We missed him so much already, we didn't want to be reminded of his absence every time we turned around.
We went through that day, talking about him and remembering all we'd done, working with his vets to get him through, and how great it was to have kept him with us months longer than the vets thought likely.
"Billy's a fighter," the vets said.
But you can't keep even the most determined and tough loved ones around forever, no matter what you do. A time would come when his body ran out of resources to match his passion. This was it.
By the next morning, I was surprised, getting up early as I always do and feeding our other cat, Sam, to find that what I missed most was the chances I'd had, every day, to care for him, to help him through whatever challenges might come up.
We'd build our routines around Billy. Starting first thing in the morning, I had to be sure he ate, an accomplishment that grew much harder than when he was young and we nicknamed him "Billy Goat" because he'd would eat anything, including tasteless, odorless styrofoam, if we didn't stop him. In the past year, one day's favorite might be totally unacceptable the next.
The important thing, all agreed, was to keep him eating.
So, I'd offer him as many choices as it took to find one he liked enough to eat a good amount. Then, I'd make sure he had fresh water in multiple places. Advanced kidney disease demanded that. Done, I settled into my own business and waited for him to cry for attention or to come out for a visit.
Throughout the day, we arranged for his medications, kept him eating, loved and cuddled him in every way we knew how. We didn't know how long we'd have him with us. One vet warned us that, in his condition, sudden death was a possibility. However long we'd have him, we wanted each day to be the best possible for him.
Then, one cold January day, he was gone.
Billy's Black Cat Biography
They'd put the loss in the backs of their minds and move on.
But we didn't want to forget Billy any more than we wanted to forget any loved one. For sixteen and a half years, he shared his life with us. I bet there wasn't one day when he didn't make us smile at least once. On most, he made us laugh.
His love for us was so genuine and uninhibited, it was irresistible. We've known many cats, but Billy is the only one who had no guile. He never flirted, did figure-eights around our ankles or played coy to get attention.
My guess is, he was taken away from his mother before he had a chance to learn the tricks of the feline trade. He was all feeling, pure and natural.
Rescued from under a porch where he'd taken refuge with his sister, Billy was so tiny I held him easily in the palm of my hand. Like a newborn, he felt weightless, just a mound of black fur with fearful eyes.
We watched him grow into a figure so powerful-looking, tall with broad shoulders, he looked like a linebacker - if, that is, they ever start a football league for cats.
We saw him slow into old age and heroically battle multiple illnesses. But before that, he showed us what a cat really is, beyond the funny stories, the love and the unexpected incidents. He showed us what it was like to adjust to a universe controlled by another species without giving up your own character or becoming an unequal subordinate. Whether he couldn't or just didn't want to acquiesce doesn't matter. Billy maintained his black cat integrity every day of his life. More than that, he did things his way. His way was sometimes hilarious, sometimes impressively unique.
My wife and I shared our stories about him and our perspectives, and while this kept him so vivid and so different, I decided that my next book had to be his story, Billy's black cat biography. To sharpen the perspective, I began by telling it from the experience of his final months with us, the feelings and memories those unforgettable days brought out.
The book was one of the hardest things I've ever written because it was so difficult to think straight through emotions that built up while recalling special stories. The comedy of my efforts to keep a very young Billy from drinking whatever fluids he found in the kitchen sink reminded me of how determined he was, even as a kitten. His "farewell tour" grew clearer to me as I recalled the details. The more I remembered, the more I missed this special little animal.
A friend who'd spent years living in India knew Billy well decided that he was a Buddha. For me, he was also a fierce little playmate with a vertical leap to make Michael Jordan envious and the only alarm clock I ever really liked.