I want to tell you a love story.
Nico, my 18-year-old teacup panther, died on April 13. Love is knowing I’d trade nearly anything to watch that furry jerk piss on my bathroom floor right next to his litterbox while staring me dead in the eye just one more time.
I guess you had to know him to find that lovable.
And that’s the thing: I did know him. For that matter, he knew me in a way I don’t think anyone else ever could.
I adopted Nico, then a spry 7-year-old, from a friend who had to get rid of him because of his litterbox issue. I’d never had a cat and I thought a new environment might cure him. I was 23, navigating the wake of the Great Recession, in a bad relationship, socially adrift. A black cat seemed correct.
I spent our first months looking for a no-kill shelter to take him, but none materialized. If I put down pads where he liked to pee, he’d push them aside. Plug-ins, pills, special litters and boxes – nothing worked. My ex flew into rages, at me, at him. People told me to put Nico down. I couldn’t. It was stressful, but it felt wrong to sentence him to death just because he didn’t like peeing in a box.
Nico and I bonded through the last miserable year my ex and I spent in Boston. By that point, most people in my life saw how bad things were, but I didn’t. Nico didn’t judge me. Every time we fought, Nico would present his belly as a Kleenex. While I frantically studied for the LSAT, Nico purred reminders to breathe into my side.
My new house became a home when he stepped out of his carrier. Once he picked his pee spot, we locked eyes across the bathroom floor. I told him: “If you keep it there, that’s good enough for me.”
He did, up until the end.
He forgave my early attempts to change him. My choice to protect him kept him there to do the same for me.
He puttered underfoot for the tense late-night study sessions of law school.
He hid when his kitten-sister came home, but on the third day – and for the rest of his life – he curled around her like a puzzle piece.
The summer my ex moved out, he nestled under my chin and head-butted my tears when my resolve got weak.
He reminded me I was never alone – during a surreal summer in Washington, D.C., another live-in relationship’s start and end, my early legal career, the campaign years, and the first terrifying months of complete isolation in the early pandemic.
Nico started slowing down around 2017, but he took a turn the week I got my second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. The vet said we’d have a month, or two if we were lucky.
Those first few weeks, I was terrified to leave him – even to sleep. Anticipating his loss felt too big to bear, but I hated the idea of darkening his last days. I recalled my grandmother laughing on her deathbed.
“What the hell are you crying about?” she said. “I’m the one dying.”
So, I found a way to make space for life in the grief.
I reminded Nico how much I loved him every time I left the room.
I told him I would listen to him and let him go if he stopped eating. Eating was our “sign” that he still wanted to be here.
Tricking him into eating more became our game. Not quite our old laser-pointer hijinks but still sweet. Still us. Convincing him to “get beefy” helped me stay kind to myself as my body changed.
Kissing his head and telling him “every day I get to kiss you is a good day” meant we got a lot of very good days.
As months stacked up, I feared I’d wake to find him gone and be left alone to hack a grave into the frozen ground. Nico waited until the first warm day in April, with my partner standing by to hold his sister and me.
Ten months into the time we stole, Nico started struggling to reach the bathroom spot. I asked the vet if $10 million would change our options. It destroyed me to hear it wouldn’t, but it also gave me some peace that night as Nico passed in my arms at home.
It was slow, then fast. He hobbled down his little couch-stairs, used the living room litterbox, and came back up to eat from my hand one last time. The end became clear and I told him I was sorry he was in pain, that I was grateful to him for staying with me through everything, and that I loved him so, so much.
These last acts of care, after he had been fighting to stay with me for so long, left me with no doubts that he and I had both done the best we could by one another.
That’s the best definition of love I know.
Bre Kidman is an artist, activist, and attorney (in that order), and the first openly non-binary person in history to run for the U.S. Senate. They would be delighted to hear your thoughts on the political industrial complex at [email protected].