Walter Mencken 11 a.m., Aug. 29
- Community Blog
Tundra # 19
By the time April and I were married and our daughter, Daisy, was two months old, Tundra had been our cat for over five years. One late autumn night he came home for the last time. The pupils of his eyes were dilated with shock, and the rear portion of his body was bleeding and badly damaged. A car had hit him, leaving him unable to walk. April discovered him in the yard as he used his front legs to pull himself along the ground to the front door. How he hauled himself over our six-foot fence in his condition I’ll never know. The meow Tundra used was one that I’d never heard before, it somehow managed to be both high and low-pitched at the same time as well as being thoroughly saturated with profound fear and confusion.
I wrapped him in a towel and took him to the 24-hour emergency veterinarian’s hospital near Hotel Circle. In the passenger seat of the car, Tundra meowed about every 15 seconds. The haunting pitch of his voice suggested a desperate faraway searching that made me want to cry.
I tried to comfort him by reaching out in the darkness of the car to gently pat his head and talk to him in a soothing tone. “It’s okay, Tundra, it’s okay. You’re going to be all right, buddy; you’re going to be all right.”
The staff at the hospital was very professional and caring, and they immediately whisked Tundra away to an examination room for evaluation. A doctor examined Tundra and then told me that he had extensive spine and lower body damage. They could try to save him, but it would be expensive, and, still, he might die anyway. The doctor said, sadly, that my best option, for Tundra and me, was to put him to sleep. There wasn’t a lot of time to think about it, so I agreed to let them end Tundra’s suffering. Tundra was taken into a small room and placed on a table. Blood had begun to leak from his nose and mouth. I stood beside the table and stroked his fur. They had given him a painkiller when we first arrived. After the sedative had been administered, Tundra only meowed a few more times. The tone of his voice now sounded closer to normal, but no less fearful.
A doctor and a nurse entered the room. The doctor told me I was doing the right thing. It didn’t feel as if I was doing the right thing, and my eyes welled up with tears. The nurse placed a hand on Tundra to restrain him, but it wasn’t necessary. I continued to pat him, and then the doctor gave Tundra one more shot. Very weakly, he meowed a final time without looking at me. I told Tundra he was a good cat as my hand went gently back and forth over his white fur. I could feel the beat of his heart increase as the drug entered his blood stream. Then his eyes closed slowly as if he were suddenly overtaken with fatigue. His breathing began to slow, as did the beat of his heart. And then, just like that, Tundra the White Tornado was gone.
His body was placed inside of a thick black plastic bag with the veterinarian’s name and address on it as well as a serial number assigned to Tundra’s body. I had the option of leaving his body with them to be destroyed, or I could take the small body bag with Tundra inside home with me. I chose the latter.
I dug a hole in the geraniums. The night was cool and the earth was soft and easily manageable. The work went quickly. I took Tundra out of the body bag and placed him in the small grave. April came outside and stood beside the hole with Daisy in her arms. Her voice trembled and the tears fell freely from her eyes. “Goodbye, Tundra,” she said, choking up. “We love you.” Daisy remained asleep. Back then Daisy did little more than sleep and eat. I envied her greatly.
April and Daisy went back into the house, and I was alone in the garden with Tundra once again. As I viewed the lifeless body, I knew it wasn’t really Tundra in the hole that I was preparing to fill in. The real Tundra hadn’t even been in the small room at the veterinarian’s office when the doctor had administered the lethal shot. That had just been the lingering husk that pain, confusion, and fear had left behind. The real Tundra had escaped from his body the moment the car’s tire had begun to pulverize his bones and organs.
“Bye, Tundra,” I said. I didn’t feel the need to add anything. Tundra knew how I felt about him. I threw the first shovel full of earth into the hole and it hit Tundra’s body with a sound that I simply could not associate with an animal that had once been so alive and full of mischief. The sound was dull and completely devoid of life as if I were throwing dirt over nothing more than a doll or a plank of wood. I continued shoveling dirt into the hole, and soon my work was done. Tundra now lay beneath the moist dirt in the garden that he had once loved to nap in and prowl through on warm summer days.
I would place a memorial on his grave, maybe his black collar with the red heart-shaped metal tag that had his name and our phone number on it, a memento from his daintier days those first few months with us (we had removed our cats’ collars years before to allow them to be more comfortable). And maybe I’d put his favorite well-chewed furry gray toy mouse on his grave as well, the one he liked to flip up into the air with his rear feet while he lay on his back … but there was time for all of that tomorrow.
I didn’t want to go into the warm interior of the house, not yet. Walking away from my pet’s grave so briskly after covering it, I felt, would be disrespectful. We still needed time to absorb everything, Tundra and I.
Opening and then closing the front door behind me would make the disquieting concept of Tundra‘s death absolute. I wanted to delay the reality of never again hearing Tundra’s courteous meow as he scratched at the door with his right front paw to be let out, as well as temporarily postponing the sense of loss that would indefinitely blanket me like a sad canopy made of shadows.
For the moment, I just wanted to be consoled by the precious memories of what was, as well as ponder the delightful ones—though they seemed years away—still to come. Pulling up a dew spotted lawn chair to the front of Tundra’s fresh grave, I sat down in the darkness to visit with the mute and timeless ghosts of yesterday as they capered graciously beneath the chill of the harvest night.