This May 1, the cherry blossoms bloomed to mark the passing of my oldest friend in human years. Genji Cat was ninety when he crossed the Rainbow Bridge. He was named after the princely hero of Lady Murasaki’s The Tale of the Genji, which some speculate to have been the very first novel.
Nearly nineteen years ago, my best girlfriend and I were watching Pet Sematary one dark and stormy night; the movie set out the exploits of Churchill, a British Grey cat who had come back from the dead.
The very next morning – I think it was in May, 1991 – a tiny grey kitten wandered into the backyard. He was so small, he fit in the palm of my hand. His fur had the silvery shimmer of a Russian Blue. It was a spooky coincidence!
No one put up signs in the neighbourhood about the tiny lost kitten so I kept him.
My friend suggested that we call him Churchill, but I was in a Japanese mood and named him Genji since he did, after all, have some princely attitudes. Of course, his name was unpronounceable for most of my relatives.
The name was a bit grand for the tiny kitten, but he quickly grew into it. His coat remained that beautiful Russian Blue silvery grey, so his nickname became Silver Boy.
One thing he loved to do above anything else was climb up on the bathroom sink in the morning and ask for the tap to be run at a drip. He preferred that to drinking water out of a bowl. It is serious entertainment for some cats!
He also enjoyed sitting on the edge of the tub while I was having a bath. He’d dip his tail in the water, but he could never quite figure out to do after it was soaked so he’d let it drip throughout the house. Over the years, the Tub Kitten and I had many conversations about that.
Genji had managed to sneak out the back door and over the fence twice in search of Ladies And Adventure, with one incident when he was the ripe old age of 15, involving 4 days off work and several hundred flyers. Some people called to say that they’d spotted a cat a block or two away with an unusual silvery grey coat. He was as nonchalant as could be when he finally returned, lounging on the neighbour’s patio in the June heat meowing at me, with only the tip of his tail twitching.
As time progressed, his once mighty samurai body melted away to skin and bones. Still, he had a good appetite, an eye for the back door and the ladies, and was spry.
This past week, like many old cats, he went downhill very, very quickly. A couple of days ago, I had the sudden realization that he might not make it to the weekend. He could still jump on the bed in a wobbly way. He was hardly eating, and he was crying a lot. The last bit was hard to gauge, as he had been a vocal boy for many years, preferring to sing at three in the morning, or to let me know that it was 6:30 and time to run the tap in the bathroom for him.
Last night, I noticed a swelling on his jaw that I hadn’t seen the day before. It had to be an infected tooth. But at his age and in his condition, I didn’t feel that dentistry was an option. With no muscle mass, the tentative way he was now getting around, and his most recent refusal of food or milk, it was only a matter of a very short time. So I called the vet for a morning appointment.
I made him as comfortable as I possibly could, and said goodbye to him. He had loved lying on the pillow, wrapping his paw around my finger and purring on end, so we did that. He had always been a velcro-kitty Lover Boy. He wasn’t up to purring, but his breathing seemed easier.
It’s wonderful that we have the option to ease an old friend across the Bridge in comfort and dignity, but terrible to have the responsibility. There are those of you who grasp this immediately.
During the night, my two shiba inu’s were a great help. Cherry blossom princess Kyoto was the first to figure out that something was really wrong with Genji this time. She groomed him on the bed, and slept right up against him during the night. Kamikaze rescue puppy, Karinoe, watched during that Dark Night of the Soul.
The next morning, at his usual early time, Genji had somehow made it up onto the bathroom sink, and was waiting for his water. I let the tap drip for a very long time for him. And I will never forget how fragile he was.
After his last visit to the vet, I bought a little pot of forget-me-nots. It seems as though the last time I looked, the only flowers poking their heads up were brave little crocuses. Now, suddenly, everywhere there is a riot of colour. How did I miss that?
I had stepped out into the back yard at two in the morning last night and, as if for the occasion of Genji’s life passage, the weeping cherry had suddenly come into bloom. In the stark porch light, its new blossoms were quite striking, like warm spring rain. Today, I see that the Japanese kerria, quince and flowering almond are all blooming.
It seems unfair that, this May 1, Genji has departed and, while everything else is coming to life, he is missing it.
But it’s not about us.
Godspeed, sweet Silver Samurai Boy. Enjoy the cherry blossoms with your many friends beyond the Rainbow Bridge.