When I fantasized about leaving New York City, three things shone brightest on my mental wish list. Most obviously, a garbage disposal. You never realize how useful they are until you’re not allowed to have one.
Also, stairs. Ah, the luxury of spreading out vertically, of stretching one’s calf, of having a depository for misplaced items awaiting transportation to their proper location.
But most importantly and pressingly, I longed for a cat.
I longed for a cat in a way most women my age were beginning to long for children. But, apartment rules: no cats. No real cats anyway. Do you remember those advertisements for Fresh Step, with a cat Photoshopped to look like he was crossing his legs in an effort to avoid using an unsuitable litter box? I cut one out, named him Pajamas, and deposited him subtly on my husband’s bedside table.
The countdown to NYexit was on.
Our first apartment in Portland, while it did not have stairs, did have a garbage disposal. And it had no rules against pets. Imagine those cartoons in which someone runs so quickly that she appears stuck for a moment, a blur exiting her motionless frame before her body catches up with her excitement. That was me, heading to the Oregon Humane Society to adopt our real life Pajamas.
Pajamas was a fluffy black-and-white sweetheart with a penchant for tuna. He had markings on his face that resembled human facial hair, making him appear somehow both wise and befuddled. We both doted on him, even my humoring husband.
And then, I got pregnant.
The positive test was surprising, but not unwelcome. The timing worked. We were ready, even if we hadn’t really considered having children quite yet.
The next day, I started bleeding.
It was the day I normally would have gotten my period. “Maybe my body is just confused,” I reasoned to myself.
I found an OB. She scheduled me for an ultrasound.
“Sometimes people just bleed,” she assured me.
But the bleeding got worse, nearly every time I went to the bathroom now.
I went in for the ultrasound. The baby was small. Too small.
“It’s unusual for it to be this small at this point,” said the ultrasound technician. “This is likely what we call a blighted ovum. It failed to divide properly. Let’s see you again in another week.”
I came home and held Pajamas, crying into his white and black fur.
Then Pajamas got sick. I remember tucking him into a little cocoon of blanket, partially covering his body with it, making him cozy. My husband and I left to go out to dinner. When we arrived home several hours later, the blanket hadn’t moved. Neither had Pajamas. My heart sank. I knew something was wrong.
“Do you think he’s depressed?” I asked my husband.
He laughed, deservedly so. But a lump remained in my throat.
I brought Pajamas in to an emergency vet that night. As they drew blood, the technician complimented his black and white markings, and then sadly said, “It’s unusual for a cat to be this docile when we take blood.”
The words of the two technicians combined.
I went back to my technician. The growth had stopped. A miscarriage was inevitable.
I felt trapped. I no longer had a baby growing inside me. I had something dying inside me, dead already. I felt its death, lodged in the pit of my stomach and in the bottom of my heart. And I wanted it out.
The blood smears mocked me every time I went to the bathroom. Finally, through tears of anger, frustration, sadness, “Just come out already!” I cried.
The next day, it did. The experience was painful, but a relief. I sat on the toilet doubled over, while thick clots of blood came out. It was, I now know, three children later, labor – the cramps identical to the real thing, the forcible expulsion less joyous, but just as much a milestone. My uterus was finally in on what my brain and my heart had known for weeks.
There was no baby.
I called in sick to work. And then I took another day. I watched “Sex and the City” from the first episode up until the one when Charlotte miscarries. Pajamas, feeling decent on a healthy dose of steroids, stuck close by me.
I Googled obsessively, switching between my own symptoms and my cat’s. I wondered if I would ever be able to have a baby. I wondered if Pajamas would get better. I wondered if children, something my husband and I had so cavalierly assumed “someday,” were not going to be in our future.
I called my dad. “I lost the baby,” I sobbed. I felt such guilt. “And Pajamas is going to die.”
Pajamas did die. But not before I continued with the steroids and fed him tuna water, anything, to get him to eat. A few weeks later, I came home from work, and when he got up to run to me, he walked sideways until he hit a wall. He had feline infectious peritonitis (FIP), a relentless, fatal cat disease.
I called the vet in tears, but there was nothing more to do. I held him in my arms until it was time to bring him in. I gently placed him on the metal table. The vet administered the shot. “Can I hold him?” I asked. “Of course,” the vet said.
“Is he gone?”
“Oh yes. He’s gone.”
I don’t know if I had him in my arms in time. I don’t know if his last sensation was of my warm body or of the metal table. I don’t know if the last thing he saw were my tears, or my unexpectedly empty arms.