You were a lion once.
Your luminous golden eyes could pierce the darkness, and you could leap impossibly far and high. Your body would extend gracefully in the air, supple and sure, and you’d land with hardly a sound. When you were at rest, you lounged with casual, leonine confidence. And when you decided to act, you were nimble and swift, stealthy when the occasion called for it, an athlete and hunter through and through. You walked with grace, and it seemed you could balance on a razor’s edge. You, my dear, could prowl.
When you rubbed your face against us, we called it a “cuddle.” Same with when we would put our heads down at your level, and you would head-butt us with a soft “clunk.” I know that you were claiming us as your own, as part of your domain. But you enjoyed it, too. You even admitted as much with your purr: sonorous, rumbling, guttural, a sound of pure pleasure.
Ah, you could be fierce. The occasional mouse that would venture in was dispatched quickly and quietly, though the mess was admittedly unpleasant. And the meerkat stuffed animal we gave to you and your mother traveled from room to room, clamped in your jaws, you yowling and roaring around it, the sound muffled by its stuffing. It was nearly as big as you, but no matter. Up the stairs and down you went with it, your pride in the “kill” evident in your swaggering walk and flashing eyes.
You were not all ferocity. Indeed, you chirped sweetly as you trotted up to us, and we stroked you, plunging our hands into your plush fur, marveling at your softness as our fingers sank in. You’d sometimes roll over, offering up your belly to be rubbed, but not for too long. You couldn’t stay that vulnerable, and when you’d had enough, you’d grab our hands with your paws, claws out just a bit, just to warn. As loving as you were with us, you doled out your affections selectively. You hissed at many who dared approach, but even your hiss was nonchalant, like you didn’t need to put much effort into warning outsiders to stay away. They’d get the message. You even managed to hiss softly at the vet in your final moments, and although it was appropriate, I was sad that it was the last sound I’d hear you make.
Your life was long, little lion, much longer than such ferocity and energy can last. As the years went by, the meerkat fell by the wayside, mocking you from a spot near your food bowl. You slept more. Any mice that may have come into the house had little to fear from you. You had earned a good retirement.
For over eighteen years you lived and loved. Even the last year had plenty of good times. You weren’t ready to go yet, and we understood that. You were still too full of life and pleasure; your discomforts seemed minor and fleeting, and your golden eyes continued to shine. But then your decline accelerated, life slipping away bit by uneven bit. In your final couple of weeks, as if you knew what was soon to come, you were even more social than usual, seeking us out even as your eyes dulled and your fur became disheveled and you lost weight you could not afford to lose. And when you stopped visiting us as much, and you spent your time resting and waiting, we came to find you in your warm retreats, offering our caresses. Though you leaned into our hands, your purr had fallen silent. There was nothing left to do, the vet said. But that was no surprise to us, because we had known you when you were a lion.
In the end, you held your head high and we put our hands on you one last time, feeling your warm, magnificent pelt. Each of us said goodbye and cradled you as you left us.
There are moments that remind one of the inescapability of adulthood. Deciding that it is time to help a pet go from this life is one of them. The decision was hard, yet it was right, and we made it at the right time. Now we are left with memory.