In October of 2003, I was a senior in college and already thinking about what life might be like once I headed out on my own after graduation. I had grown up with a family cat, and I was thinking it might be nice to have another with me for whatever adventures awaited. So when a friend mentioned their outdoor cat came home pregnant and one of the kittens remained unclaimed, I jumped at the chance to bring her home. She was tiny enough to fit in my two hands, and as my roommate and I drove the few blocks home, Joselyn asked me what I wanted to name her. My mind went blank and I couldn’t think of anything quite as charming as the little furball in my lap, so when Joselyn suggested Audrey because of my affinity for the one and only Audrey Hepburn, it seemed perfect. I didn’t know it then, but the Era of Audrey had officially begun.
That era ended this week when my 17-year-old grande dame, the quiet heroine who trekked with me across the country and managed to make anywhere home, left this world and left me alone in an apartment that feels unbearably empty without her. With her health fading over the last few years, I knew our time together was winding down. But nothing could quite prepare me for the gaping absence she would leave behind when she did decide her time here was done. She’s only been gone a few days, yet already I understand how remarkable it was to have her with me as long as I did, and how her presence (and now, her absence) will forever delineate the significant chapters of my life. It was the Era of Audrey, and it was wonderful.
Together, Audrey and I lived in four states (Illinois, Indiana, Utah and New York) and at least a dozen different apartments across them. Anywhere I moved, for a new job or a new adventure, Audrey came with me; in a life that changed an awful lot in my 20s and 30s, the one constant through it all was her: every living space had to allow cats, non-negotiable. In my first solo place in Indianapolis, she loved to sit at the door and wait for me to return from the building’s laundry room; one time, I tried to outwit her by returning through the patio door instead, which surprised her so much that the next time I went to switch loads, she was waiting for me by the patio door. Smart one, she was.
I left Audrey alone a lot, between long work days (early on, working two jobs to make ends meet, and later long hours at events, meetings and more). But that seemed to suit her well. She was never much of a cuddler, and certainly never the type of cat to wake me up with snuggles or something so undignified. She was her own woman, though she always made sure to let me know she was nearby. She’d sooner curl up next to me than on my lap, and when she did want a good pet or rub behind the ears, she’d saunter up next to me and paw at me with one tiny paw until I paid attention. When we moved to Utah, I wanted to treat her for being such a trooper on the long drive, so I went to the store and picked up half a dozen new toys, including that traditional cat favorite, a laser pointer. Audrey would have nothing to do with it, she couldn’t care less. She preferred a string on a stick, leaping after it like a kitten long after anyone would’ve expected her to be able to.
When I traveled, generous friends and family would come to check in on Audrey every couple of days, and to a person they all shared that she would have nothing to do with them. In New York, I had a cat sitter who popped over to feed her once and all she did was peer out from my closet; the sitter, an artist, left me a pencil-sketched still life of the scene, Audrey’s piercing eyes peeking out from behind rainboots and boxes. I hung it on my refrigerator then, and it’s hung on every one since then (and is still there now). For the month I spent in India, I boarded Audrey in a cat hotel in Salt Lake City; I emailed them regularly for updates and photos of my girl, missing her more than I realized I would. I didn’t even go home when I landed back in the U.S.; I went straight to the boarders to pick Audrey up, I couldn’t stand being away from her any longer.
As a kitten, she used to jump into bed with me and nestle in under the covers next to me, her front paws and chin over my arm like a cushion. The older she got, the happier she was to make any spot hers, from the foot of my bed where she often slept (and bathed herself; more than once I nudged her off rather than listen to the slop, slop, slop of her nightly cleanings!) to the cubby I put out on a shelf in my NYC studio apartment so she had a spot of her own. In her later years, she waited for me, a stomach sleeper, to settle into bed before she’d jump up with me and nestle into the nook between my shins, falling asleep on me while I dozed off. When company came to stay and I’d give my bed to guests, she’d figure it out quickly and come find me on the couch, nuzzling into any small space she could find around my legs.
Audrey never required a lot of medical attention, but as she got older her age started to show on her slender body. I noticed she was losing weight, and the vet diagnosed her with hyperthyroidism, a fairly common and manageable issue with older cats. We got her on medication and, while it meant a bit more attention at dinner time each night, it did get the situation under control and likely bought her years of extra time with me. A few months after we moved into my current apartment, she started acting oddly on her strolls through the the place, stopping inexplicably as if she didn’t know where she was. I realized later this was because she was going blind, another common issue in older cats; it never seemed to keep her down in the least. Sure, she’d sometimes bump into furniture or walls, but she found her way around just fine, knowing where her food and litter box and favorite comfy chair all were.
For months now, I knew we didn’t have much time left together; gratefully, the pandemic has meant that I’ve been home with her full time for over a year. Even though she mainly just slept all day, it was reassuring to know she was here, snoozing not far away from wherever I was working. Our vet visits became more frequent, and a dear friend shared a service she used for her dog’s passing so I had the information when I needed it. I began googling all her various behaviors and conditions, and reading up on how to know when your cat has reached their final days. On a Friday, she started to display those early signs; she was eating far less than normal and only sleeping under the bed, a spot that had never been a go-to napping option. By Sunday, she’d not emerged from under the bed except to have accidents around the apartment and lap up some of the liquid in the wet food in her dish. On Monday night, I called the service (Lap of Love, an extraordinary organization that comes to your home to help your pet pass peacefully) and the incredible woman who answered let me cry and talk and ask questions for an hour, saying out loud things I didn’t know I was feeling.
I made an appointment for them to come midday on Wednesday, but by Tuesday I was already wishing I’d not waited so long; Audrey woke me up at 5a on Wednesday with a cry I’d never heard her make before, and I called the service to see if someone could come earlier than planned. We’d very quickly gone from my worrying that I’d be making the decision to let her go too soon to not wanting her to suffer any more than she clearly already was. Dr. Miranda arrived and in a glance knew it was time; “She’s already started to transition,” I remember her saying. And just a few moments later, my Audrey was gone. I sobbed and sobbed. I told her I loved her, I thanked her for all she’d given me. Dr. Miranda swaddled her in a simple blanket and placed her in a small open basket. I nuzzled into her soft gray fur one last time before she left with the doctor. Just like that, the end of an era.
With lots of time to plan for losing Audrey, I forgot to prepare for everything afterwards—living a life without her here. I never realized how much of my day to day at home is defined by knowing where she is, seeing her from room to room, checking to see if she needs food or water or a clean litter box. I did some laundry yesterday and dropped it on the bed before folding it. When I did return to take care of it, I half expected to see her snuggled up in its warm and cozy crevices. I expect to see her curled up on her cubby in the corner of my closet, a secluded spot she loved in the last few months. I sometimes see a flash of gray in the corner of my eye, thinking she’s slinking around a corner or trotting out from wherever she’d been sleeping. Coming home from errands or an afternoon out is still punctuated by a twinge of grief as I open the door, knowing she’s not here to greet me. The first few moments of every morning and the last few of every night are especially hard, when I’d normally say good morning to her as she trots up to let me know she’s ready for breakfast or follow me into the bedroom as we call it a night.
Someday, I’m sure I’ll get another pet—probably a cat, but who knows, maybe a dog!—and though I dread going through this part of the journey again, the joy and companionship they bring to our lives while they’re with us is invaluable. But that time is in the distant future. Audrey was with me for a massively important time in my life; in a lot of ways, she grew up with me. At the very least, she was there to witness my own growth from a new college grad to a business owner, a clueless, clumsy kid with hand-me-down furniture to a self-sufficient woman with a home of our own. No pet could ever replace Audrey, certainly not in personality and charm. But perhaps more importantly, no pet will ever experience quite the same evolution and adventure that Audrey and I shared; she was with me for a distinct, irreplaceable moment in time. They are years filled with memories and milestones and whenever I think back on all of them, I will always think of her, too.
I love you, Audrey. I’ll miss you forever.