For as long as I remember, there's been a cat who called my house home. When I was young, I think the number of feline friends numbered eight, coming in all shapes, sizes and colors.
But the one I remember most came to us when I was in the fifth grade. Her name was Snowball, and if you can't guess by the name (and picture) she was a furry white cat.
She lived with us for 12 years, with three other cats. Over the years, as Snowball aged, she lost her hearing, ate less and lost weight and began to lose mobility in her legs. But as sick as she was, she always pushed on. For an "old lady," as my mom called her, she was actually quite chipper, running around and behaving like a much younger cat. She still kept our other cats in line, starting a spat if someone ate her food or took a nap in her spot.
But last week Snowball's health took a turn for the worse. My dad e-mailed me to say Snowball had suddenly become very sick and was going to the vet. Later that evening, I got another e-mail.
Snowball hadn't come home. After tests, the vet said she had some kind of cancer and fluid surrounding her heart. She was in a lot of pain and there wasn't much that could be done.
Snowball was not by choice my cat. She liked my room best and could often be found sleeping on my bed. Even when I went away to college, she would still sleep in my room, waiting for me.
When I was home in September, I could tell she was glad to see me. She would follow me around, or search me out when I was in different parts of the house. And she always wanted to sit on my lap when I was in the middle of reading or working on my laptop.
I enjoyed the time at home, especially seeing my cats, because I somehow knew this would probably be the last time I saw Snowball her last winter as part of our family. I'd be gone another year a long time in cat years and it seemed Snowball was reaching the end of her life.
Before leaving for the airport, I found all four of my cats, saying goodbye to each of them, but my goodbye for Snowball was different. This wasn't a "See you later" goodbye. This was goodbye, forever.
Snowball was sitting on one of our radiator covers, in the sun. There was enough space for two other cats, but when Snowball sat on the radiator, she liked to sit by herself. The other cats, out of fear, seemed to acknowledge that fact. I patted her on the head. Goodbye old friend, I thought to myself. Goodbye.
(Brandon Taylor is a language consultant/foreign expert for the Beijing Review, an English language weekly newsmagazine in Beijing, China. He is a former correspondent for the TIMES NEWS. Read Brandon's blog at http://www.btay200.blogspot.com/. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)