Emily Dickinson once wrote in a letter to a friend that “the heart wants what it wants.”
What a blessing and a bitter pill.
I’m writing this unplanned post tonight in the hopes I can append it with a happy ending later. There will be no pretty, Pinterest-friendly image. I’m not thinking of titles and headings or tags and categories. Maybe I’ll add those things later, but not now. I may just delete the whole thing tomorrow.
This post is one of those I’ve just got to get the thoughts out into the ether kind of posts. It’s my heart, raw with the contradictions that often come with love: the joy it brings, the sadness it causes, the fear it brings to the pit of your stomach. That these feelings can all exist at the same time focused on the same subject is beautiful – miraculous – heartbreaking.
See, the strays and the lost always seem to find their way to my house. Whether they are feline, canine, even reptilian (yes, there was once an iguana in my backyard tree – in Kansas), I do my best to help them. I told my mother once that it’s not my fault. After all, my love for strays was instilled early in life by my parents.
I write these words in anticipation of another visit to the vet.
If you’re a personal friend, you probably know that I added another member to my household several weeks ago. I didn’t mean to. It was an accident. With the windchill in the minus teens on December 30, the young cat crying on my porch at 2:00 a.m. needed my help. Clearly, if he had a warm place to go, he would have been there. And he wasn’t. He was on my porch meowing away. So, I helped him.
I made a rudimentary shelter out of a failed DYI litter box I had discarded, and I stuffed it with blankets. He got in immediately. After 10 minutes or so, I realized there was no real shelter from the wind on the porch, even in the box, so I moved it to my detached garage with him following. I refashioned it as quickly as I could in the cold adding a few more blankets. I put down small bowls of food and water and left the garage door cracked hoping he would do his business in the yard and not the garage.
I took some pictures and a video and posted on my personal Facebook page and to the local area lost and found pets Facebook page.
The next morning, he was gone, and I felt good that I had helped another beautiful soul. Later in the day, though, he was back. Since it was going to be bitter again that night, I added some cold-proofing to the little cat cave, and he stayed in it again that night.
Tuesday, 1/2, I called the humane society. I called all the local vets. I decided if no one claimed him, I would find him a nice home.
Somewhere inside, I knew the risk I was taking.
My friends laughed at me. They knew.
See, the strays and the lost always find me, and often, they stay. This one did.
He had his vet checkup and initial vaccinations. He was healthy. I scheduled his neuter surgery for a couple of days later, but for the present time, he could enter the domain of the other strays and rescues. I was happy. The others were not happy. The others are Boo, Squeak, Bean, and Milo. The others were pissed.
The heart wants what it wants.
People who know me think I’m a bit of a crazy cat lady. The truth is I’m a bit of a crazy animal lady. Believe me, if I had the square-footage and the financial wherewithal, I would have cats and dogs and rabbits and gerbils and guinea pigs and goats and ferrets and ponies and – you get the picture.
Cats, however, have suited my lifestyle, and I have appreciated their quiet independence in good times and in lots of bad times. Almost all have chosen me rather than the other way around, and I feel honored and grateful for their friendship.
But I fall hard, and now, I write these words in anticipation of another visit to the vet.
The young male came through his neuter with flying colors and moved in. My other male cat, Milo, did not appreciate his confident swagger and his “eau de recently neutered but still hormone-laden” cologne.
There was tension. And hissing and spitting. And gradual adjustment. Milo and the new cat came to an understanding – with occasional backsliding. The girls, well they still hiss at a respectful distance.
The name took a while. I’m never a quick namer. I need to learn, to find what fits. I learned he’s fascinated by water and is a fierce and skilled fake-mouser. I learned he loves to snuggle and purr. He was delightful. I eventually decided on the name Mr. Mac A. Doodle – Mac for short.
With a bath and some good nutrition, his coat became glossy and sleek. Some sort of cold-weather genes produced a thick, multi-layered tabby coat and a gloriously-plumed tail.
I fall hard.
About a week after his neuter, I felt two lumps on one of Mac’s back legs. While I figured they were the after results of his vaccines, as they often produce a swelling at the site of the injections, I wasn’t positive. I waited a few days. They didn’t get smaller. Mac and Milo had a battle a few days earlier, and since the lumps were side by side and looked inflamed, I thought perhaps Milo had chomped on him. I figured better safe than sorry and took Mac to the vet.
My vet is wonderful. She’s not just a skilled vet, she’s a kind one. After shaving the area and having a look, she was concerned. To her practiced eyes and fingers, the lumps didn’t look or feel like regular post-vaccine lumps or like “I got in a fight and got chomped lumps.” Were these the reallybadscary kind of lumps? Were they false-negative feline-leukemia-virus-induced cancer kind of lumps?
We decided on a course of antibiotics to see if there was any change. If the lumps shrunk, we would continue antibiotics for another week. If they didn’t shrink? Well, we’d address it if it happened. But, the words “might need to take the leg” hung heavy in the air.
Five days of the seven-day course of antibiotics have now passed. The lumps haven’t shrunk.
My INTP/J-ness means I’ve done a lot of research over the past five days. I’ve learned about the mechanisms that might cause a feline leukemia virus-positive cat to test negative. I’ve learned about the risk to Boo, Squeak, Bean and Milo if Mac turns out to be FeLV positive.** I’ve learned about feline injection-induced fibrosarcoma. I’ve learned about other cancers in cats. I’ve learned about limb amputation. I’ve learned about crowd-sourcing for enormous vet bills.
I’d rather be prepared and pleasantly surprised by good news than be unprepared and devastated by bad news. It’s my nature. But, I admit, I cry when I think of the possibilities. I already love him – with all the beauty and bitterness that goes with it.
I write these words in anticipation of another visit to the vet. I’m scared. I fall hard. The heart wants what it wants.
If the lumps are cancerous, Mac will lose a leg. If he’s otherwise healthy, I’m cool with that. Cats do fine on three legs. I’ll be paying off vet bills for the rest of my life, but hopefully, I can pay it off earlier.
If the lumps are cancerous and have spread and/or we now find out he’s really feline leukemia virus-positive, things become much more complicated and could involve all of my kittos.
Choices will need to be made at that point – choices that would be heartbreakingly bitter pills.
Because the heart wants what it wants, and right now it wants the joy and the blessings.
My heart wants five healthy felines, living together, whether on four legs or on three.
Show more love. Grow more love. Even when it’s scary. Even though it’s hard.
**Having inside cats, I don’t always vaccinate every year. I hope that decision does not lead to catastrophe.