All I wanted to do was hold my cat one more time. I was laying on the ground of the Webster Groves Veterinarian Office parking lot, crumbled into a ball.
I knew Jack was gone. When I picked his body up out of the backseat floor, it was limp and lifeless, like an old rolled up carpet. I hadn’t cried this much in years.
I didn’t cry like this when my grandmother, Nana, passed away last year.
I didn’t even cry this hard when my grandmother, Meme, passed away in 2011.
This was different. A new kind of pain. A blind side that came out of nowhere and slammed me to the surface. I was Joe Theismann on a football field without a care in the world for a guy named Lawrence Taylor.
Jack was our oldest pet, and in some respects, our oldest child. You see, when you are a good caretaker for a pet, they begin to feel like human children instead of an animal playing a limitless game of sleepover. He was as old as Rachel and I’s relationship: 15 going on 16.
I remember bringing him home in Columbia, Missouri. The first night he stayed in our Courtyard Apartments ($376 dollar rent!!!), Jack slept on my head. He was so small, I could hold him in the palm of my hand like a shot put. Those were the days. The best days.
Jack saw us through all the apartments and houses. Courtyard, Manhassett Village, Laclede Station, Kael, Oleatha, Mardel, and Holly Hills.
If you don’t cry, you don’t care. That is what I believe to be true as I sit in my 36th year of age. Everyone has emotion somewhere in them that can be tapped with the right event. They say sadness tears originate in the cerebrum, which triggers the endocrine system to produce tears. If you ask a tough guy, they will say an onion was sliced. It’s bullshit. Emotional tears are the most satisfying, but also the most ugly.
If someone was passing on I-44 West this past Sunday afternoon and saw this sunken bald guy crying his ass off as a nurse came for their pet, it wasn’t a pretty sight. You wouldn’t throw away the smoothie you were sipping, but I doubt the sandwich would be finished.
I couldn’t help myself. I knew he was gone and I had ZERO TIME TO PREPARE. You see, on Friday, Jack was fine-or at least as fine as Jack could be at an old age. His Albert Pujols stare-which came about due to the way the Cardinals slugger squinted at hitters before the pitch was thrown-had matured into a Clint Eastwood “go fuck yourself” glare. But he was a lovable fun-loving pet. He just wanted you to sit down for three hours and pet him. A simple enough task that I never had time for.
Saturday night, my wife noticed he was laboring hard for breath. You could see his entire backside squeeze in tight and expand back out. If he was a dog sprinting around a yard, it would be normal. Jack was just sitting on a bench. We knew something was up, but decided to wait on it. I went out to a St. Louis Game Time paper (the Blues publication I write for) get-together to watch the game, taking my mind off of it. Afterwards, I drove until 4 o’clock in the morning.
Sunday morning, he was worse. Jack was panting out of his mouth as if he had nothing left inside. We decided to take him in, and I remember going upstairs to put pants on and taking a few minutes. I needed at least a couple to process the thought that this was it. Jack was dying. He wasn’t coming back home. We had taken the poor cat to the vet a number of times over the years for seizures and other ailments, but this was final. When a pet can’t breathe, they are knocking on heaven’s door with two bottles of cat wine.
Jack wasn’t happy. He scratched Rachel on the cheek, hopped out of her lap, and went down to the floor mat below Vinny. He was dying in his own way, where he wanted to. As we drove over Laclede Station Road, Jack died. He was ready, even if we weren’t.
That’s the problem with pets and humans. It’s an unbreakable and bittersweet connection that endures. A bittersweet bond due to the fact that a pet will die when they reach 15-20 years. Think about it. Your cat dies in his teenage years. That’s old age for a pet. To the owner, it’s just not fair. We always want more time with our pets. 15-20 years isn’t enough, and it’s impossible to not forge a bond with your pet. The toughest cynics even though their pets.
I wanted more time with Jack. I spent most of Sunday crying off and on. It came and went like a shock to the system. I’d be fine, think about him, and start going again. It was a puzzle that had one ill-fitting piece. We were leaving for lunch at Russell’s on Macklind and I couldn’t even get in the car without losing it in the street. When I went down to the basement to feed the other cats, seeing the two bowls instead of three was tough. Everything around my home and life is tough now. Jack is gone and that just sucks.
Tuesday morning, my parents lost their oldest dog, Lace. She was the daughter my mother never had. They will be beside themselves for weeks. That’s the way it works.
If you are a good pet owner, losing them is brutal. There’s no way around it. The other pets, Frank and Cabernet (the cats) and Roscoe (our dog) know something is up, and they don’t like it either. Their big brother is gone.
I’ll leave you with this. I loved my cat. He was the best cat a human could ever hope for. Smart, cuddly, and just cool. Cooler than cool. He lived a good life and didn’t waste a minute of it. That’s all we can hope for our kids, animal or human. Take life and pack it full of love.
I miss Jack a lot. I still look for him, hoping he’ll walk up and give me a head knock as a kiss and hello. I wish. 16 years wasn’t enough time, but I don’t regret a single second of it. All I regret right now is not taking a little extra time to hang with him on Saturday.
You won’t find a truer saying than this one: “you’ll never know what you have until it’s gone.”
Rest in peace, Jack Buffa, 2002-2018.