Early last November we said goodbye to our loving, sweet-natured, 3.5-year-old kitty, Dexter. As some of you know, Dexter’s loss was particularly tough on both Jess and I not only because he was so young, but because we spent over two months doing everything possible to help him overcome a series of recurring urinary blockages and watching the physical toll it took on him in his final weeks of life. He maintained his indomitable spirit throughout and would have kept on fighting, but one final intractable blockage forced our hand and made us concede that our time left with him was to be numbered in days instead of weeks, months, or years.
Within hours of seeing him through to the end of his pain, I think we had both decided to get memorial tattoos. Thus began a long process of debating just what was best to use to enshrine Dexter’s life on my skin forever. I would debate paw prints on my shoulders (he loved to jump onto my shoulders at any opportunity), pictures of his face, or any of a dozen cat memorial tattoo designs I had seen in browsing for inspiration. I never felt 100% on board with any of those options; paw prints were meaningful, but I couldn’t find a design that felt individual to Dexter; I feared a face tattoo not turning out perfect and thus making me regret the decision; I saw many other sweet ideas out there, but wanted something tailored to a meaningful moment with Dexter specifically. What I ultimately called upon came from what would turn out to be one of our last good moments with Dexter, a final weekend to cuddle, play, pet, pamper, and connect with him before we said goodbye.
He had been sent home from the vet’s office, his bladder drained as much as possible via needle, and stocked with several days of painkillers. We all knew that we’d be back within a few days. That weekend was an amazing gift. He was in the best spirits we’d seen him in a while: affectionate, talkative, playful, snuggly, and voraciously eating all the tuna and grass we could offer him. Dexter also got to accomplish something he’d attempted for years without success.
Dexter had one toy that he loved above all others: a squid on a stick.
He wasn’t big on playing with toys usually, but if you pulled even the very end of the stick from the closet — even the squidless end — he would excitedly “mrrrp” his battle cry and fling himself against his nemesis again and again. His battles usually ended in a stalemate where he would seize the throat of his quarry, but somehow never manage to dislodge it from its tether. The squid inevitably would escape, wrapping itself around its home pole, and secret itself away until it would appear some weeks later. This cycle repeated for years with no clear victory to be had.
That weekend, Dexter finally conquered the Squid. When once again he had taken to furiously pulling and backing away with his wriggling prey, he set in for the long haul. He held that squid firmly between his teeth for a full ten minutes before, with one final great straining heave, something snapped. The squid was free! Dexter trotted around the apartment for minutes, proudly holding the now stickless squid up for his and parents to see. He would occasionally drop the now defeated archenemy, lick his paws contentedly as he admired his spoils, then pick it up to continue his victory lap. He revisited it several times over the next 48 hours, perhaps still proud of his accomplishment even as the building pressure in his bladder began to distract him.
We still have the defeated squid, and it sits in my desk drawer until we decide what final fate is befitting so glorious a war trophy, but it did serve well in one final task for Dexter today. I took it in with me to Timeless Tattoos where one of the artists, Dave, gladly took up the project of creating a different kind of memorial tattoo. I gave him only the squid and one vague example of what might be good from something I found online, but he did the rest. I sat in Dave’s chair and spent the next two and a half hours reflecting on all that ever made me happy about Dexter, from the way he’d bark impatiently at me when I was taking too long in coming upstairs at the end of the night to the way he’d silently implore me to turn on the kitchen faucet for just a moment even though I knew it risked making me late for work or school. During that time, I explained what happened to Dexter and why I had chosen this particular item to become his memorial. He nodded as he continued his work, mentioning how he too had lost a cat at a young age. After a few touchups and many compliments on the results, Jess and I were about to leave before he said he had something else to show us. He hiked up one of the legs of his shorts to reveal a small, blue Eeyore on his thigh. He said “I know what it’s like. I have this for my dog. It’s his favorite toy. I’m sorry for your loss.” I thanked him and left, still somewhat in shock at how well the tattoo turned out.
So here, at length, is the picture of Dexter in his moment of triumph on that final beautiful weekend and of my new tattoo honoring him. As I said to Dave this afternoon, Dexter may not have gotten the chance to live the lifetime he should have, but now I can carry something of him forward along with me for all the years I have left.