Farewell to Misty: the Unwanted Christmas Kitty
My cat, Misty, died at 2:00 am on August 10, 2013, my 47th birthday. I wrote a lot of what follows as she lay dying next to me on the bed. I wasn’t able to finish and I put it aside until this week, the 20th anniversary of the day that we were united. I thought I would take a break from my current stories about Telalink and post what I couldn’t bring myself to do on the day she died:
I didn’t want her. She was an unwelcome present, whatever she was, on Christmas Eve, 1993. I was a 27 year old loan officer with Peoples Commercial Bank in my hometown of Winchester, Kentucky. The entire bank staff was having its traditional breakfast pot-luck before we opened for a shortened day. Our Secret Santa gift exchange was well underway and I received a handsome silk tie, mostly enjoying the unwrapping of everyone’s presents and exchanges of gratitude.
When all were appropriately gifted, our president, Bill Pitt, said, “We’re down to the last gift and that goes to Conner.”
“Nope, got my gift right here,” said I.
“This one’s special…from a group of friends. Let’s bring it out.”
Vicki Rupard emerged from behind the Christmas tree with a cardboard box that was shaking violently. She could hardly get it to me before she reached out and thrust the box into my hands. “Here!” she said. “Quick! Take it! Take it!”
What “erupted” like a jack-in-the-box was a spritely, brown tabby kitten, probably no more than 4 weeks old. In fact, it is important to me that, whether true or not, she was born on a certain day in November. More on that later.
“What is this?” I asked incredulously, holding this wild-eyed “psycho kitty” by the scruff of the neck as she was literally digging her claws in whatever she could reach.
“It’s your new kitty!” exclaimed Vicki, and Phyllis Blanton, Vicki’s cohort.
“NO!” I said. “You do NOT give a grieving pet owner a replacement pet. EVERYONE knows this. What is wrong with you people? Are you all crazy?”
“Awww, look at her! She loves you!”
“She HATES me and everything else in this world. This thing is violent and evil and I don’t want another cat. Take “La Niña here back to whatever hell from which she came. Under no circumstances will I accept this. Geez, you people are pathetic.”
Martha Saunders said, “Her name is Mistletoe. Isn’t she beautiful? You ARE going to call her Mistletoe, aren’t you? That’s what we call her.”
I was astonished. No one seemed to have heard what I was saying while I kept the clawed devil at arms length, its eyes staring at me as if I only needed to make one false move and it would have my throat.
“You see, Martha. I really don’t want another cat. Twenty years with Precious was all I need. I finally have a clean house. I don’t want to take care of a cat anymore. I’m not keeping it.”
“She’s really taking to you,” said Martha. “Don’t you think Mistletoe is such a perfect name since she is your Christmas kitty?”
“The only thing she’s taking to me is a keen interest in my flesh. Please stop talking about devil kitty as is if she’s my Christmas present. All of you stop laughing and smiling, right now. This cat is not mine.”
At that moment, Vicki leaned over and whispered, “Listen, if you don’t take this cat, she’s going back to Dr. Skaggs’ office and she’s probably going to be put to sleep. She was dropped off with some other strays and they won’t keep any strays that aren’t adopted during the holidays. Phyllis and I picked this one out just for you. She’s had all of her shots. Don’t you want to, at the least, give it a try...or do you want to let this kitten die on Christmas Eve?”
With the situation in context and fearing contemptuous colleagues, I spoke. “I have an announcement to make,” I said. “The cat stays with me until January 2 and then she goes some place else. I’m not keeping her. How’s that? Is that fair enough?”
Almost 20 years later, I am finally sending her back. As I write this, Misty’s body, about 1 hour into her “10th life,” lies next to me. Quiet. Still. At peace. No longer “Psycho Kitty.” I will wrap her in her favorite blanket, the one that sat on the corner of my bed...or maybe it’s HER bed. I will have her cremated tomorrow (August 11) and will finalize arrangements to memorialize Misty.
I want to believe that Misty was born on the same day that Precious, Misty’s predecessor, left this world. My cat history goes back to around 1972, when I was five. My father had been diagnosed with cancer and spent much of the summer in the hospital having undergone radical neck surgery to remove some lymph nodes. It was a long recovery that required an extended stay at Central Baptist Hospital in Lexington. It was scary enough that my Uncle Ralph and Aunt Helen drove up with my cousins from Vidalia, Georgia to spend some time in Winchester with us. The daily routine was something like this- Uncle Ralph and Aunt Helen spent most of the day with my mom in Lexington and left cousins John and Ann to take care of my brother, Thorne, and me.
As I recall, Ann spent much of her day by the pool at the Winchester Country Club. Thorne was in basketball camp for most of the day. John was old enough to drive Dad’s light brown 1966 Pontiac Executive, so I tagged along with him as he dropped everyone off at their destinations. John found it most convenient to extend our visit to George Rogers Clark High School (where Thorne’s basketball camp was) in order to flirt with the flag girls from the band and the cheerleaders. It was during his daily flirtations that I found myself occupied with two homeless kittens roaming about the high school campus.
“You should keep them,” said a flag girl.
“Can I, Cousin John?”
“Why not?” said Cousin John, sensing that this act of compassion and humanity could enhance his credibility with the girls.
“Wow!” I thought. “Best summer ever!” I was oblivious to my father’s cancer.
The two kittens did not last very long. One ran away after a neighborhood dog chased it away. The other survived until November, 1973. One Friday night, I spent the night at Doug Blakeman’s house. The next morning, my mom arrived to pick Doug and me up and took us to the Southeastern Christian College fall festival. As we were about to walk in to the gymnasium where the carnival booths were, Colista Ledford, (wife of Bluegrass legend Homer Ledford) was standing on the front steps with a basket of kittens.
“Oh look, Tom! A basket of kittens! Let’s go look at them!” said Mother, who seemed much more excited about them than I was.
I looked at a half dozen or so tiny newborn kittens, mewing and crawling over one another, hardly able to open their eyes.
“Do you like them? Do you see one you REALLY like?” she said.
“I kind of like this one,” I said, pointing to a long-haired grey ball of fluff with a partly white face and underside.
“Why don’t you pick it up?” my mom said.
The little critter started crawling all over me, up my arm and straight to the back of my neck.
“Do you like that kitty?”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“Do you WANT her?”
“Nah, I already have a cat.”
Mom went from sweet and chatty to quiet and solemn.
“No you don’t. I accidentally ran over your cat last night.”
“Well, uhhhhh…….well, I guess I’ll take this one.”
I didn’t know if I should be excited about getting a new cat or if I should be sad that my other one had met an abrupt and unexpected termination. I guess I opted for being happy about a new kitten. It would be a few weeks before we could actually bring “Precious” home. I think Mom named her “Precious” because it was a most precious moment when she was able to find a gentle way to tell her son that his cat was accidentally killed the night before. I thought it was one of her most brilliant psychological moves ever. Thorne said she cried all night and wondered if they should call the Blakemans to break the news to me. Dad advised that she should just wait until I was back home for a proper discussion.
But then, in a split second at the fall festival she thought, “This basket of kittens is my chance to give him something…to put new life into his hands…something to help him be distracted from the reality of this harsh, violent death that happened last night.”
To this day, I remain grateful for how Mom guided me through that. We had lost pets before. Cheesy (yellow cat) evidently was “taken to a farm” and Tinkerbell (Thorne’s beagle) met her untimely demise by virtue of an encounter with a car on Main Street one Sunday morning. This was different, I guess. Yes, it WAS different because of what happened after that. The decades that followed.
Precious officially joined the Conner family in November, 1973. She died in November, 1993. I knew the day was getting near but I was not prepared. Dad had been diagnosed with cancer again and was slowing down fast. Mom was still teaching, working as hard as ever to support the both of them following the failure of his clothing business and rapidly growing cancer.
On the morning of November 23, Precious had gotten up in the night and fell down the stairs. By early morning, she was having convulsions, her eyes were glassy and she was shaking. I knew it was time but I called Dad.
“Oh my. Son, it’s time for her to die. You need to take her to Dr. Brown and let them put her to sleep. There’s nothing else you can do for her. It will be okay. I’m sorry, son. It’s the right thing to do. She’s ready.”
I think that’s the last real advice that Dad gave me. Much of the rest of his life was dependent on everyone else doing what we needed to help him die. A year would not pass before cancer would take his life.
I placed Precious in a box for transporting pets. Thorne and I called it the “Thank you! I'm Feeling Much Better” box because it had pictures of dogs and cats with that message written on the top.
I called the bank to let them know that I would be late. Everyone knew Precious was getting up in age and that this day was coming.
Precious wailed the whole way during the drive down Lexington Avenue. Tears were running down my face.
“It’s okay, Precious. You’re going to be okay.”
One woman was in the waiting room with her dog. I came in with the “Thank You! I’m Feeling Much Better!” box in hand. Precious continued with loud, sustained meows. I handed the box over to Dr. Brown.
“You should wait out here,” he said.
As I sat down, I finally lost it and burst into tears, crying inconsolably.
The lady in the waiting room with the dog, whom I did not know, came over and sat by me. She put her arm around me and said, “It’s okay, honey. I’m so sorry.”
Nothing helped. I just kept crying.
Precious’ meows suddenly stopped. I buried my face in my hands and just cried while the woman held on to me. Now she was crying, shaking. “it’s okay, honey. It’s all okay! It’s all over now. She loved you. She loved you!”
Dr. Brown came out with the “Thank You! I’m Feeling Much Better” box.
“We can’t bury her. You will need to take her with you. I’m sorry. She was with y’all for a long time. She didn’t feel a thing.”
As I wrote the check for Precious’ euthanasia, my tears dripped on to the instrument and smudged the ink. I remember seeing the cancelled check, wrinkled by the moisture of my tears.
I returned home and placed “Thank You! I’m Feeling Much Better!” in the garage. I headed to the bank.
When I got to the office, Phyllis and Vicki stuck their heads in.
“Well, how are you? We heard the news,” they said.
“I just killed my cat!” I burst out into a more tears and began to cry again. I hid my head in my arms on the desk.
Phyllis and Vicki closed the blinds to my office, turned out the lights and closed the office door.
“Call your family,” said Vicki, just as the door closed.
That night, Thorne and I buried Precious in the backyard at 131 College Street in Winchester. I put away her toys, cleaned out the litter box for the last time and gave away the unused box of Purina Cat Chow to Thorne.
“I don’t ever want to go through that again,” I thought.
No more than one month later, Misty arrived. December 24, 1993. “Mistletoe,” the evil, hateful, psychotic Christmas kitty with sharp claws and a demonic stare. The one who was only supposed to stay at my house until January 2, 1994. The one who, as a new resident of my home, would be chewing on my Adam’s apple every morning when I woke up. The one who would randomly attack from nowhere, seemingly flying from some hidden location until just the right moment as you walked into a room.
Yes, THAT Misty. I was quite certain that I would not have another cat after Precious and, if I try hard enough with the math, I can almost guarantee that Misty was born on the same day that Precious died. Could it be Precious’ spirit? Could it? Nah, I don’t believe in that stuff.
That Christmas Eve morning, with the cat running all over the bank, I had to take her home. I borrowed some cat food from Thorne and pulled Precious’ toys and litter box back out. I spent my first Christmas with “Psycho Kitty” running around everywhere, trying to climb the Christmas tree, attacking ornaments, jumping from furniture to furniture.
Misty did NOT go back to Dr. Skaggs on January 2, 1994 as I vowed she would. No. Misty stayed with me. The first couple of years were just plain orneriness, except….
She DID finally settle down and stopped chewing on my Adam’s apple every morning. She became a little more affectionate after I served as a foster caretaker for “Sugar,” Ms. Nettie Swetnam’s cat. Ms. Swetnam had to move in to a nursing home and her daughter, Mary Bloomfield, invited me to rescue Sugar from a life of loneliness in Ms. Swetnam’s empty house. That did not last too long. Sugar hated Misty and me both but, somehow, the common enemy factor brought Misty and me closer together in the spring of 1994. Sugar found a new home with a family a few weeks later.
In the summer of 1994, Misty needed to be spayed. When she came home after the surgery, she seemed, yet again, a little more affectionate, actually nuzzling up against me as if to say, “I’m sorry for whatever I did. I promise that I will be a kind, respectful cat. Just don’t ever send me back to the place or terrible humans again.”
When Dad died on October 9, 1994, the comfort of Misty sleeping next to me (or sometimes on me), even if I couldn’t sleep, was somehow reassuring. As every day passed, she seemed more and more anxious to be with me and she waited for me at the door every day when I came home from work…or she was fast enough to dart to the door as soon as she sensed my presence, meowing and joyously parading to the kitchen where dinner would soon be served.
On October 10, 1995, her little world was turned upside down when I bought a new pet carrier. She was too tough for “Thank You! I’m Feeling Much Better!” as it was quickly shredded during my first attempt to transport her in it. I loaded her in the front seat of my car for our relocation to Nashville, Tennessee. This was not received well. In fact, she literally stuck her paws out and wrapped them around the gear shift as if she had the strength to throw it back in park to prevent this calamitous event from ever taking place.
We landed at the guest house of Hal and Linda Moses, Tim’s parents, where we lived for about two years. It did not take too long for Misty to feel at home in the woods where strange creatures dwelled. She awoke every morning to about a half dozen deer in the front yard, her tail wagging like a dog’s, her fur standing straight up, as she gazed upon these magnificent prey. Somehow, Misty thought she owned those deer and that she could "single-pawedly" wipe them out in one, well-planned attack. While that never happened, I usually arrived home to dead baby moles at the front door step, trophies of the ever-vigilant hunter in what must have been her “Shangri-La,” until one day.
A month after our relocation, I arrived at my woodsy guest house expecting to find Misty at the front door amidst her usual smorgasbord of dead moles. Oddly, she did not appear and neither were there any mole carcasses.
“Strange,” I thought. “Where might she be?” I slept alone that night.
The next day, no Misty.
After only a month or so in the hills of Nashville, a week passed and I determined that Misty must have met a foe more powerful than she. I assumed that a coyote had her for a snack. I had called the Moses family a few days prior to concluding that Misty had disappeared for good. Mrs. Moses searched long and hard. She had a special bond with Misty. She had a special bond with all critters but she really loved Misty. I guess she saw the good that very few others could. No Misty in sight, anywhere. While I was sad, I concluded a few things- she probably went quick and the last month had been one of her happiest living in the woods.
One week later, as I was pulling in to the driveway, there she was, happier than ever to see me! Dead baby moles aplenty were scattered like rose petals on the front porch. It’s as if the mighty hunter had returned from a fantastic expedition and it was now time for a bountiful feast to celebrate her triumphant return! Who knows what she did that week away. Had she somehow gotten trapped? Did someone try to adopt her but realized she was a bit high-maintenance? Was she there the whole time and just hiding to see how I would handle her (or the dead baby moles’) absence? Did she just take a break and hitch a ride to California? Only she would know such secrets.
When Tim Moses got married (on Halloween night, 1996), I offered to move in to a hotel for a week so family members could stay in the guest house and be together. Misty’s veterinarian was Dr. Kathy Kunkel who, at the time, was a “house calls only” doctor. She suggested that I have Misty stay at some cat kennel in Cool Springs. As I drove Misty to Franklin, she started shaking her carrier. She feared something bad and went ballistic- shaking the mobile prison until it tipped over on the floor. By the time we got to Cool Springs, she had thrown up all over herself.
“Don’t worry,” said the receptionist. “We’ll give her a bath.”
“THAT should be interesting,” I said under my breath.
“How many TLC’s do you want to her have each day?” asked the receptionist.
“Yeah, for every TLC you order, each day, we get her out and play with her for 15 minutes.”
“THAT TOO should be interesting,” I said. “Let’s go with two a day.”
“Great, we’ll see you in a week! Don’t worry. Misty’s going to be just fine.”
“I wish I could say the same for you,” I thought.
Upon returning a week later, I heard haunting meows coming from the kennel area, as if one cat was being water boarded by a CIA agent.
“Those could be any cat’s. What are the chances that those are MY cat’s satanic noises?” I pondered.
“Hi,” I said. “I’m here to pick up my cat.”
“Sure,” said the young woman behind the desk. “What’s your name?”
“Thomas Conner. My cat is Misty.”
“Oh….. We’ve been wondering what kind of person would own a cat like that. Hold on.”
I watched as the receptionist flipped through several pages before pulling out the familiar paper where the cat care instructions had been written down when I first dropped Misty off.
Misty’s paper had a lot of ink on it. A large skull and crossbones had been drawn at the top. “EVIL KITTY! CANCEL ALL TLCS! AVOID ALL CONTACT!!! FEED WITH CAUTION AND USE MAXIMUM PROTECTION!”
The TLC instructions were marked out.
“We’re refunding all of your TLC payments. They were cancelled. There was an incident that we’d rather not get in to it. If it’s okay with you, I’ll just take you to her and you can handle getting her back into her carrier. Okay?”
“That’s fine.” I attempted a sympathetic yet confused smile, as if to say, “I’m sorry but I can’t imagine why she acted that way.” My eyebrow was cocked.
“Don’t take this the wrong way but we don’t ever want her again. We’ve been around mean cats before but she is pure evil.”
“I understand. I’m really sorry for your trouble. I’ll take her now. We won’t be coming back.”
Misty’s fur was still caked with the vomit from the day she arrived. It was indeed her meow that was haunting the entire facility. It sounded like something from “The Exorcist” except as soon as she saw me, her meow sounded much more pitiful, as if she was pleading for her life. “Please just get me out of here! These people are trying to kill me!” We returned to her Shangri-La and bonded again after another traumatic experience apart from one another.
A year later, I moved to a condo on West End. These were Misty’s most difficult days. A paranoid, germaphobic, disturbed roommate hated her and frequently threw things at her. She hid when he was around. There were no trees, no deer, no baby moles to torment, no squirrels to chase. Only a balcony that overlooked a concrete wall and the synagogue next door. Misty grew despondent. Kathy prescribed valium…for the cat. It did not work. Every chance that she had to escape out the front door to make a run for the green grass strip outside of the condo, she took it.
When we finally moved to my house on Noelton Ave., Misty lived for ten years in peace, much more at home with plenty of outdoor time and a home equipped with hiding places and no sadistic roommates. While I never physically took her to the Blessing of the Animals service at Glendale Baptist Church (why would I do that to her, the other animals, the pastors, the congregants, the property, etc.?), I always carried her photograph, hoping the blessing was just as valid.
It’s hard to confess that I’ve bought something from SkyMall but I have to say that the pet stairs where perfect for Misty. She wanted to sleep on my bed but, as she got older, jumping that high proved to be irritating for both of us- she had to hang on and pull herself up without the typical grace of a cat and the whole process was loud enough to wake me up. The SkyMall stairs were just the trick for her to quietly find her sleeping spot.
The year leading up to Mom’s death on April 11, 2012, Misty was once again with me during those sleepless nights. Even if I couldn’t sleep in my bed, she found me wherever I was in the house and stayed with me. As much as she didn’t get along with others…or perhaps I should re-state that: As much as she hated others, she loved me. She often just stood and stared at me whether I was reading, watching a movie, taking a shower, whatever. I have to wonder if she contemplated if I was some sort of a deity or maybe she was just wondering how someone could actually love her. I’m quite sure that she believed that she and I were of the same species or at least the same clan and all others were either enemies (human and other critters alike) or temporary guests only to be trusted a little. Whatever it was, I hate to think that I originally did not want her.
On June 8, 2013, as I was listening to Prairie Home Companion, Garrison Keillor shared his Tribute to Meiko, saying goodbye to the family’s 17 year old cat. Carrying a load of laundry as I heard the poem, I dropped the clothes and sat on the bed, crying as I listened to the words. From out of nowhere, Misty joined me on the bed and sat on my lap, which, of course, made me cry even more. It's as if she understood what we were listening to. Misty was 19 and was slowing down. She had lost her hearing (she no longer tried to stick her head in my mouth when I whistled) and arthritis made her walk a little funny. She even seemed more tolerant of others, although not completely so. She NEVER cared for Peg’s nail clipping service. Somehow, though, Garrison Keillor’s ode felt much like a premonition and Misty and I both knew it.
About a month later, my friend Lane White offered to paint Misty’s portrait. I took several photos of her and she posed accordingly until I was able to capture just the right look. Lane’s portrait was perfect, right down to the small birthmark on Misty’s nose. Somehow, again, I felt like she knew that we needed to do this to prepare for what was soon to come.
On August 3, I returned home from a retreat. It was Saturday afternoon and I noticed that her food had not been touched and neither was she waiting to greet me. I searched and finally located her asleep in the loft. I woke her from a deep sleep but she was not as “present.” I started to wonder if this was the beginning of the end. Sure enough, the rest of the week proved to be more of the same. She lost interest in eating. I tried a little of everything and about the only thing she showed any interest in was a little milk.
By Thursday, I had to set up some makeshift stairs so she could sleep in the futon on my loft and wouldn’t have to jump. I moved her water and food and a little bit of milk up stairs next to her. I fixed an “up stairs” litter box, although I noticed that she had not used one for a couple of days. I spent Thursday night sleeping on the floor in the loft next to her. She was too weak to make it in to the futon and yet by the time I got out of the shower on Friday morning, she had somehow made her way downstairs and lay down against a wall in the living room.
I wondered if she would make it through the day on Friday. My colleagues treated me to a birthday lunch at Chili’s that day since we wouldn’t be at the office on Saturday. I remember commenting, “Wouldn’t it be just like her to wait and die on my birthday?”
When I got home, I found her in the same place in the living room where I had left her. She stayed there until about 9:00 pm that night when she started to walk, barely, toward the sofa. Will Masters, a college classmate who was staying at the house temporarily while waiting to move in to a new home, and I were watching a movie. I followed Misty into my bedroom. She was wanting to get to her sleeping spot on my bed. I picked her up and placed her on her favorite blanket and sat by her the rest of the night. I called April and Deborah, my friends/neighbors, and they came over and sat with us, mostly in silence, while Misty drifted deeper and deeper, her tongue hanging out and her breathing becoming more and more erratic.
After April and Deborah left, my friend, Rolfe, texted me most of the night to keep me company. Finally, at 2 am on August 10, Misty struggled for one final breath. Her body tensed up, she let out a final meow and died.
I miss her. I still expect her to greet me at the door or to wake up with her standing over me, ready to “lead” me to the kitchen for breakfast. I miss the way she lapped up egg nog (appropriate for Mistletoe) and how, as soon as I hit the sofa, she was on my lap or settling down on my chest. I miss her uncanny skill at wedging herself between the laptop and my eyes, a clear indication that I wasn’t paying enough attention to her. I DON’T miss her indecision at the door (“Don’t know if I want to go in or out so I’ll stand right in the opening for the next 5 minutes.”). I DON’T miss tripping over “stealth kitty” when, seemingly out of nowhere she would be right between my legs just as I was carrying something. I DON’T miss her messes.
Nearly 40 years- two cats. It’s hard to believe that the decisions you make at the age of five can have such a long lasting impact. Because of how Misty came into my life as an unwanted gift, plenty of friends joked about getting me a replacement pet again. Not this time. I need to get over this. On Christmas Eve, 2013, I don’t want to be greeted by a psychotic, attack kitten. Seriously, if I were to get a cat now, the odds are that it will live until I turn 67! That’s a big commitment!
In the meantime, I have 40 years of cat memories to keep me company. That’s enough for now.
Farewell Mistletoe/Misty and thank you for nearly 20 years of companionship, memories and love! You were the best unwanted Christmas gift ever. Sleep in heavenly peace.
AUTHOR: Thomas Conner
Thomas Conner is the co-founder, president and chief financial officer of Sitemason, a hosted, supported alternative to Wordpress and Drupal, built for agencies, freelance designers and developers.