The McMaster Files

The Deal

This column is a reprint from Unwinnable Monthly #105. If you like what you see, grab the magazine for less than ten dollars, or subscribe and get all future magazines for half price.

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A repository for games and ennui.

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We recently adopted two kittens, brother and sister, and named them Henry and Georgia. They are wonderful! I think about them all the time and love to spend time with them, just like my other cats. Of course, they’re babies, so I feel a particular need to protect them. I guess that doesn’t really go away with age. My 17-year-old cat, Sally, is just as much a kitten to me as these new ones.

It was a big deal for me, getting the kittens, as it hasn’t been a great year for cats in the McMaster household. As I wrote earlier this year, we had Murray put down because he was in a lot of pain and his body was failing. You may have noticed that I haven’t been around much since then. I’ve had a very hard time with his passing, and then a younger cat of mine, Floyd, suddenly went in his sleep. He and I were very close.

After a couple of days of him sleeping in my lap while I worked, there was no chance my friend was getting him back. We were inseparable after that.

He wasn’t even supposed to be my cat. A friend to whom I rented a room adopted him and then had to go out of town for several weeks. He was small at the time and needed supervision. I worked at home and would take care of him. After a couple of days of him sleeping in my lap while I worked, there was no chance my friend was getting him back. We were inseparable after that.

Floyd didn’t have papers, but he had all the characteristics of a Maine Coon – including weighing 30 pounds. He was a giant, but quite gentle. When we brought home a kitten my niece found in a box, Floyd adopted him. The other, older cats wanted nothing to do with little Mitchell. He was kind of a terror. One night, he had been tormenting one of our older cats, Gus, and got smacked. Floyd heard Mitchell mew and came barreling out of nowhere, tackled Gus off the couch and chased him away.

There are a thousand stories about Floyd. One time he tried to charm a cheeseburger by chattering at it while we ate. He was huge but somehow stealthy when it came to pizza. He loved to talk to you which led to flopping on your feet and wallowing. He would sleep on his back next to me and snore.

Every life disaster, Floyd was there. He always knew when I was upset and came to me. He followed me around the house and would wait for me to come home every day. In “I Grieve,” by Peter Gabriel, he says, “The news that truly shocks is the empty, empty page.” I believe that’s the heart of the issue. When something so constant, and good, in your life is suddenly gone, the pain is astonishing. That’s what it was like when Floyd was suddenly gone.

The news that truly shocks is the empty, empty page.

Losing a pet is horrible, as most of us know. Being there and holding Murray while he passed was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Looking back on it, though, we do the same thing for humans. My father-in-law had been very sick for years and when it was time, my wife and I were with him. They call it palliative care, which sounds fancy, but it’s when they can’t save you they make you comfortable and help you die. It’s profoundly crushing to witness an ending. More so when you’d give anything to change it.

I’ve reached this point in my life where things don’t look up very often. I can’t have children. My grandparents are all gone and so is my dad and father-in-law. The little joys and victories start to come less and less. I make a few thousand more dollars than I did last year and some of my joints ache in the mornings, that’s the kind of life I live now. I don’t think we’re meant to live as long as we do and we certainly aren’t meant to be as closed up as we are. When normal people can put their love into children, what do the rest of us do? I suppose that’s what Floyd was to me.

The night before, he had been acting a little weird, but I coaxed him over to me and we hung out for a while on the floor. His front leg had bothered him off and on for a few years after he got a hairline fracture landing poorly from a jump. Earlier in the evening, he had played with my wife and her friend for a good long time. The next morning, I petted him as I always did and left. An hour or two later I received a panicked phone call that Floyd wasn’t breathing. I came home, and he was gone. My wife found him in his favorite spot. He had laid down and passed, I hope, in his sleep.

I’ve been devastated ever since. I couldn’t work or even think straight for days. Floyd was eight years old, he had just turned eight a few days earlier. I should have taken him to the vet that morning. I should have done a lot of things. I pray he wasn’t afraid. I’m so sorry he was alone. None of that matters now. Now it’s only the regrets. The way they say it works is that after a while all the sadness drops away and all you have are the good memories. I hope that’s right.

The other overwhelming feeling I get is that of shame. Not because I mistreated Floyd. Heavens, if any cat ever knew he was loved, it was that one. I doted on him. So did everyone. No, I feel shame because I’ve been much more upset over the loss of my cat than that of my dad. It’s true. I think maybe because my dad was in his 70s and had cancer. We knew it was coming for a long time and could get used to the idea. When my dad passed, I said goodbye. I didn’t get that luxury with Floyd.

I think back to when Murray passed and a conversation I had with my friend Stu. I was bemoaning the fact that I put Murray to sleep, that I felt I betrayed him. I still do. However, Stu told me something that has, if not made feel free of guilt, has helped me sleep. He said “That’s the deal. They give us the years of love, happiness and support and we have to make the tough decisions for them. They trust us to do the right thing.” And he’s right. I know he’s right, but there’s this part of me that will always feel I killed a friend.

That’s the deal. They give us the years of love, happiness and support and we have to make the tough decisions for them. They trust us to do the right thing.

I have this notion, and I’m sure it’s silly, that maybe Floyd also knew about the deal. Maybe he knew how hard I took it when Murray went, and he wanted to save me the pain of having to make that awful choice.

Since Floyd left us, I’ve had some very dark times. I’ve wondered what the world needs with me. I’ve wondered what use my life is if there are no children, no golden years. Why do I need to be here? Why do I want to stay around and watch everyone I’ve loved die? It’s times like that when I remember the deal.

I have other cats, and when they are gone, I will have others beyond them. Refusing to help others because life might hurt you is selfish and cowardly. I came to a conclusion – until it’s my time, I’m going to help those that can’t help themselves. I might not be able to add to this world, but I can make a better life for some of those already here. I can think of no more fitting eulogy for Floyd than to continue to take care of those who are smaller than me, much like he always did.

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Jason McMaster is a writer and editor with a lifelong passion for games. When he isn’t working on Unwinnable, he’s either on his PC or playing a board game. Follow him on Twitter @mcmaster.

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