April 2015. It was a pretty pleasant day, uncommon for the humid northern Mexican city we were at. Mom and I were watching TV in her room, when my sisters stormed in, excited.
“Did you hear that?” asked Mena, the youngest.
“What?” My mom asked, muting the TV and sitting up. We looked at each other, and we were probably thinking the same thing. In a city as restless and violent as that one, it was most likely yet another gunfight.
“Meowing,” said Gabs, pointing at one of the windows in Mom’s room.
I walked over, and sure enough, a kitten was sitting there, meowing its lungs out. The girls squealed and ran outside, in love with the tiny feline already.
“Make sure they don’t bring him inside,” Mom groaned. She was never a fan of cats.
The girls fed it some turkey breast and gave him water, knowing that the time with the kitten would be limited. My aunt wasn’t a fan of cats either, and it was a stray, so that was that.
+ + +
The cat didn’t go anywhere. We eventually discovered it was a he, and although my aunt refused to make him an indoor cat, she allowed him to stay.
As much as my aunt tried to pretend she didn’t like him, that pretense went away after she bought him a collar, and cute little bowls for his water and food.
I named him Kilgore, after my favorite Kurt Vonnegut character. My sisters named him Teo.
He loved to go to Mom’s window and meow and purr against the mosquito screen. Mom was amused by him and eventually warmed up to him, and would talk to him. Kilgore always replied with a loud meow.
It made me laugh, every single time.
Mom lamented the fact that she couldn’t touch him, because my aunt was worried that his fur would cause some sort of havoc in my Mom’s already-weakened body.
But Mom talked to him everyday, and Kilgore always meowed back.
+ + +
Mom would have constant fevers right after her chemo sessions. Sometimes they were so bad she wasn’t coherent, or was delirious, or would cry a lot due to the discomfort and pain.
One day was particularly hard. I could not comfort her, and she was so miserable that I almost called my aunt to let her know.
“Bring him in,” she begged.
I wasn’t sure what she was talking about, until I noticed she was looking at the window. Kilgore was there, taking a nap.
“Please,” she insisted, and I hesitated for one split second.
Fuck it, I thought.
I brought Kilgore in, and he immediately leapt out of my arms and made his way to my mom’s bed. I was terrified, thinking he would jump onto Mom and hurt her, or scratch her ostomy bag, or —
But no. He merely jumped onto the bed, and slowly made his way to Mom’s side, avoiding the ostomy bag.
“He’s so cute,” Mom kept saying, “Look at him, he’s so cute.”
It didn’t take long for both of them to fall asleep.
+ + +
It became a, well, thing. I would bring Kilgore in, and Mom would cuddle him, and he would be so gentle around her.
They took naps together, watched TV together. They were like old friends.
Whenever Mom was in pain, Kilgore would race to the window and meow. Sometimes he’d be moping around during Mom’s worst days, and then he’d be back to his old self once she got better.
He brought her infinite comfort, and I love him for it.
+ + +
Mom had a stroke Aug. 10, 2015. Kilgore spent all that morning clawing at the mosquito screen, while I was trying not to break down.
At the time, we didn’t know it was a stroke. We thought it was a complication stemming from the experimental treatment Mom had just completed.
Mom wasn’t able to communicate well. She’d pull on my sleeve and mumble incoherently and all I could do was try and comfort her. I called my aunt, who said she had talked to Mom’s doctor and that Mom would have to be taken to the hospital that day.
Mom kept repeating my name, over and over and over, and I couldn’t stop crying. Gabs came in and helped me get Mom cleaned up and changed, because Mom wasn’t in control of her body anymore. She couldn’t move on her own. She couldn’t even talk.
Both Gabs and I were crying. We knew the end was coming.
I told Mena to go and feed Kilgore. I didn’t want her to see Mom like that.
While we waited for the paramedics to arrive, Mena came back.
Kilgore was nowhere to be found.
+ + +
During Mom’s last week, I didn’t spend time at home at all. I only left to shower and (sometimes) eat, and then I’d go back to the hospital.
My aunts and uncle insisted on switching with me, but I refused. I wasn’t going anywhere. I was planning on staying by her side until the very end.
My sisters came in during the week to say goodbye to my Mom. Mom was unconscious by then, and she’d never wake up again. But still, the girls wanted to be there. We laughed and cried and shared stories, just like if she had been awake. We told her how much we loved her, and that we would be okay.
“How’s the cat?” I asked after a while.
“He’s not eating,” Gabs said as she ran her fingers through Mom’s hair. “He’s by the window all the time.”
+ + +
After Mom died, Kilgore spent every single day by the window, barely eating. Sometimes he’d perk up if he saw someone walking into the room, but after realizing it wasn’t Mom, he would go back to sleep.
The week after Mom’s death, I brought him inside. The girls were back in school and my aunt went back to work, so I was by myself. I had already cried my heart out in Mom’s room, devastated and angry and broken.
I brought Kilgore in to keep me company, but he went straight to Mom’s room, jumped on the bed, and curled up right where Mom used to lie down.
It was all kinds of heartbreaking, but he started eating again after that.
+ + +
Kilgore has been part of our family for two years now. He’s a spoiled, fat cat. My sisters adore him. My aunt loves him too, even if she jokes about “kicking him out”.
We love him because he brought us joy during a truly difficult time. I love him because he made my Mom smile through the pain. He was a furry friend to her, and I’m so grateful for that.
He doesn’t go near the window anymore.