Cake or Death? I’ll have the chicken, thank you

One of the funny things in life that you encounter as you get older is death. I’m not saying that death itself is funny, or to be mocked at. It’s a seriously serious thing, boys and girls. Deaths do things like mar weddings, ruin happy moments and tear apart families, marriages and friendships. Just like if your group of Playstation-playing friends suddenly has one defecting to the Microsoft camp, death changes everything.

My cat died on Tuesday this week, thanks to complications from Tickbite fever and possibly Feline AIDS. He was nigh on a year old and had been my companion for ten months. He was a domestic short-haired ginger breed and we (my family and I) named him Cassidy. He was my loyal companion whenever I gave him tuna and occasionally he would come and warm up my legs while taking a nap while I was writing or gaming. He would also meow incessantly when he wanted attention or food and regularly clawed my legs up to my thigh in a bid to persuade me to feed him more promptly.

I know that you, dear reader, probably won’t want to read about my cat on this frankly fantastic Friday. I do mix in some game references though.

Standing in the vet’s surgery at 16:00 with the diagnosis that he probably had AIDS coupled with severe blood pressure drops and a blood platelet count below 10%, I felt that familiar tingle in the back of my head, that bloody annoying voice that was going to tell me what was the right thing to do if things were going to transpire as predicted. Euthanising my cat without some kind of complete blood test or more options wouldn’t have been an option for normal people. Then again, neither I nor my father could have afforded the extremely obscene medical costs the vets were forcing on us. I killed my cat with 150mg of sodium thiopenthal because I had prior knowledge that my previous male feline friend also had AIDS and had to be put down as well. I admit, it wasn’t an easy decision, it never is.

I may have cried inside, a little. Perhaps I had a shaky voice and an unsteady gait as I paced around the cold, steel-gray operating table. My cat lay before me exhausted with stress and I was faced with difficult options. This wasn’t like a game where your moral choices dictate the course of the story, but there’s an option for a quick-save and a quick-load. I could either lose my friend, or spend lots of money that I didn’t have on a cure that in all probability wouldn’t work. This wasn’t an episode of House where some grizzled veteran doctor with a penchant for drug abuse rushes in and saves the day thanks to an epiphany. Death is death; sometimes you can postpone it, but it’s inevitable either way.

For a while I just stood there and my head was empty. I didn’t know what to think or do for a few minutes beyond wonder if there was anything I could have done differently. I tend to think of my animals and pets as my equals. I may provide love, food and shelter for them but I’m no better than them simply because I’m sentient and have the power of language. I value life uniformly – saving a human or a dog from death doesn’t differ to me, it’s still a life to save.

This blank-slate mindset held two things that I later mused on while throwing sand onto the still-warm body of my friend into a grave in the garden my family had helped dig. For one, I don’t play games with morality-related choices with my real emotional connections in place. In most cases I don’t have a connection to the character I’m playing, therefore I don’t have any vested interest in what happens next beyond, “Cool! So that’s what it does!” or, “Ahhh, holy crap I just killed my female lead by sentencing her to death in space! Now I’ll never get to have alien sex with her.” When faced with the choice of killing something in a game, I quicksave and just do it to see what happens. This morality thing game developers have got going doesn’t work for me. They’re still great games, mind. I’ll still play them, I still like the characters, but they just don’t hold any kind of emotional connection beyond the hard work I put into making my character cool.

The next thing I realized (over a long period of time) is that death is death; there’s no way around it, over it, away from it or without it. No death is greater or more tragic than another; they’re all tragic, sad and depressing. As I grew older I began to see what real life was like. It’s not a bad thing, mind you, I love being an adult with responsibilities, goals, desires and aspirations. I love my life and how I’ve lived it thus far. But what I hate about living is that I have to see the dying go. My first funeral I remember attending was when I was thirteen. My uncle had died of cancer and it was very surreal. I was the first to know about it minutes before anyone else – my mom called, crying on the phone while in the ambulance with my uncle and aunt. He died on the stretcher while rushing to St. George’s Hospital in PE; a great man, talented guitarist and a good friend. Since then I’ve attended three more for friends and family, burying at least seven more animals in the last ten years. Losing something you bought or treasured isn’t like losing something or someone you love. It’s heartbreaking and soul-sucking, taking all the joy out of what could have otherwise been a good day.

I had learnt the lesson that all life was precious years before I put down my cat. I don’t stay angry at people for more than an hour because I find it silly to waste my energy and time on something that yields no benefits to me. I usually find some way to make up the situation and things carry on as before. A lot of people take that as a sign of weakness, that I can’t defend myself or that I’m weak-willed. I can defend myself, it’s just that I’d much rather be doing something more meaningful than fighting. Maybe I see things differently in my eyes – whenever I meet someone of importance in my life that I’ll be relatively close too, the first thing I do is accept that they’ll die someday. It might be now, it might be tomorrow or next year, but they’re going to go the way of the dodo. It won’t make the reality any easier when they do, but I’ll at least come to terms with it sooner. I don’t value any of my possessions like they’re irreplaceable – it’s the people around me, the animals that I love that are irreplaceable.

At 16:32 the vet injected Cassidy with a muscle relaxant. In seconds he was limp and placed down on the table gently so as to find a vein. His blood pressure was too low and an injection in the kidney was required. It took the vet a minute to find it, and the first 50mg went in. I placed my hand on his ribs, feeling his heart slow, looking into his eyes and scratching behind his ears. Three minutes later, another 50mg went in. His pulse dropped below 25bpm, enough to trigger brain damage. The final 50mg was injected a minute later and I stood there with my hand on his heart, making sure he wasn’t alone.

The next five minutes were the longest in my life so far. I stood there watching my friend die, feeling like screaming with rage because there wasn’t anything I could do. Flashbacks of good memories and the fun times I had with him when he was a kitten ran through my head. Important moments like when we first bonded, the first clawing of my leg, the night when he went prowling and came back with his face covered in blood from fighting other male cats. All the while his breathing grew slower and had less effort, his heart slowing closer to a dead stop. I closed his eyes and kissed his head, hoping that he wasn’t in pain or wondering why this was happening to him.

My cat was announced dead at 16:43. I got a box for him and gently laid him in a curled position. In the car on the way home I scratched behind his ears, my hoodie covered in claw marks and white cat hair. I buried him in the yard under an hour later with his favourite pair of my socks, covering the grave with clumps of grass and my family arranged a few stones for it. I will never forget him, just as I never forgot my other companions. From dust to dust, his body will fertilise some new grass roots and perhaps a few flowers, using the last of the energy stored in his muscle and (rather considerable) fat to give life to something anew. Long live Captain Fat. I don’t regret what I did, I just regret that I didn’t have more time.

Boys and girls, there’s not much I can say beyond a few simple things that I think we all could do. Take some time out of the games and the busy schedule, the hectic lifestyle and the socialising to spend time with the people and animals you hold dear. They’re not going to be there forever. They’re going to die eventually and the only thing you can do about it is spend as much quality time with them as possible. There’s no quickload when they’re gone, no retry when they die, no time-traveling Time Lord to take you back to save them.

Diablo III can wait for a little while, you’re still getting Error 37 messages.