Westley

Westley at age 8. Sitting at the window.

I want to remember it all. I need to remember it all.

I told him in some of our many quiet moments that when he passed over it would break me. It wasn’t a glib comment. It wasn’t trying to make it seem like our bond was more than what it was. It was simply the truth.

Today… I m broken. Fractured in a way that I can barely comprehend. It washes over me in waves where I’m fine, and then suddenly I’m wailing because a moment has hit me where he was normally with me. I reread what I’ve written here and break down repeatedly.

So I need to share his story. I need everyone to know who he was and what he meant to us.

I’ve said it to multiple people but he was my cat for 12 years and it wasn’t enough time. I know that when we lost our first cat Cleo, we only had 8 years with her, and I felt cheated. I heard about other people having 10 or 12 or 15 years with their pets, and I was jealous. But I understand that it is never enough time.

It’s crazy that these little furry critters can make such an impact on our hearts and our lives. It shouldn’t be possible. When Cleo passed away, the house was too quiet. For those next 3 or 4 days, my wife and I couldn’t be in different rooms from each other. It was just too much to deal with. We’d follow each other from the bedroom to the living room to the kitchen and back again. Just being in some connection with each other made it a tiny bit more bearable.

Our house wasn’t a home without her.

Westley and Inigo in their white blanket. 7 weeks old.

It was a week or so when we got the boys (Westley and Inigo). I wasn’t even sure that enough time had passed to honor Cleo, but it was an adoption day so we said what I’m sure so many people have said in the past: “We’ll just go to look.” Inigo sold it for the two of them in the little kitten audition (Westley was too busy napping). After having a girl cat for 8 years we were opening our home to two orange little boys named Goblet and Cauldron who quickly became Inigo and Westley (named after the characters from The Princess Bride). We brought them home…

And they healed our hearts.

They showed us a level of love from the very beginning that I didn’t know was entirely possible. And Westley bonded with me almost immediately. He would lay next to me on the couch or climb onto my shoulders or snuggle in my arm at night (after giving my nose a few licks).

I told him and anyone who asked about him that I don’t know if a cat has ever loved me as much as he did. Every day he always wanted to be with me. He’d curl up in my arms while I was writing at the computer. So many words from my novels are the result of the two of us working late nights.

Me, Westley, and Inigo. The boys are about 1 year old.

He was a leaper. While Inigo is more of a low to the ground cat, Westley loved to get as high as he could in the house, jumping from countertop to the top of the refrigerator and to the tops of our Chester Drawers. Even as he got older and wasn’t always sure he still could make a jump up to a table, I’d say to him “I believe in you.” and he’d try one more time and make it.

When he drank from his water bowl (or pretty much anytime he drank from anything) he’d shake one front paw and then another as if he’d gotten them wet (he hadn’t). The first time I noticed it, I laughed out loud.

Early on though, he had a big problem with his not wanting to always use a litter box. We tried everything, even hiring a Cat Behavrioist in order to try and fix the problem. We added about 7 litter boxes to the house. We replaced the floors in the house (partially due to him and partially due to wanting new floors). We scolded him. Yelled.

I’d tell him that if we could just fix his peeing problem he’d be the perfect cat.

And then my wife figured out that she could praise him when he used the litter box. Bribe him with treats. And it worked like a charm. He would even wait until one of us was near a litter box before actually doing his business, to make sure we saw. And he even would attempt a fake-out from time to time, walk into the box and then immediately get out – to which we told him that wasn’t going to work!

Courtney and Westley in his first snow.

But he was always my perfect cat no matter what.

We had conversations over the years with me asking him how his day went and him telling me all about the birds and squirrels he watched from the windows. I remember my dad being in town one day and watching the two of us go back and forth. He looked at me and said “You two really did just have a full conversation, didn’t you.” But that was how it would always go.

He and his brother fought once in a while, but mostly they loved each other. We’ve begun to go through our pictures (something else I love my wife for doing over the years because I’m terrible about remembering to do it), and there are so many pictures where the two of them are curled up together in a blanket or on the bed. Or laying on either my wife or myself. We even have a short video where Inigo is holding Westley down because he needed to clean his head (earning the common joke/question in our house of “Why is his head so dirty?”).

As the years passed, he started climbing directly into my arms while we watched tv, activating his purring immediately, and then burying his head into my shoulder as he slept. Those moments I treasured each and every time it happened.

Westley curled up in my arms while Inigo looks on.

He loved to give out love nips, which sometimes hurt enough that we had to scold him. Courtney finally settled on telling him “Be sweet… you know be sweet” when the impending bite was coming, and he took that to heart would halt his attack. At least for a second or two.

He groomed me. I’d never had a cat do that, but he’d wait until I got out of the shower and then with my hair still wet he’d lick the water from my hair. Sometimes he’d even use his paws to “hold” my head in place while he did it. I joked that he was going to lick me bald (luckily that joke didn’t come true).

Whenever I went to the restroom, no matter where he was in the house, he’d come running and paw at the door until I let him in. Sometimes he’d just take a look at me and then leave as if to say “I’m just checking on you, Dad.” Other times he’d hang out and want head rubs. However, I had to be careful because if I wasn’t paying attention he would go for a love nip on the side of my butt.

We did what my mom called “shotgunning” where I’d open my mouth wide to breathe and he’d nearly stick his whole nose in there to get a whiff. I don’t even know when that started, but it was a fixture between us until his very last week.

He loved milk… which I realize isn’t strange for a cat, but I swear, he could be upstairs, asleep, and if I fixed myself a glass, he was suddenly in the kitchen meowing at me. It was magic.

He loved to be brushed as he reached adulthood. It was something I tried one day, not knowing if he’d like it and he nearly fell off the desk, he was so into it. I could even bribe him with just the idea of the brush. I’d bring it out and he’d immediately come running. The purr would be so loud that anyone on a conference call could likely hear it.

Westley helping with the Gilded Age Kickstarter fulfillment.

He even roleplayed with me. My group plays online most Saturday nights, and while he might make an appearance on camera (when I used one), mostly he’d voice his opinion on how the game was progressing (which I’d like to think the other players appreciated his feedback). Some nights he’d purr loud enough for them to hear through the microphone.

He loved to lay on my wife’s laptop while she worked. It would be sitting in the docking station closed, while she did her day job or any of her charitable activities. Though, we both believe that he might have caused one of the laptops to overheat doing this.

He loved to be warm. Whether it was sitting behind the TV on the DirecTV box or in the garage during the summer or just upstairs during the winter months (our upstairs is about 5 degrees warmer than the downstairs).

He would sometimes wait for us to come home by sitting at the front windows. I’d start walking toward the door and see that little face waiting for me, and I’d grin. No matter how bad a day I might be having, in that moment he was able to wash it all away.

I’m thankful that my wife has been able to work at home over the last four to five years. It meant that she could spend time with the cats all day, every day. She would tell Westley all about her frustrations and triumps. Then, over the last year, while we were all dealing with Covid, I was blessed in the ability to work from home. This meant that my time with both of the little boys was nearly 24 hours a day. Some afternoons I would take a little break and Westley would come and lay on my chest while I lay on the bed. I’d rub him and feel the purring through my whole body.

My snuggle buddy.

He was never afraid… I don’t know how that was possible, but it is true. He was our greeter when people came over to the house. Where Inigo was a bit of a fraidy cat, Westley would come right up to the guest and check them out, sometimes talking to them immediately and sometimes just wanting some rubs.

As time went on, he had some medical issues. He had kidney stones at one point that required vet visits and eventually had us switch the boys’ food to science diet in order to ensure it didn’t happen again. Later he developed pancreatitis, which made him not want to eat. But we had the medicine on hand for it and had it down to a science to get him back to normal.

In fact, this last week, that’s what we thought we were dealing with again. And where his personality would dip during those first days, it came back on day 4 and the morning of day 5 – which normally meant we were on the mend. I spent Tuesday night with him upstairs (where he liked to be when he didn’t feel well), and rubbed and talked to him about how he needed to get better and start eating again. I told him we had more adventures to go on. I told him I loved him and that he was a good boy and that he was my best friend.

I didn’t know it, but I was telling him goodbye.

Sadly, that wasn’t the case. At some point after we came home from a bite to eat, his breathing had changed to extremely fast… too fast. We got worried and called our vet who Facetimed with us. She said we should take him to the 24 hour vet.

That’s when the fear really crept in. I told him again I loved him, and that he needed to fight this. But I also pulled him close and said “I know I’m being selfish, so if you can’t fight anymore, if you need to rest, it’s going to be ok. We love you.”

Those are really the last words I got to say to him. He stayed overnight at the 24-hour vet and then my wife transferred him to our vet that next morning with the idea that they’d figure out the breathing problem and we’d have a game plan on how to get him healthy again.

Westley in mid-yawn.

But his little body couldn’t take it. He had fought to be with us for as long as he could, but he couldn’t do anymore. He started having seizures and they had to perform CPR on him. And finally, Dr. Carson, who we had told her if she needed to make a decision for him before we got there that we trusted her to do what was best for our friend, she had to make the ultimate choice to spare him from the pain he was surely going through.

I regret that we weren’t there with him with he passed over. I’m sure he was scared, and I’d vowed that if I could, I’d be there for my animals no matter how painful. So I’m incredibly sorry that we couldn’t hold him in those final moments.

But I also don’t know that I could have made the decision to put him down very easily because of what I’m going through right now. Which would have been extremely selfish on my part.

I think he knew that, so his last act of kindness was to spare us from that choice by passing on.

Like I said, he was always so brave. I wish I could be more like him in that.

I know I’m forgetting things that I need to put down somewhere because it isn’t enough. None of this is enough to convey the bond I had with my friend.

I’m someone who loves with my whole heart. Which I believe is a good thing most of the time. When I’m with you, I’m all in. I believe that means my people know they can’t count on me when the bad times come. But it also comes at a price. Which means I don’t know how to harden my heart at all. Which means I can’t protect myself at all.

Westley found a hangout spot ontop of the refrigerator, in a water bottle box.

I’m raw and exposed right now.

That’s what I’m dealing with right now, the pit in my heart is there and I don’t have a way to combat it at all.

I also know that when I see others who have suffered the loss of a pet, I want to reach out and say something, but I’m not sure I do a great job with that. I want to hug them and let them cry as much as they want and try to just be there for them. I wish I knew the words to say, but there really aren’t words for that kind of loss.

To know the level of unconditional love from a pet is amazing, but to have one like Westley was a true gift that I know could never be replaced. He was my companion. My Partner in Crime. My late-night buddy. And the best friend a man could ever ask for. I consider myself lucky that he chose me for his human.

In these days since his passing, my wife and I and Inigo are pretty much inseparable. We lean on each other for support, and I cannot explain how much I appreciate my wife in all of this. She is the one person who gets me utterly and completely and shares my pain in a way that only can strengthen our bond.

For Inigo, he is doing his best to take care of his two humans. He is either sleeping with one of us or during the day hours, is normally nearby for scratches and rubs, or to lay against one of us trying to make us feel better. It saddens me to think about what he may or may not understand about the change which has occurred. He was with his brother technically longer than any one else (we got them when they were 6 weeks old) and he’s never known being an only cat. But he is also a very, very good boy, and I know that he will do everything he can to help us get through this tough time.

Westley and Inigo taking care of each other in an office chair (or maybe trying to claim the whole chair).

***

If you have a pet, go and hug them and shower them with kisses. Tell them that you love them and that they are a good boy or good girl. For Westley and all the other pets who have touched our lives and made the days and night fuller than they were before they came into being. Hug them tight and cherish your moments with them because there are never enough.

***

I’ve written just over 3000 words, and it has been the easiest and hardest writing I’ve ever done because it is easy to write about someone you loved with your entire soul. But it is hard because I know I need to do this to help heal just a little bit, and I know I’m leaving moments out. There also is a bit of finality to this writing, as if by finishing this post, I’m ready to accept things.

But I don’t want to accept any of it. I want my friend back. I want more time. I want more memories.

So I want to end it this the same way that I ended my post on Facebook because it sums up my little boy and my feelings for him.

In our quiet moments, I shared my hopes and dreams and fears. He never judged, but instead stayed with me and listened to his Human with a soft purr to let me know he was listening. I made sure to tell him over and over, through the years, that I loved him and that he was a good boy.

In fact, he was the best boy.

I’m going to miss you, buddy. I know Cleo and Fi are welcoming you across the Rainbow Bridge. Until we meet again, I love you, Westley.

Me with my boys.

***

Westley McGuire was the greatest little buddy I could have ever asked for. He helped make the long nights of writing not quite so lonely. I will forever be grateful to have had him as my pet and me as his human.

***

John McGuire is the writer of the sci-fi novel: The Echo Effect.

He is also the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

Click here to join John’s mailing list and receive preview chapters of upcoming novels, behind the scenes looks at new comics, and free short stories.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow Empire, Tales from Vigilante City, Beyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

About John McGuire

Writer of comics and novels. In 2006 his first short story "The God That Failed" was published by Terminus Media in their debut comic Evolution Book 1. Since that time he has had stories published in Terminus Media's Evolution Book 2 and Evolution Special, Kenzer and Company's The Knights of the Dinner Table, and Four J Publishing's The Burner #3. Currently he is eagerly awaiting the digital publishing of his first creator-owned comic The Gilded Age #1 to be published online as well as his first novel The Dark That Follows later this year.
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4 Comments

  1. I’m there right now. We lost our German Shepherd rescue last Sunday. Aggressive cancer took her, and I know your heartbreak. She is everywhere in our home, I keep looking up expecting to see her bright eyes and wagging tail… so you’re not alone. Hugs.

    • I’m so sorry to hear that. What you said is the biggest thing, expecting them to still be there in their normal spots: in a window, on the bed, beside you on the couch. They sneak into our hearts and become family. Hugs right back at you!

  2. John, you had lots of beautiful memories. Your words were so meaningful I hope you have some peace in writing them. Love Carolyn

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