When the vet lifted the hackles on my cat and we watched together as they retracted slowly back to her frame, I didn’t need him to tell me that this was a sure sign of dehydration. I remember when my grandmother was diagnosed with cancer, when she refused to eat and when in the hospital finally, too weak to feed herself, the nurses didn’t seem too keen on the act, either. But what did I know. I was fifteen, and couldn’t see much through my tears.
He used words like ‘critical’ to describe her condition and when I finally cut through his clinical attempts to calm me with a request to have my cat back, the vet patted my shoulder like he might lay his large, soft hand on the head of an obedient dog. Good girl. Stay.
I remember the last proper summer I spent with my grandmother, lying on the floor of her air conditioned room in my aunt’s house, reading 1984 while she napped in the middle of the day. She’d wake up and I’d have a Cup of Ramen and we’d watch a baseball game or Silk Stockings. I don’t remember now if she ate meals with me, only that when she had a snack, it was something soft so she wouldn’t have to put her teeth in: fig newtons or cheese doodles.
Maybe the holidays are to blame for my ignorance but it seems to me I’ve only in the last two weeks not had to fill my cat’s food bowl as often, only in the last two weeks has she lost interest in chasing ponytail holders or yowling her demands while dinner is being cooked. I can feel the whole of her spine down to her backbone, two points like saddle horns. She was always skinny.
Grandma, too. I didn’t think women in the thirties and the forties punished themselves enough to suffer from anorexia, nor would I ever have imagined that a woman in her sixties would continue to do so. I liked to look at photographs of her as a young woman, one in particular with high-waisted shorts and a gingham top tied just above her waist. Slim even as an older woman, I own some of her clothing, but I’d never be able to wear it.
I think I never knew her, really, and I don’t know now what’s wrong with my cat. I fed her bits of ham all the same, and I ate what she didn’t.