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This is what happened the day we took Monster to the vet, and after, and about death, and life, and kittens.

Like this.

We never imagined in a million years that it would be Monster’s last day. I hadn’t even planned to go with Mr. Captain to take her to the vet. I was exhausted from pain and lack of sleep–but he asked me to go anyway because the vet might need information I’d know about our sick kitty’s condition, or want to run treatment options past us that I’d be the one responsible for performing. So at the last second I went with him, carrying Monster in a soft-sided carrier.

All the way up to the moment that our vet carefully, delicately explained that Monster had a huge tumor in her chest, Mr. Captain and I were both expecting to get maybe some appetite stimulants or antibiotics or IV fluids for her and then see her bounce back to her former radiant health a few days later. We were there mainly because we were concerned that she wasn’t eating enough to carry her through her temporary illness, and we knew that cats have to eat regularly or else they can very quickly die. (This is where fundagelicals start sputtering about how nobody got cancer until the Fall of Adam and Eve, after which their god magically punished animals for humans’ sin by physically altering all animal life’s genetics to make them suddenly susceptible to diseases, old age, and defects.) We were shocked to learn the awful truth.

Worse, the disease had advanced so far and so fast that the only thing we could do was help her pass away cleanly and quickly, with as little additional pain as we could manage.

We went home stunned and reeling at how fast it’d all happened.

But something else had happened that morning.

While we were in the vet’s office, we saw a pair of sprightly orange kittens in a large cage in the front. A lot of local vets also host foster kittens; it’s how my mom adopted her own two ex-feral rescues. I like it when vets do this–it’s the closest thing one can get to a certified pre-owned cat.

I find all kittens beyond adorable, but even by the exactingly-high standards of kittendom, these were ridiculously photogenic, cute, friendly, outgoing, and playful kittens. The second we sat down near their cage, they both began purring thunderously and mewing, rushing to the cage bars for attention–which they got.

We were charmed, to put it mildly.

We’d been talking about adopting a kitten this Christmas. Monster’d been getting steadily more social and friendly in her increasing age, so we had been sensing that maybe it’d be easier for her to adjust to a new cat.

“We can’t just take these two home with us, can we?” Mr. Captain asked plaintively, his eyes on the orange kittens, but I reminded him that Monster might be contagious. (Remember, we thought she suffered a kitty cold. I was already worried that our other cat would get sick too.)

A shockingly short time later, while we were on our way out, the orange kittens mewed at us: visible and insistent signs of life amid our grief. It seemed out of place; didn’t they know that something terrible had happened? Where was their sense of propriety?

After we got home, I don’t know exactly how long it took for us to start talking about the kittens. But eventually they came up. “Those were just about the perfect kittens,” Mr. Captain noted. And, damn it, he was right. Finally we looked at each other, almost helplessly, and began wondering which of us should make the call to the vet and how we could ask what we needed to ask without looking like heartless assholes.

I made the call. The receptionist’s voice broke when she told me that yes, the office was indeed looking for homes for those kittens. She knew about Monster’s passing, obviously–it wasn’t a huge vet office–and I think it made her very happy to think that maybe the kittens would go to our home. So later that day, Mr. Captain went to fetch them while I tried to kitten-proof the house. I also learned their amazing story:

A woman found a stray orange cat in her garage seeking warmth in an uncharacteristic autumn cold spell. She took the cat to our vet to have it spayed, with the intention of releasing the cat afterward–which is common in a lot of areas as a means of animal control. When the vet went to perform the operation, she discovered that the cat was already pregnant. And she was not just pregnant, but very–even “any day now” –pregnant. The vet made a deal with the woman: if she’d take the cat back home and let her have her kittens, then the vet’s office would take them in after they were weaned and find them homes. The woman agreed, and took the cat home. The very next morning the cat had six healthy orange kittens, and a few weeks later the woman took the vet up on that offer. That had been a solid week before we’d shown up with Monster.

Despite being the most gregarious and sweet-tempered kittens in the litter, these two were the last ones to be adopted, probably because they had a mild stomach upset–common in kittens in their situation, the vet assured us, requiring only a little medication for a week in their food. It blew my mind that this minor inconvenience had prevented someone from swooping in to adopt these two perfect little lovebugs, but sometimes that’s all it takes.

Fraid so.
Done and done.

This adoption was happening entirely earlier than I’d have normally liked. When my old ladycat died some years ago at the very ripe kitty-age of 19, I couldn’t even think about adopting another cat for damned near a year. I’m not normally one of those people who can immediately let another animal into my life right after one has left it. But these were, as Mr. Captain correctly said, the perfect kittens for us, and more importantly we were probably the perfect humans for them.

Would they have been adopted eventually despite their “flaw”? Of course. But we were there right then and a more ideal situation for them could hardly be imagined. We had plenty of room for them, someone on hand who could supervise their medication and acclimation, and our only other pet is a very chill older cat who could be counted on to get along with them relatively well.

In short, I didn’t see what good would come of waiting just for the sake of waiting.

I felt almost dazed when my husband got home, opened the carrier, and revealed two squeaky bundles of joy inside. They immediately set about exploring while our other cat–a giant white diabetic fellow, Monster’s inexplicable littermate, stared at them uncertainly.

So to my astonishment, there are two orange energetic, affectionate, friendly, happy little kittens in my house now.

The diabetic kitty doesn’t love them–yet–but he’s putting up with them quite well. There’ve been no fights and only a few swats and surprised spitting. We are making sure to love him up as much as we can. Frankly, given how much Monster hassled him, he might be relieved that now he can sleep wherever he wants without worrying about much more than a few kitten head-bonkies.

The circle of life has spun around again, it seems. And every time I see the kittens, the grief subsides a little more. It still hurts that Monster is gone, and it will for a while. That place won’t ever belong to any other creature because it is Monster-sized and Monster-shaped. And it throbs with pain still. It sucks so much that she was just starting to come out of her shell and didn’t get the time she needed to blossom fully, but sometimes that’s just how the cookie crumbles. There’s no rhyme or reason to it. As the Bible even says, none of us has any idea what tomorrow will bring–which is hardly a unique idea to Christianity, though, or some kind of bizarre or profound truth that humans hadn’t known until then! Just observing the world around us could tell us that. I wish she’d gotten that time, but that she did not get it is not some particular malice on the part of life itself.

Nobody’s ever going to have that little dark corner that Monster claimed and guarded as her own. Instead these sweet babies are burrowing out new places in my heart for themselves and I feel it happening with every millimeter they gain.

This is not what I’d call the best of all possible worlds. It is however the only one we have. The suffering so many critters and people experience is not the sign of a loving or just or merciful super-god who somehow intended or allowed or even wanted all of it to happen. But we do the best with what we have, and this seemed like the very best thing I could do with an imperfect situation.

I’ve started the clock ticking down to the next heartbreak, I know, but I don’t regret anything. Hopefully that awful day will be a very long way away. I will try not to bore you with a 24/7 All Kittens, All the Time playbook, but I had to talk about this today.

World, meet Bumble and Bother. Bumble and Bother, meet--wait, where are you going? For the love of Pete, get back here--
Everybody, meet Bumble (L, boy) and Bother (R, girl). Bumble and Bother, meet–wait, where are you two damned cats going? For the love of Pete, get back here–One sec, brb, herding kittens, which is much harder than herding cats. (NOT SHOWN: constant thunderous purring.)
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ROLL TO DISBELIEVE "Captain Cassidy" is Cassidy McGillicuddy, a Gen Xer and ex-Pentecostal. (The title is metaphorical.) She writes about the intersection of psychology, belief, popular culture, science,...