r.i.p. niko 8/8/95 – 9/18/12
she was the first thing that was truly mine. before i had a real job, my own home, a man, children, a car…..i had her.
i left my midwestern hometown on august 16th, 1995, just a week after my 22nd birthday, with my best friend, gretchen, to move to tucson, arizona. we had a destination. we would live in the extra bedroom of our mutual friend, amy’s, apartment. amy was a full-time college student at the university of arizona. gretchen’s stay in tucson would be temporary, only lasting a few weeks before she headed back to the midwest. my move to tucson would become permanent. i had $900 in cash (from waitressing over the summer), no car, no job prospects…..but lots of enthusiasm and optimism.
the first few weeks in tucson were idyllic. me, gretchen and amy were silly and adventurous. we explored the catalina mountains, tanque verde, sedona. we shopped at consignment stores. we got drunk at college bars.
september came and gretchen left. amy began her new college semester. now, i felt alone. i missed my family and friends and brett in indiana desperately. i called my loved ones daily. all i could think about was how much i missed everyone. so i confessed my lonely feelings to amy and we decided to get a kitten.
i’ve always loved cats. i did not grow up with cats in my home. my dad didn’t like them. as a child, i would dream of having a cat of my own. i would imagine that i found a stray kitten. i would take care of it….my parents would let me keep it…..
amy and i went to our local humane society; and of course, we fell in love with the contents of the first cage of wiggly black and white kitten brothers and sisters. we picked a kitten that seemed affectionate, but not needy, healthy, but not hyper. she was pure black, with bright green eyes. she and i shared a birthday. after she was spayed, we brought her home. we named her niko.
we picked the name niko because i was really into the band: the velvet underground and nico. i switched nico with a “c” to niko with a “k” as a nod to my roomie, amy, because her nickname was amy k. see….it’s all making sense now, right?? i was young and kinda clueless, but, well intentioned.
niko was a funny and lively kitten. she was the type of kitten who would attack our shoelaces and our long hair. she would run full speed and ricochet herself off of the walls and the futons. she would hang by her claws upside down from the furniture. she was healthy and happy; and in october of that year, brett moved to tucson to join me and amy and niko. now, our apartment was full and complete and we were content.
in may of 1996, amy graduated. brett and i found our own apartment to live in; and it was decided that we would keep niko.
amy and i are still friends. she lives in central indiana now too. i will always be grateful to her for helping me pick out the best kitten in the whole world.
our lives moved on. brett and i got jobs. we made friends. we moved to many different homes and living situations in and around tucson. we had babies. and niko was there….for all of it.
in 2002, we made the decision to move back to our midwestern hometown. our moving plan was as simple as a moving plan can be. i would take a flight from phoenix to indy with baby sasha, toddler isabel and niko. brett would drive our van with a trailer full of our belongings across the country. leaving tucson was physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually draining. it was so sad to say goodbye to so much of what we loved and had created. furthermore…..the day of the departure, i was sick with a cough and a cold, as were isabel and sasha. so, here i was at the airport, less than 6 months after 9/11/01 with a sick baby in one arm, a cat carrier in the other and a sick toddler hanging on to my skirt hem. and of course, we get pulled out of the security line at the airport for further security scrutiny. wtf?!? i think i practically fell into my mom’s arms, weeping, feverish and coughing when she picked us up from the airport in indy.
and once again, our lives moved on. brett and i got jobs. we made friends. we moved to many different homes and living situations in and around indy. we had babies. and niko was there…..for all of it.
last summer, niko had some sort of medical crisis. we took her to the vet. the vet did not expect her to live through the weekend. she gave us pain medicine to make niko comfortable. we brought her home, took care of her, and waited for her to die. after two days, niko began to feel better. she had escaped death. it might be true that cats have 9 lives, or at least 2 or 3. unfortunately, the medical crisis took a toll on her overall health and well-being. and over the course of the next year, she looked and seemed to feel worse and worse.
last week, as a family, we made a decision to have niko euthanized after brett’s birthday, after the weekend, on a tuesday, when i had time in my schedule to care for her one last day.
the days leading up to tuesday were full of love and affection for our sweet, old cat. she slept with isabel. brett and i encouraged her to sit on our laps as long as she wanted.
on tuesday, niko and i spent the day together. the morning was cool and rainy and we slept and cuddled in bed. by early afternoon, the sun broke through the clouds and warmed the day. niko sat on the open windowsill. we had made arrangements with the vet to bring niko’s body home with us after the euthanasia. so, i thought that i had better get started digging her grave. i chose a spot under the canopy of the big, black walnut tree in our backyard. i dug and i cried. i dug and i grunted and groaned and yelled. i dug until my hands felt like they were about to blister. niko joined me outside. we stood side by side next to the hole which would become her final resting place. then, she found a warm slab of cement about 10 yards from where i was digging and she watched me finish my job.
the kids came home from school. they each gave niko one last hug and kiss. sophia wrote niko a note: “september 18, 2012, goodbye niko. i love you. sophia” at the bottom of the note, she drew a picture of a broken heart.
the euthanasia was quick. the vet was very kind. brett and i wept. we brought home her dead body. we wrapped her burial box in a ceremonial cloth and placed it in the grave. our children and our neighbor’s child began to collect flowers, dozens and dozens of flowers: roses and sedum, snapdragons and pansies, violets and dandelions…..we arranged them in her grave, then covered it with dirt. we laid her water dish ( a ceramic dish she had used for years – isabel had painted and decorated it with the words “i love niko”.) we filled the dish with more flowers. i sat by the grave for a long time.
after a while, the kids began to jump on the trampoline and play. some of us ate dinner. we trudged through homework, bedtime. once the children were asleep, i went outside into the cool night air. it was a beautiful night and the sky was full of stars. i invited brett to join me and he did. i was gazing out and up into the western sky when i saw it……a shooting star that streaked just above the horizon. i held my breath, tears stung my eyes and streaked my cheeks. then, i breathed out a long exhale. i love you niko. thank you for belonging to me as much as i belonged to you. we were a good team. rest in peace beautiful kitty. namaste.