It was a bright, warm Sunday in June 1993 that my parents, my sister and I drove to a little farm in rural Bedfordshire, not far from Luton, to collect our kitten.
As any 7 year old who was about to collect a new pet would be, I was brimming with excitement. After months of boisterously pleading for a new cat, the parents had finally given in. In the days which had preceded that Sunday, I had excitedly been telling all my school friends, and even my teacher – a white-haired old hag with cerise lipstick called Mrs Ross, with whom there was a mutual hatred – about it.
It was very much my wish – rather than that of my brother or sister – to have a new cat. I had even named her Nutmeg, after the sandy-coloured cat puppet from schools t.v programme ‘Words and Pictures’, and I couldn’t wait to meet her.
When we arrived at the farm we had driven in with care. Nutmeg and her siblings – a bunch of brown and ginger little kittens – were scampering around the muddy track and I giggled as I watched their tiny heads follow the movement of our white H-reg Ford Escort as it slowly drove towards the reception building.
I remember getting out and playing with the kittens. To me, they all looked identical, each one just as adorable as the next. Whilst I played, mum was stood with the owner discussing the formalities. She had one of the little kittens in her hands and I yelped with delight as she eventually lowered down to put it into the white metal framed cage we had brought along with us. That little kitten was my Nutmeg, and I was already in love with her.
Nutmeg cried and cried the whole way back from Bedfordshire, obviously perplexed as to why she had been separated from her brothers and sisters. I remember being sat next to her in the car and marveling at her beauty. Whilst strictly being classed as tortoiseshell in colour, she was like no other cat I had ever seen. A puffy ginger face was surrounded by a fluffy body of dark browns, blacks, and lighter – more reddy – browns. Her lips, I noted, were also brown, and she had a fuzzy ginger nose that was almost suede-like in texture, along with the most gorgeous bright green eyes I’ve ever seen. To this day, I have still not seen another cat I would consider to be as beautiful as my own, but then, all cat owners will say that…
The next day – a Monday – I was due back at school. The excitement of having Nutmeg in the house made me reluctant to go, especially with the witch Mrs Ross at the helm. I quite vividly remember walking down the stairs of our home and giggling at the sight of Nutmeg in the hallway, trying to catch her bearings and waltzing head-first into the walls in the process. Nutmeg often made me laugh, particularly as a child. These were the days when school holidays would enable me to spend weeks at a time with her around the house and in the garden, and this allowed for the creation of a vast number of memories. I used to love it when I would look out of my parents’ bedroom window into next door’s garden, and see her having a stand-off with the neighbour’s cat, Sonic. Whenever Sonic wasn’t looking, Nutmeg would stare at her and lower to the ground. As soon as her bum started to wiggle, we knew that she was about to pounce, resulting in a lively mess of fur tumbling around on the grass. She also liked any small creatures that would fly; birds were her favourite, and whenever she would scope one flying low, she would make a peculiar noise that we never quite understood – something like ‘ah-ah-ah-ah-ah’ – before trying to catch (and usually missing). I’ll also remember the time I laughed so hard that I had tears in my eyes, when she did a rather impressive back-flip in a failed attempt to catch a dragonfly.
Nutmeg (or should that be, ‘Claws Wunderlich’) before blitzing out a song
I was always very protective over Nutmeg. Maybe overly so. Before her, the other cats we’d had – Muffin… Gemma… Toby… – had only ever seemed to be with us for a few months before they had disappeared for good, one way or another. I was determined that Nutmeg didn’t follow the same fate. I would insist that she remain in the house overnight, and panic when she didn’t return of an evening. One teatime when I was about 12, there had been no sign of Nutmeg for hours – not even by mum as she’d stood in the garden to hang out the washing whilst I’d been at school. I was beside myself with worry – had she got lost? Attacked by a fox? Injured herself? I remember standing in the garden in heavy rain, in floods of tears calling out her name. I would prod at the bushes with a sweep in hope to see if it would ruffle movement, and shine a torchlight down the sides of the greenhouse in desperate search of a large, fluffy silhouette or the shimmer from a pair of bright green eyes. My heart would stop with the silence and stillness, until suddenly I would hear a scratching against the fence, and Nutmeg would jump up from the other side. It was at those moments that my heart would burst with excitement and relief. I would shower her in kisses and cuddles and in fact – thinking about it now – Nutmeg is probably the one living being I have kissed the most in my life.
I simply loved her so much… and I think she actually loved me too. I’ll remember one morning in 1996. I was about to go away for three nights with school on a field trip, and I wasn’t looking forward to being away from home. On the morning of the trip, Nutmeg had jumped onto my cabin bed and stood in front of my face. We were sat smiling intently at each other for 10 minutes – a 10-year old girl and her 3-year old cat sharing a moment of love. Her eyes always seemed so human to me, and I always felt as though I could sense her feelings from them.
Whenever I was at home, Nutmeg was never far from me. In later – more recent years – a friend of mine even termed her the “cat with separation anxiety” after I would describe how Nutmeg would follow me from room to room around the house. And then, each night at half past seven as we sat down to eat, Nutmeg would stare up at me until I would pull out a chair next to me for her to jump up and sit on. It wasn’t any of our dinner she wanted, as she knew that if we were tucking into a dish suitable for cats, there’d be a bit of it in her bowl already. Rather, she just wanted to be with us, and got into the habit of hovering around the dinner table at half past seven anyway, even if we were due to eat separately that day.
Nutmeg had three kittens in 1994. Nobody was at home at the time and she chose to give birth to them in an area of the house where she felt relaxed – underneath my bed
Nutmeg loved company. She hated being alone. If we would all go out for the day, we’d return and look through the living room window from the outside to see Nutmeg stood on top of the coffee table. She would do this so that she could get enough of a height advantage to be able to see out of the window at the driveway, where she would be able to see us arrive home. Once she’d spotted us, she’d leap off the table and emit the loudest of miaows as the front door was opened. It came across as a proper scolding, in human language – “where the p*****g f**k have you been?!” – and would result in a feeling of tremendous guilt that was atoned for only through lots of stroking and kissing.
She would also love it when guests visited the house. Over the years, I had a great many friends come by. With the exception of one or two, they all loved Nutmeg and looked forward to seeing her, provided they got her name right (Chestnut, Nutbag…). Nutmeg loved attention and would revel in the presence and adulation of guests, but that said she was pretty socially savvy. For my 18th birthday in 2003 I had an horrendous house-party which was the stuff of every parents’ nightmares. Gatecrashers. Smashed greenhouses. Theft. Belongings being thrown into the pond. Kitchen scissors being thrown around in the garden… it still haunts me to this day, but one thing I always marveled over was the fact that Nutmeg managed to stay away from it all. We didn’t see her all evening and she only re-appeared once the last of the guests had been thrown out. She knew she needed to stay away, and so she did. Other more peaceful times however, she would like nothing more than to be among the social soirees. In 2012 I had a few friends around for a barbecue, and Nutmeg featured in many of the photos that were taken that night. She also enjoyed the food; and the funniest sight was seeing her scamper away quickly with a lamb and mint shish kebab in her mouth, that she didn’t want anybody to know she had found!
We would joke that the above photo made myself and my friend, Chloe, look like proud parents at a Christening service…
When I sit back and contemplate Nutmeg’s age, I am staggered by the thought of just how much has changed since that Sunday visit to Bedfordshire in 1993. Nutmeg has been part of my life since I finished up at infant school, went all the way through Junior and secondary school, grew up, discovered partying and alcohol (Nutmeg would always be waiting up for me to arrive safely home from a drunken night in Watford as a 20 year old), went away to University, went travelling, came home… right up until now, as I’m pushing 30 and entrenched in a career. Since Nutmeg has been around, my brother and sister have given birth to six little children between them. My parents have retired and are grandparents.
And Nutmeg has been there through it all.
In March 2015 Nutmeg’s health quite rapidly declined to a point where it didn’t seem as though she could do much for herself anymore. No longer able to clean herself, she would walk around covered in her own excrement. Her back legs were giving way. She couldn’t jump onto our laps anymore. Once a massively large ball of fluff who was always eager to clean herself to the extreme, she was now just skin, bone and matted clumps of dirty fur.
The heartbreaking decision to have her put to sleep was made on the 16th March 2015. My parents and I went into the room at the vets with her, and held onto her as the vet shaved off a bit of the fur on her front leg so as to find a vein into which she could inject the needle of death. Nutmeg’s eyes remained open as the needle went in, and we kissed her on the head. Within seconds she had slumped completely and was placed onto her side, her bright green eyes remaining open as her once pitch-black pupils dilated into a foamy shade of grey. She now lay in a similar position to that in which we would normally find her asleep in the sunniest spot of the garden, but her chest was motionless. “She’s gone now“, said the vet. Or words to that effect. I remember staring into Nutmeg’s eyes in disbelief. It felt like she was still staring intently at me. The vet brought in a half-empty box of tissues and for that moment my heart resonated with all those many other people who had also stood in this room to go through this heartbreaking experience. I won’t regret the decision to witness the euthanasia of my beloved cat, I wanted to be there because I wanted her to be surrounded by loved ones, however – the sight of her lying motionless on the table will stay with me forever.
I was beside myself for much of the past week. My heart is broken, and it’s almost as though the child within me – who used to panic in the garden if she hadn’t been seen for a few hours – has resurfaced. In recent years, I had pretty much come to accept that Nutmeg wasn’t going to be alive forever, and the rational, positive adult within me had assured myself that this was fine, because we had provided her with the best quality of life we could have given. But what’s really hurting right now is that the above thoughts are bearing little solace on me whatsoever. I cannot yet see a positive from this. My little cat is gone and regardless of whether it was overdue, or whether or not we made the right decision, it cripples me to think that Nutmeg may not have understood why we did what we did. I often feel that she lived for as long as she did because she was content and didn’t want her adventure to end, and that too has tugged at my heart this week…
…But I also know that grief is something to which you must permit its natural flow, if you want to get through it. In life, you can’t just gather a select few of your emotions together in a box marked ‘Inappropriate’ and store them away somewhere, because they will always find a way of seeping out and clutching you. You need to embrace them there and then; and know that any other emotions which you manage to experience from other sources at that time… be they optimism, joy, amusement… have all occurred alongside your grief. Grief doesn’t have to put a stop to everything else, and only by acknowledging it, and letting it accompany you for a little bit as you gradually work through it, will you realise this.
So this week I’ve been grieving for my little pet cat, without shame. Because – quite simply – I need to, if I am to move forward. And then maybe I too will be able to finally believe in that idea I keep hearing – that we did the right thing, and that we gave her all the love we had, and that one day, maybe we’ll be together again…
Faithful furry friend…until the end, and forevermore…