anastasia: on becoming real

“Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’

‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit. 

‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’ 

‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’ 

‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.” 

~ Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit

 

By Way of Introduction….

 

white cat with black nose

Hi. My name is Anastasia (aka Binky, Binkers, Stasia, Bink-Bink, Stinkerella, and many others) and this is my story. It’s a simple story, but it’s the best one of my life, simply because it is OF my life. And what better tail, um I mean ‘tale,’ to tell than that?

You see, I very recently passed from my earthly home on to the next world. The Rainbow Bridge, they call it. But I wanted to share a bit about my life so that my person, Christin, has the stories to read and reread until we meet again. She misses me very much already and is afraid she will forget the wonderful life we shared together. But I won’t let her forget…

Kittenhood

The circumstances of my birth and early kittenhood are a bit fuzzy, but I can only assume that for whatever reason, I was not wanted. As so many before me, I came to know this place called “the shelter” as my home. I think it is the equivalent of an orphanage in human terms. When the humans don’t know what to do with you, they drop you off there, hoping that someone will come pick you out and take you home with them.

Looking back, I consider myself one of the lucky ones. The humans working at the shelter hand picked myself and several others to go to a pet fair. I thought it would be a grand ol’ time – with mouse races, tail chasing contests, laser tag and such. But much to my dismay, I was placed on display in the freak show! We were kept behind bars for all of human kind to see! It was horrifying. People rushed past, sometimes stopping and staring, some speaking to us, and others even taunted us by sticking their fingers in our cages, jabbing mercilessly at us. I didn’t like it one bit and did my best to stay out of sight.

collage of cat in basket

Anastasia was always very good at hiding…or at least attempting to. Here she got herself in under the flowers. She REALLy liked this basket.

Throughout the day, I had watched several of my friends get shoved into boxes and whisked away by these strangers. Oh, how they cried! You should have heard them. It broke my heart and I trembled with fright, fearing for myself the fate that befell them.  But as the day wore on, I heard murmurings of the mystical “forever home” I’d heard mentioned at the shelter. I wasn’t quite sure what this was, but the more I heard, the more I thought that maybe it wasn’t so bad. I still had my doubts, however. That is, until SHE came into view…

SHE was Christin, the girl who came to be my person. I didn’t expect it to happen, didn’t even know if I wanted it to happen, to be honest, but the instant I laid eyes on her, I knew that she belonged to me! Without thinking, I scrambled to the top floor of my exhibit and immediately began reaching out for her. I seductively rubbed my cheeks along the bars, chirping excitedly in an attempt to draw her in. I hope I’m doing this right! And I must’ve been because SHE came straight over and began speaking softly to me. Oh, how I loved the sound of her voice! Not once in my entire life did I ever shy from that voice. In fact, I would come running almost anytime she called to me.

The human shelter workers were astonished at my instant change in demeanor – I guess they underestimated the power of love at first sight. Not that I can blame them, as I had just been questioning such things myself. They accurately told her how I had been terrified and hiding all day long. I was rather annoyed at them for ratting me out – what if this made her not want me? But I quickly came to appreciate their transgression because I think that conversation is the one that sealed my fate.

Before I knew it, I was being put into that not-so-dreaded-anymore box and carried away by my very own person! And I wasn’t even scared one bit! If anything, I just wanted out so I could show my new person just how much I loved her. Maybe my friends who’d gone before me weren’t afraid after all. Maybe they were just as excited as I was (but we didn’t keep in touch, so I’ll never know for sure).

Christin liked to think of herself as my mommy, but as all cats know, it doesn’t really work this way. We pick our people no matter how much they’d like to think they pick us. It’s a myth we let them believe, but it seems to work for all involved so why argue? It turns out that my “mom” was just as excited to have me in her life as I was to be in hers, so she took me to her friend’s house to show me off.

Oh, you should have seen me in my youth! I had the most luxurious fur in the land! And my eyes had a special glow that seemed to emanate from within, not unlike that of a polished green agate. But my best asset was my tail: it easily rivaled the fluffiest squirrel tail you’ve ever seen. To put it bluntly, I was simply gorgeous, if I do say so myself (and I don’t like to brag very often).

black and white cat

Anastasia in her heyday

Christin’s friend took one look at me and pronounced that I should be called Anastasia, after the Russian grand duchess. It was the most perfect human-given name I could imagine! So much better than the name “Ci-Ci” they had given me at the shelter. I shiver at that still. I know they meant well, but they just did not get me.

So we set about our new life together, getting to know each other and having a wonderful time doing so. I never dreamed life could be so great. Christin loved me as much as I loved her. We pined for each other during the day while she was at work. Each evening, when I heard the keys in the lock, I would prance to the door and fall to the floor, begging for tummy rubs. We would sit on the couch together wathcing TV, and she would fawn over me while I purred contentedly in her lap. I wasn’t known to play many kitten games, much peferring to love and be loved.

{ A side story: One time, I did play quite the prank on Christin. I had this tricksy idea to somehow attach a string to my tail, chase it, and then see what she would do. I wasn’t exactly sure how to pull it off, but I found a length of dental floss in the bathroom, ate it and patiently waited for it to emerge from the other end. Once it was out about 8 inches, I went bumbling into the bedroom, spinning circles all the while, “chasing my tail.” You should have seen the look on her face when she attempted to detangle the floss from my tail, only to discover it wasn’t attached the way she thought!! It was HILARIOUS! She went from cracking up at my antics to horror just like that! Then again, some might argue the look on MY face when she yanked on that floss was priceless! Let’s just say that it didn’t feel good at all and I never ate floss again. It was still worth it just that one time, though. }

At night, I would jump up on the bed, running around like the crazy kitten I was, full of excitement and exuberance. It was one of the few juvenile behaviors I would indulge. Then, I would settle down on Christin’s chest, purring loudly and doing everything in my power to keep that hand petting me. When she would try to hide her hands so she could go to sleep undisturbed, I would get a little overzealous, digging under the covers and biting them until I got more pets. Looking back now, I feel a little embarrassed at my lack of self control. Thankfully, we got through those times without any permanent damage. Overall, we were happy and I couldn’t imagine life any other way.

Teenage Angst

A couple months later, I had a rude awakening. Christin’s mom showed up with a kitten! I thought it was a joke at first. But no, it was definitely not a joke. It was a smelly, bratty little boy who went by the name of Jasper. What kind of name is that, anyway? I did not like him one bit. He came stumbling in with his “Look at me! I’m a furry fluff of cute and clumsy” act, stealing all Christin’s attention.

Being the older of the two of us, I let him know just who was boss in our house! I did my best to keep him in his place; off the bed and in the corner of the room.

It worked for a short time, but he quickly grew larger than me and became quite the bully. Christin tried everything she could to convince us to call a truce, but Jasper just wouldn’t oblige. He resented the way I’d treated him at first and was not going to let me forget it. So we battled it out for several years, much to the displeasure of all involved. Sadly, I didn’t end up on the winning end of these skirmishes very often. I could see that Christin was hurting from our inability to get along and I did my best to comfort and reassure her that I still loved being with her no matter what.

kitten with very large ears

Pixie the night I found her

Soon enough, Pixie came along. She was just a wisp of a kitten, weighing next to nothing, all skin and bones. Oh, and ears (I wasn’t sure if she was kitten or alien at first). Apparently, some cruel person had dropped her off outside the grocery store to fend for herself! At only 4 weeks old, she was literally half starved to death and flea infested. To this day, I don’t understand what Christin saw in her.

Even though I felt sympathy for her plight, I didn’t like her any more than I liked Jasper, but lucky for me, he took her under his tail and the two of them left me alone. To say that Christin and I were grateful is an understatement. I think we all were, really. Pixie had a home, Jasper had the friend he’d always dreamed of, I had Christin, and she had all three of us. There was finally the semblance of peace in our house, even if it didn’t turn out exactly as I’d planned.

And so life went. It had its ups and its downs. We moved many times for various reasons. We saw the coming and going of a husband and his child (who loved Jasper, Pixie and I very much). And through it all, I made sure that Christin knew just how much she was loved as she went through the hard times. And she let me know how much I was loved as we went through the good times. Either way, I was always by her side, offering a helping purr and hand bath whether she needed it or not. It’s all about love, after all.

The Golden Years

Several years passed and we truly settled down into a happy homey routine. Christin and her long time friend, Mike, developed a love for one another and moved in together. I loved him almost as much as Christin. He was good to me, playing new games like “kickin’ Binky.” Don’t worry. It’s not what it sounds like. I had a habit of walking under everyone’s feet, so he started tapping me on my hind end with his foot as we walked together, calling out “I’m kickin’ Binky!” I LOVED it. I would chirp and then flop to the floor waiting for my favorite belly and ear rubbing. Mike was also the primo groomer and genuinely enjoyed brushing me – much more so than my “mom” did.

Life really was beautiful. I loved hanging out with my two people. I honed my hand washing skills on Mike’s toughened fingers (my tongue hurt Christin’s softer skin). I became an expert bed making assistant; when making the bed, I was tasked with testing the tension of the sheets on the mattress. It was my job to jump up on the bed just before the top sheet settled into place and hold a space under it as Mike and Christin tucked in the ends. This would ensure that they had plenty of room to crawl in under the sheet later. I also became the resident seat warmer. Whenever anyone would get up from their seat, I would immediately jump into place and curl up, keeping it warm. Especially for Mike. The pitfall with this job was that, once I got settled, I really didn’t want to move. I had many jobs that I was good at, but my favorite was always that of being the sweetest cat.

black and white cat licking fingers

Anastasia giving Mike’s hand a good once over

Throughout all this, though, a silent killer was lurking . At first, it seemed like an upset tummy. I would sometimes eat, then throw up. But soon after, I’d be in the litterbox with a very unpleasant case of diarrhea. Christin thought it would pass, but it didn’t. To her, I seemed to be feeling okay with the exception of the litterbox troubles, but my tummy was really hurting. It persisted, getting worse as time marched on.

Christin took me to numerous vets trying to figure out what was wrong, giving me various medications in an attempt to help. At one point, it was confirmed that I had a very large hole (1 inch by 3 inches!) in my abdominal wall that my intestines were protruding through. I say confirmed because Christin thought this was the case for years, but every vet she asked about it said that she was wrong, that it was just fat and “normal.” She finally found a vet who listened, thankfully, and I had to have surgery to stitch up the hole. Christin really thought this would make me feel better and help with the diarrhea, but it didn’t. Nothing did. I just got sicker and sicker and sicker.

collage of cat wearing baby jumper

Anastasia and I both had surgery at the same time and went through our recoveries together. Isn’t she cute in her baby jumper? We both like pink A LOT.

After years of this, we finally received the diagnosis of IBD – Inflammatory Bowel Disease.

I won’t go into all the awful details, but I will say that living with IBD is absolutely terrible. My stomach hurt ALL the time. In the last 7 years of my life, I did not have a healthy solid stool. Not once. And I was so very hungry and ate enough for three cats, but I couldn’t absorb any of the nutrients from my food. I slowly took on the look Pixie had when she showed up – gaunt, and nothing but skin and bones. It absolutely destroyed Christin to watch me waste away, helpless to do anything to stop it, even though she tried everything the vets suggested and then some. She did so very much to help me. As always, I was by her side, letting her know (and she me) that I loved her no matter what.

The End

And this leads us back to the beginning of the story…ironically, the end.

On June 11, 2014, I decided it was time to move on to the next world. Christin knew something was wrong that morning – I’d vomited several times during the night, again in the morning, and breakfast just didn’t sound good at all. She tried to keep her chin up, hoping I would feel better as the day went on. But I didn’t. I only felt worse. By mid afternoon, I didn’t even want to get out of my bed to go outside for my daily dose of sunshine. My treats were not the least bit appetizing and even my favorite cheese made my stomach turn.

I was tired. I was weak from starvation. And I just wanted to fall into the forever sleep we all drift into eventually.

So my mommy (she truly felt like my mommy this day) called the vet and made the arrangements to usher me across the Rainbow Bridge. She wanted the doctor to come out to the house like we did with Jasper, but California is so very expensive, and she couldn’t afford it. This broke her heart, and it broke my heart to see her immense pain at this decision. I fear she feels horribly guilty about it still. But she did the very best she could and was able to get me some medicine to make me sleepy for the ride to the vet. It was a blessing for both of us and reduced our stress levels greatly.

collage of black and white cat

Anastasia “crying”, saying goodbye, and loving ear rubs – her favorite place to be petted.

Before that, though, we had two wonderful final hours together. Christin pulled the bed down and we napped on it together for a time. She smothered me with love and kisses and I did my very best to purr, letting her know how much I loved and appreciated her and the life we shared. She put her head to my chest and listened to my purr ever so intently, memorizing the sound and feel of the vibration on her cheek. She recalled my soft beautiful coat and how it felt when I was healthy. She looked into my eyes, noting the fading light, but remembering the brightness that had shone from them once upon a time. She told me over and over again how much she loved me, how sorry she was that she wasn’t able to help more, and how she would miss me. She asked me to come visit in her dreams, and to let her know that I was still around from time to time. And she asked me to give Jasper a hug for her. I might be able to manage that now. I hear things change after you’ve gone to the next world.

Surprisingly, I decided I wanted to go outside for one last sunning, which Christin hesitantly agreed to. Pixie even came out to sit with me for a few minutes. We never did become great friends, but we had developed a mutual respect for each other after Jasper left us, and I appreciated her kindness in my final hour.

two cats lounging on brick patio

Pixie saying farewell to Anastasia. She knew what was happening – they never once shared space like this.

And then it was time. Time for the sleepy pill and time to move on to the next adventure. Christin comforted me as I began to feel funny. And as I drifted in and out of lucidity, she gently wrapped me in a towel, scooped me into her arms, and snuggled me all the way to the vet, whispering soothing words of love and comfort, leaving streams of tears trickling down my face. And being the ever-loving person she was, she wanted to be with me until I took my very last breath, till my heart thrummed its last beat.

As tired as I was, I did not want to leave her. I fought like hell to stay. I desperately clung to life, wishing for more time, wishing the last 16 years hadn’t passed so quickly. In the blink of an eye, however, I floated up and on to the next world.

I watched as my beloved person held my lifeless body. She knew I was no longer there, but she didn’t want to believe it. I didn’t want to believe it, either. I lingered as long as I could, trying to get back, but that never works, so I bade her a silent farewell and crossed over to the Rainbow Bridge.

A New Life

As I turned away from my former life, I noticed a funny thing. With each step I took toward the Rainbow Bridge, I had a little more bounce . I began to feel stronger. And I felt more substantial, which is strange considering I’d just left my physical body behind. I experienced a curious tingly sensation throughout my body. Before I knew it, I was bounding up, twisting about, jumping higher than kittenly possibly, after a dandelion seed that was flitting about on the breeze. I felt so alive! I hadn’t played like this in years and it felt amazing.

I soon came across a pond, bent down to lap up the crystal clear water, and was stunned by what I saw. Staring back at me was the reflection of the beautiful, healthy, vibrant princess I once was back on Earth. My protruding bones had once again become protected by long forgotten muscles. My coat was restored to its former glory – fluffy, bright white and deep black, and silky smooth. And my purr was strong enough that I swear Christin could hear it – all the way in another world! – if she listened, that is (I bet she is)! But most amazing of all was the aliveness I saw in my own eyes! The light that had always been there was brighter than ever before. And I realized this was a window straight to Christin’s heart and soul…Whenever she needs me, I will be right there with her, purring as always.

And this is how I became REAL…

 

 

9 thoughts on “anastasia: on becoming real

  1. Oh Christin, What an amazing gift you have. I could see the whole story playing out in front of me as a cute, beautiful, heart warming movie. And made me a bit teary eyed towards the end, especially the goodbye photos. 😦 What a marvellous relationship you both shared. You have been such a great mom, and Anastasia is one lucky girl !

    Anastasia must be happily jumping around in her pink dress right now, looking gorgeous as ever. Lots of hugs to you! xoxo

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    • Thank you so much, Saji. You don’t know what a compliment it is to hear you say that you could see the story play out as a movie while you were reading! I think that’s every storyteller’s dream! I’m so happy you read about our life together. I know that she’s having a blast with her pink dress on, prancing like a princess all over Rainbow Bridge land. Lots of hugs right back to you!!! xoxo

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  2. Dear Christin, I finally found time to read this story and I am truly touched! I can feel the love you both shared and I can feel your pain and how you must miss her! You have such a captivating way with words and I love how you begun your story and how the circle closed at the end of it. I lost my father almost 6 years ago and I still can hardly believe that I will never see him again, because in my soul I still feel him so real! And I still miss him so much …. This will never end. All those we love stay real within our hearts forever. Hugs and love to you!!

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    • Hi Ursula, I just got your G+ message and here you are. 😀 I miss her so much still, but the pain of her absence is growing smaller. It feels less empty now than it did a few weeks ago. I think of her often and smile. Usually with a tear as well, but that’s okay. I’m so sorry to hear about your dad. It sounds like you were very close to him. Thank goodness they are always with us in our hearts – forever. 😀 I love you!!! HUGS!!

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      • Yes I was very close to my dad, he was one of the few people who really understood me, and I often needed his advice and that’s what I miss too sometimes…. I am glad to hear that you can smile while thinking of Anastasia!I love you too!! Hugs!! :-))

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  3. Oh Christin, huge, huge hugs. This was so sad (I’m still crying at how much love you and Anastasia share) and then so beautiful at the end, that Rainbow Bridge sounds the best thing.
    The quote at the start is so very good, I had actually used it on my facebook wall sometime last year, and I can see how well it relates to what has happened for you.
    May happy memories comfort you forever.

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    • Thank you so much, Claudette. Sincerely. I can’t even read this myself without crying my eyes out. I tried reading it to my friend the other day and couldn’t get through without having to stop and take VERY deep breaths to keep my composure (and still sobbed despite that!). And yet, I am so happy to have written it. I know in time, it will hurt less. The more I remember the good times, the better I will feel about having this special girl in my life. And the Velveteen Rabbit is seriously the best kids book ever on the planet. I own a copy of it and read it annually. It’s special. HUGS to you.

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