Underneath my yellow skin

RIP, Raven–You Are Loved

bestest friends and blood brothers
My favorite picture of my boys. Raven (R) & Shadow (L).

Ed. Note: It’s been a week sine my baby has died, and it still hasn’t completely sunk in yet. I wrote this post several days ago, but I haven’t been able to publish it yet. I don’t know why. I thought now was the right time.

My Raven died Saturday night. I think it was a heart attack, but I’m not sure. Ian tried to revive him, and we rushed him to the Emergency Vet, but it was too late.

That’s how I’ve started the messages to my friends about what happened to Raven. Writing it again doesn’t make it any more real, nor does thinking about it.

The first time I saw Raven, nine years ago, he was named Midnight, and in his picture, he looked like a scared, scrawny black cat. I noticed that he had a brother, also black, named Shadow. They were nine months old at the time. Shadow’s bio said he was psychic and knew that I was looking for two cats. I fell in love immediately because I WAS looking for two cats, and these two looked exactly like what I wanted. In addition, they were going to be at an adoption fair at the PetSmart/PetCo in a city near me the very next day. I felt it was fate, and I hurried to see them at the adoption fair.

When I got there, I only saw Midnight. I asked his foster mother, somewhat accusingly, where Shadow was. Their bios said they could only be adopted together because they were so bonded. She laughed and said she made the mistake of capturing Midnight first and Shadow bolted. She tried to find him, but she couldn’t, so she left him at home. He hated the fairs, anyway, and no one had looked at him or Midnight in the months she’d been taking them to the fairs, so she didn’t see any reason to bring him. In fact, she was going to keep the boys after this adoption fair.

As she was talking, she took Midnight out of his holding pen and handed him to me. I draped him across my shoulders, and he clung to me, an unhappy look on his face. I bought all the things I’d need for the boys, then made a date to pick them up on Monday, two days later. I was a bundle of nerves as I (and a friend) drove out to pick up the boys. Once again, Midnight, whom I renamed Raven, was in the carrier, but Shadow was nowhere to be found. We tracked him down and finally lured him into the carrier, and I took my boys home.

I brought them into the dining room which has two sliding doors. I had set a box in the room because of advice I’d read on the internet. Once I let the boys out, Shadow made a beeline for the box and watched me from inside. Raven immediately started exploring his surroundings, and within twenty minutes, he was raring to get outside the room. I followed the internet advice and kept them inside the room overnight. The next day, I let them out, and Shadow immediately disappeared as Raven explored the whole house. I let them do their thing, then became worried when I couldn’t find Shadow. I asked Raven if he knew where his brother was, and he went downstairs. He stared at the divider wall between the finished area and the unfinished area, and started steadily meowing. I didn’t understand until I went to the other side, and there was Shadow hiding behind some boxes on the unfinished side.

pink suits me
Purrito cat.

This is their personalities in a nutshell. Shadow is skittish, mostly timid*, and somewhat aloof. It’s not to say he’s not a lover; he is, but on his own terms. He likes his space, which I can respect, and he only wants to be pet when he’s in the mood. Raven, on the other hand, is, was, more outgoing and assertive, yowling to get people’s attention, and he’s never met someone he can’t convert into a friend. He’s not shy about shoving his face into mine and demanding attention. He was my lover boy who always had to be near me or on me. While Shadow would disappear for hours, Raven rarely left my side. I used to joke that my cats were Shadow and My Shadow.

I bought a new couch last summer, and the boys quickly figured out their spots. Raven’s was above my head, and Shadow’s was above my feet. Once in a while, Shadow would take Raven’s spot just to be a dick, but then Raven would just cuddle on my lap, and all would be well. We were a happy family of three, and now, we’re two.

Saturday was an ordinary day. Ian and I just chilled. I haven’t been feeling well, so I spent a lot of time on the couch. Earlier in the evening, Raven and Shadow were hanging out on Ian’s bed. They weren’t snuggling, but they had been doing that earlier on the papasan in the computer room while I was playing Dark Souls. Anyway, late at night, Raven came into the living room and hopped up to his spot. I was watching videos and writing, while periodically petting him. He made a loud noise, but I just thought he was being vocal as usual. A little later, Ian came in, and we discovered Raven wasn’t breathing. I freaked out, shouting his name at him over and over again. Ian grabbed him and started trying to revive him. Through my tears, I Googled Emergency Vets and started calling. I found a nearby Emergency Vet, and Ian and I rushed Raven to them.

I was crying as I told the nurse what happened. She asked if I wanted them to resuscitate him, and I said if they could. I knew, though, that it was too late. I knew it when I looked into my sweet boy’s eyes and saw the glassiness there. I went out to smoke with Ian, and when I got back in, the nurse told me it was too late. She was warm and sympathetic as she asked what I wanted to do with Raven’s body. My head was in a blur, but I knew I wanted to take him home so I could give him back to the earth. The nurse asked if I wanted them to put Raven in a burial box, and I said yes. Tears were streaming down my face as I waited for my baby to be given back to me. She handed the box to me and told me how sorry she was, and I thanked her for trying to help. I took the box, and Ian and I sat in my car in the parking lot, crying. The snow started lightly falling, and though I was crying and falling apart, I wanted to get home before it got too hard to drive.

brothers forever
Raven, front, and Shadow, back, on Raven’s last day.

Somehow, we got back without incident. By the time we got home, it was snowing hard. We set Raven’s burial box on the ground in the garage, and I told him how sorry I was. I am really grateful that Ian was here in order to navigate me there and back. Also, that he tried to resuscitate my baby, even though it was too late. Having him around has been good so I don’t sink into abject misery. Having friends who know what it’s like to lose an animal friend and who care as deeply as I do has also helped. We went inside, and I told Shadow what happened to his brother. I don’t know if he understood, but he’s been clingy ever since. I’ve said that he likes his alone time, but since Raven’s death, Shadow has been near me or on me (as I lie on the couch) all the time. Ian and I went outside to smoke and to watch the snow fall. I don’t believe much in signs, but I like to think that this was a marking of Raven’s passing. I love snow, and it soothed the jaggedness of my heart, if only for a minute, to watch the fat, fluffy flakes fall to the ground. I was concerned that we wouldn’t be able to bury Raven if the snow froze, but it wasn’t supposed to get too cold. Did I cry as I watched the snow fall? I don’t remember. To be honest, so much of what happened is in a blur, and I’m numb.

What I do know is that words are not enough to express how I feel about my Raven. I’m a big fan of words. It’s what I do. Yet, I’m struggling to find words that aren’t trite and that haven’t been said a million times before. “My heart is heavy.” “I can’t believe he’s gone.” “It happened so fast.” “He was here one minute and gone the next.” “I don’t know how I’m going to live without him.”

How do I tell you what he meant to me? How he and his brother gave me a reason to live when I thought I had none? I used to call him my heart and Shadow my soul, and how do you live without your heart? Sometimes, I jokingly called them my familiars as they trotted around behind me, but not if I was in the presence of anyone who might take me a little too seriously.

Yesterday, Sunday, we buried my baby. It had warmed up some, but there was still a few inches of snow blanketing the ground. The snow was beautiful, but I was somber as to what had to be done. Ian and I smoked as we figured out the details. Sadly, Ian has had to do this before, so he knew what to do. I grabbed the shovel, and he grabbed some bricks. We went down to the garden bed under the living room, and Ian started digging. I dig a few shovelfuls, but Ian did most of the work. Once he made the hole big enough, I went to get my baby from the garage. The box was so small, and yet, it was heavy. I carried it down to the garden, then opened it as Ian shoveled a bit more. I didn’t want my last memory of Raven to be of his face right after he died. The Emergency Vets had wrapped him up, and I carefully undid the wrapper. He was curled up on his side is if he was sleeping, and I touched his fur softly. I stroked his head and kissed him, tears falling down my cheeks. After Ian finished shoveling, he touched Raven and said that he loved him. I did the same, kissed Raven, told him I was sorry and to sleep peacefully, then I carefully wrapped him back up and closed his box.

We lowered him into the ground, then put the two bricks on the box. I went back to get more. Then, we shoveled the dirt back in place, again, with Ian doing most of the work. I got a red brick to mark the grave until I can get a marker to replace it, then Ian and I said our goodbyes. I cried and said I was sorry and that I loved him. Ian and I hugged, and then we went back inside.

goodnight my sweet prince
My sweet boy, Raven, on his last day.

It’s the little things. Like not turning on the tap when I’m going to the bathroom. Raven liked to drink from the tap, and we developed this elaborate ritual. I’d turn it on, then I had to skritch his butt several times before he’d be ready to drink. Then, he’d walk around the edge of the sink as I peed until he felt comfortable enough to drink. He didn’t fear water at all. Once, when he was being bad, I tried the suggestion to spritz him with water. He just stared at me as it hit his face and didn’t even flinch. That’s when I knew the water suggestion would be useless. He liked to dip his paw in the dripping water from the faucet and drink from it. It was the cutest thing.

It’s hard to look at the top of the couch and only see Shadow in his usual spot. There’s a space over my head where Raven is missing. It’s hard to dish out one serving of food or treats and not have to shield Raven from Shadow’s food-driven behavior. I always fed Raven first so Shadow wouldn’t gobble Raven’s food, but sometimes, I had to stand between them as well. They were the best of friends until they were the worst of enemies. I would let them scrap until fur literally flew, and then I’d stop them. After a few minutes, they would be back to being best buds. They didn’t cuddle as much as they used to, and my heart would melt every time they did. Such as Saturday afternoon.

I don’t know what to do without him. I know the five stages of grief, and I know they are fluid, but right now, I’m stuck in numbness. Not denial. I know he’s dead. But numbness. I can feel the pain, deep down inside. It’s behind a wall that mutes it, but it’s still there. It’s an ache unlike any I’ve felt before. I’ve been known as the woman with two black cats, Raven and Shadow. Now, I’m the woman with one black cat, Shadow, and I can’t understand it. On the outside, I’m fairly normal, I think, but my mind is a mess. How can Raven be here one minute and not the next?** It’s not supposed to be like this. I’ve had him (and Shadow) for nine years, and I was hoping for nine more.

The weather has been gray and gloomy for the last few days, and it matches the bleakness in my heart. I’m shocked, stunned, and grieving, but also bewildered. I go from room to room, expecting to see my little man running up to me, cussing me out as he runs. He wasn’t really cussing me out. He’s not, wasn’t, an angry cat. It’s just the way his voice sounded. I reach up above me to pat Raven, and he’s not there. I end up patting the couch, and my heart breaks a little more. I’m glad he’s never known anything but love in his life. I’m glad that it was quick and that he didn’t suffer. I think he knew it was his time, which is why he came out to be in his favorite comfy spot and to be near me. I’m glad he died as he lived–ensconced on top of the couch, with me right under him. I’m glad that he graced me for nine years, but I’m so greedy, I want more. He’s only ten. He should have lived for years longer. I’m not ready. This wasn’t supposed to happen. How can my little boy, so full of life, be dead?

I love him so much. He and Shadow are my life’s blood. What am I going to do without him? I know life goes on. I know it gets better with time. None of that matters right now. My heart is breaking, and all I can do is let it. Shadow talked to me a lot this morning, which isn’t like him at all. I gave him treats, and now, he’s back in his hidey hole (his favorite bed). How do I tell him what’s going on? It’s clear he’s bewildered, too. When I was in the bathroom this morning, he jumped up on the counter, but ignored the water in the sink (how he prefers it). He kept looking out the door, and I know he was waiting for his brother.

We both are. But, only I know that Raven is not coming back. And, I don’t know what to do with that. All I know is I love him, and I miss him, and I will never, ever forget him.





*Except when it comes to food. He’s fearless then.

**I do know how the cycle of life works. It’s a rhetorical question, but one I still feel.

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