My adopted and much beloved cat Opie died this past 4th of July at the grand old age of 22. For years I feared his death-almost since I started to fall in love with him back in 2007, when we moved to Boise together-and I hoped fervently that his legs would keep working, along with everything else, up until the day he died. Just imagining having to take him into that fucking vet office and have him put down was enough to make me feel a little off-kilter, a little insane, and I could all too easily picture myself breaking down in front of those kind and well-meaning strangers, especially when I handed over my credit card to PAY FOR HIS DEATH.
But that didn't happen. Opie died as he lived-making very little fuss and doing things his own way. He simply started eating less and less, so gradually I didn't even notice, until even raw hamburger held no appeal to him and it was like cradling a kitty skeleton in your arms. And then, one morning, he died on the cool tile of the bathroom floor, his favorite place in the world.
And, like that, he was gone. As good and natural a death as you could ask for.
Along the lines of the idea of a good death is The Shootist, a novel by Glendon Swarthout and the 1976 John Wayne film by the same name. An aging and famous gunfighter comes to Carson City and confirms with the local doc (Jimmy Stewart) that he has advanced cancer and not much longer to live. He spends his remaining days sipping his last at life's great pleasures (such as flirting with Lauren Becall), stirring up a little trouble, and finally decides to go out in a shootout with the town's three best gunmen, all who seek the glory of killing a famous man. I've never been a huge John Wayne fan, personally, but he is perfect and understated in this, which would turn out to be his final role as well.
I've jokingly suggested that this was how Opie should have gone out, in a blaze of violent glory, and even went as far as to imagine the two of us driving in the Grand Canyon together, like Thelma and Louise. Of course, real life isn't as simple and clean cut as the movies, and each of us can only hope to go out as well as we possibly can.
In the end, this whole episode has left me feeling as if I've been touched (again) by some brand of terrible and powerful magic that hasn't left me yet-is that what death really is? Magic? Now you're here, now you're not?