t have my wallet.
“This is very bad,” the vet said when she finally came out. It wasn’t just that the incision had split open–her bowels had become knotted, strangulated from lack of blood. Most of her intestines were dead and had been for hours, long before they burst out. Somehow, somewhere, something must have happened in all of her twisting or playing or jumping. Even with emergency surgery, it was unlikely she would survive the night, and if she did she would be greatly handicapped, with almost no digestive system.
We made the only decision we could.
They got her ready and we came in to say goodbye. Maxie was resting on her side in a large blanket, front paws wrapped in blue medical tape where they had tried to put in shunts. She looked like a racing thoroughbred. She saw us and turned her head in that sweet flirty way, and I whispered in her ear that she was just too much for this world to contain. A few seconds later, she slipped into a coma.
After a time the vet came in. She told us that while they were working on her, Maxie was alert and curious and kept reaching for their stethoscopes. Even as she lay dying, she wanted to play!
Somehow we paid the bill and made it home. Molly sat on the bed, uncomprehending. All she knew was that the interloper was gone. I tried not to hold it against her. We spent the next hour cleaning up the blood. The worst was on the cloth bath mat: dark, arterial. I couldn’t bring myself to just throw it away–that felt like sullying her memory. My wife and I talked and drank and cried and finally collapsed into bed before dawn.
The next day was almost as bad, as the shock wore off and the trauma set in. As the sun set, I built a little fire in our backyard fire pit and invited over the neighbors who had first introduced us to the kitten and we had an impromptu wake. We stood around the fire and talked about Maxie and other long-gone pets. I carefully folded the bath mat and placed it in the center of the flame. It was strange, but doing it felt right–necessary.
The blood-soaked cotton blazed like an orange fireball in the evening air.