That our cat was coming to America with us was never in question. She is one of us, an essential part of our family, and has been my girl — mine mine mine — since the first day I picked her up — flea-ridden, underfed, and neglected — and she visibly relaxed in my arms and gazed up at me, and the woman whose vile, stinking flat we were standing in, on one of the roughest council estates in town, exclaimed with shock, “Why, she doesn’t do that with anyone!” And no wonder — I don’t think anyone had bothered to treat her with love in the whole of her short life so far. But I just had — I loved her from the first moment I saw her, and she loved me back.
So the week before we moved to the US, we sent her on ahead — paying hand over fist for a professional pet-shipping company to make her journey as smooth as possible. She went to my sister, who gladly took her in for a temporary stay of length undetermined, while we moved into our rental and got busy finding a more permanent place to live. And though we’ve been in our own house for six months, it is only the chaos of moving and then our long seige with one illness after another that have delayed her coming home to us. But I never once doubted she would, and I was looking forward to our reunion with the strength of all the love I hold for her. My sister is coming up for Easter and so she could bring her with her then. Soon… soon… soon…
E2′s egg allergy means her MMR has to be administered by her allergist rather than her pediatrition, in another of those long, drawn out affairs that we are beginning to get used to. First a skin prick test of the vaccine and a 20 minute wait. Then a small amount injected just under the skin and another 20 minute wait. And then, if all is still well, the full vaccine is injected, and we wait for a full hour, with medical staff checking on us every 10 minutes or so, to ensure that the slight amount of egg used in the solution-base is not going to send her body into a dangerous allergic spiral.
She was being such a brave girl, though she cried pitifully with each jab, and was sailing through — no reaction at all to any of the escalating tests. At last — at last! — a trip to the allergist’s office that didn’t end in some life-altering and bitter disappointment!
When the physician’s assistant next stopped in to check on us, I asked her a few questions that had popped into my mind as we sat, waiting and bored, in that small and sterile examing room… When I bring E1 for her yearly check next month, should we have her blood work done ahead of time or after? Did I need to be carrying Allegra with us at all times as well, or were the Epi-pens enough on their own? Oh, and our cat is coming home to us in a couple of weeks… we didn’t know about E2′s allergies when she was last living with us… is there anything to be concerned about? Anything I should do?
“Mmmm…” she said, frowning a little. “Well, we could do a prick test if you like.” Suggestion made, and I agreed. I didn’t even think about it — we might as well, as we’re here. After all, it’s why I asked, wasn’t it?
I could hear the nurse in the hall, “Oh no! Are you trying to torture the babe?”
“No, it’s the mom’s request” came the PA’s defense and I bristled a little: I wasn’t trying to torture my daughter! I don’t enjoy this! It was her suggestion — hers — and I was only trying to do right my little girl, who has been through so much already. It was the right thing to do, wasn’t it?
When the nurse came in, carrying a tray with a small vial of clear liquid and piece of metal with a razor-sharp point, she knelt down and gave my daughter a warm, beaming smile. E2 knew better than that, and held her gaze with wide eyes and suspicion. No fool, her — the prick came, as she knew it would, followed by her wail and fat tears that landed hot on my arm as I pulled her in tight to me and kissed her head tenderly, uselessly.
When she calmed down — only moments later — I let her down to play and went back to my knitting. I didn’t check her arm — I didn’t even think of it. For some reason, my mind held it on the same plane as the original question: just a precaution, just an inquiry. But when the PA returned and turned her arm over, she drew her breath in sharply. “Oh, that’s big. Yeah… no doubt about that, is there?” And suddenly I got what this meant — what the stakes had been all along — and my stomach churned at the realisation.
We talked. Was there…? Well… could we…? I was grasping at straws and I knew it, but I wanted a way — any way — to bring my lovely cat home. She shook her head, then shrugged. “It’s up to you. I mean, some people try to keep the cat separated, keep it in the basement. You could try that. But it could mean eczema, coughing, trouble breathing… I mean, it’s up to you… I wouldn’t, but… Well, it’s big — it’s a big reaction. Look at it.” I looked again: it was big — red, raised, and angry. For a moment, I weighed it up: her health against my need for my cat; her airways — red, raised, and angry like that — against me on a couch, with my lovely cat curled and purring in my lap. For a moment… And then, no… no… I knew. I can’t make her go back to the way things were. Her life has been so much better since we discovered her allergies, removed her allergens. She is a different child. She is who she always should have been. I can’t jeopardise that.
Back in the car, I sat motionless in the driver’s seat while she waited, strapped in in the back and confused, for Mummy to start the engine and drive. When I’d said goodbye to my cat, just over a year ago, I’d told her it was only for a while. It was only going to be for a while. I hadn’t planned for it to be for forever. Why would I? Why would I?!?!?
I found my phone and rang M — he who has done nothing but moan about the cat coming home… the food, the litter, the cat hair… He put all that aside and was instantly sympathetic. And that was almost the most awful thing, because all my strength and calm melted away from me, and I was left with all the bitter disappointment of yet another visit to this bloody office, and all the raw of this move, and the final realisation that my lovely cat cannot now ever come home. And I lent my forehead against the steering wheel and let my own tears fall, hot and fat, onto my arms.
Like so many things this past year, I miss my Agnes.
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