On Wednesday March 12, 2014 I laid my sweet cat Mabel to rest. I had no idea how emotional the experience would be. She has been a part of my life since 2000 but always on the periphery. She was rarely cuddly, always skittish and and every so often, had abhorrent manners.
But now that she is gone my bedroom doesn’t even seem like mine anymore. I feel like I’m in some unknown hotel room. Mabel made that room. It was her room that I lived in. She was always in it, on the chair, on the window sill and in earlier days when she could jump, on the bed. I never realized how much I talked to her until now. I would talk to her about everything and before she was deaf, she would often respond! She was the meowingest kitty I have ever met.
Mabel came into my life when Rick and I lived in Soho back in 2000. One of Rick’s co workers had rescued Mabel from the pound so that her cat could have a companion. Well as we know, cats rarely like having a new cat in the mix and they didn’t get along at all. So Rick offered to take Mabel off her hands. I came home from work one day and Rick was there with the big surprise. I was excited too! I had never had a cat before so all of this was very new to me. And of course having a pet in New York made this still new city to me much more homey. I didn’t see Mabel for about three days. She hid under our couch except at night to use the litter box and eat. She soon became a part of the apartment but was never very friendly. One part of Mabel that everyone commented on were her tiny chopped off paws. Who knows who originally owned her but when they declawed her they just chopped off her digits instead of removing the claws, so she had the tiniest little front paws. It was so sad to look at and wonder about the pain she must have gone through.
Those lil paws!
The day Rick moved back to Atlanta and the apartment was mostly empty and I was left all alone, Mabel was the one who was there for me. It was probably the first time we really bonded, when I sat sobbing uncontrollably not sure what this Harlem move and my life without Rick would be like.
Our first year in Harlem 2002 - Chunky Kitty!
When we were installed in The Castle, after several months Mabel changed. She became more confident, striding around the house, she even would venture outside and sunbathe on the terrace. I think it took another year for her to finally jump into bed with me and paw for cuddles. And for the rest of my time in that bedroom, every morning began with Mabel making biscuits on my head. No matter how hungover I was or how exhausted I was, she was persistent! I had to nearly suffocate under covers in hopes of catching a few more Zzzz’s in order to avoid that paw in my eye.
Since Wednesday I have been reminiscing about Mabel and stories have come in from around the world about her. One of my favorite memories of her was some random night when James was living with us. We were drinking and Mabel came down stairs and announced herself with a loud meow. We started laughing and she continued to just meow every time we said something. It went on for 30 minutes and James and I were on the floor with laughter. Another time when Angela and Colin were visiting from England Mabel became obsessed with Colin’s shoes. Every time he took them off she would run up and stick her paws in them and sit on his shoes. Again, hysterics. Patrick McDonald called with condolences and reminded me Mabel was his boon companion when he evacuated the East Village during Hurricane Sandy and spent a week in my room while I had escaped up to Hudson. And then there is the famous Mabel photo I snapped of her licking herself in the most debaucherous position. When I posted it on Facebook one friend said he spit Coke out on his screen he laughed so hard. Adam Shapiro used it as his profile picture for months. It’s quite a gem.
The infamous photo
I’m not sure whether I was a bad daddy or not but I never took Mabel to the vet until this year! She always seemed fine and the thought of taking her in a box in a cab to the vet sounded like disaster and months of cat therapy so there she stayed, in The Castle for 11 years. She never had any issues, minus one pee spree that lasted several weeks ruining duvets, needlepoint pillows and rugs. But I called the vet and they suggested keeping her in the laundry room for several days with the litter box to make sure she knew that’s where she had to go. It worked! It wasn’t until I moved to Charleston last year that the peeing began again. I of course assumed she was mad at me for leaving her. Again, I thought it would make more sense to keep her in a place she loves then move her. My roommate, Justin, was happy to take care of her since he had recently moved in and brought his cat, The Colonel, to The Castle. The past year has been really rough. She peed on everything, multiple times, and whenever I was home I had to take the whole bedroom to the dry cleaner. We ended up rolling up all rugs and covering the entire room in plastic. One guest who stayed in the room for two weeks adored Mabel until she peed in her suitcase on the last day. Another guest who was going to stay for a week left after one day when Mabel peed on her in the middle of the night!
At this time I figured I needed to finally take her to the vet to see what was wrong. Thankfully she was in fine health but her kidneys were giving her trouble, a typical occurrence in older cats. The solution was to start her on (very expensive!) wet food. Mabel was now in hog heaven and the peeing stopped. But now someone had to feed her stinky wet food every day. When I was in the room she would cry out first thing in the morning for wet food. But through the year she started crying for it in the middle of the night, then not wanting it, then eating half. I spoke to the vet again and it wasn’t good. Mabel was on the decline. We could give her medicine every day but it may not stop her confusion and anxiety. So with the vet's total agreement, we decided to put Mabel down and let her go now, instead of when she is even more uncomfortable.
Mabels last photo
I have never watched an animal die. When I as a teenager, took my beloved Ponce to be put down, I don’t remember having the option. I just took her to the vet (driving and absolutely falling apart while playing Björk’s Hyper Ballad) said goodbye and they brought her back in a box for me to bury underneath my bedroom window. But this time I brought Mabel in after our final morning cuddle and I held her as the vet euthanized her. On a light note, the vet sat me down while they were prepping Mabel (putting a tube into her front left leg so they could inject easier) and explained what would happen. She told me that they would first relax her to sleep and then inject her with the lethal dose. She was sure to say, “the first injection is the same drug Michael Jackson took!”
So there we were in this room having a surreal moment together. They gave me some time with Mabel and she was clearly scared and I just held her in my arms and rocked her while her eyes darted all over the room. Then when the vet came back in I held her down as the vet gently took her leg and injected. To my amazement Mabel wasn’t struggling, it was like she knew it was time. She just sat there as I petted her. She took one deep breath and then went limp in my arms. Again, a flood of tears. The vet soothed me, “She is still with us! Just sleeping”. And then came the next shot. It took about five seconds and she was gone. The vet hugged me and said, “You gave her so much love and such a wonderful life. She was so lucky to have you.” And then she left and I sobbed over her body. Kissing her head and saying my last goodbye.
For some reason I thought I would be ok enough to run errands afterwards but I just glided down 77th street in a daze, hailed a cab and gave my address. I had to repeat it three times since I was crying so much I couldn’t speak. And then the next surreal moment of the day happened as my cab driver flew past 116th street not knowing that was the street to turn on to get to 122 Street since Marcus Garvey Park blocks the remaining turns. We drove up to 125th and around to home. It was his first day on the job and was still learning the ropes. I patted him on the shoulder, gave him a good tip and wished him luck. He was so sweet and nervous. The surreal part is that around that same time two buildings exploded on 116th street. If we had turned we would have been in the middle of the mayhem amid the death and destruction. No place to be after what I had just gone through.
Back home I mechanically cleaned up my room, threw out her litter box and rearranged the room to give it a fresh energy, but every night this week I woke up in the middle of the night unable to sleep again. The silence was depressing. Recently her late night meowing was a nightmare, but before that, there was always the patter of her paws or a jump in the bed in the middle of the night. A comforting sound. Now nothing.
I know I did the right thing but messing with nature is still deeply disturbing to me. She was so happy that morning before I put her in the carrier. But now it is done and she is in a better place. I’m at the airport heading back to Charleston and can’t wait to get my hands on my little Fergus. I know one day his time will come too and I can only pray that it will be many years away.
I love you Mabel!