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The year 2020 has been unrelenting in its administration of sorrows. COVID-19 has killed more than 180,000 Americans and there’s no end in sight. Violence against another Black man at the hands of police is bringing the summer’s simmering racial tensions back to a boil. Now, in what has been deemed a battle for the nation’s soul, a rancorous election season awaits.

But I feel like writing about our family’s cat.

We got Smidge almost 13 years ago. For about a day, the gray mackerel tabby was named after the Charleston Daily Mail’s former managing editor, Bob Kelly. But after an editorial tussle with the actual Bob Kelly, my reporter wife Kris, in a huff, said we had to change it.

Because the cat purred so much, we settled on “Otto,” after Nicolaus Otto, inventor of the four-stroke engine. Then the vet said Otto was a girl. She became “Nicola” Otto. But, as a lifelong dog person, I called her “Pooch,” which evolved to “Pidge,” which begat “Smidge.”

She’s been a member of the family for the entirety of our kids’ lives. She didn’t know what to make of our son when he came along and more or less stayed out of the way. By the time our daughter arrived, Smidge had accepted her low post on the totem pole.

As such, Kris and I invented a personality for her, laughing that she’d become a bitter, foul-mouthed shrew. But as awful and murderous as we liked to pretend her to be, Smidge was really just sweet and goofy. She had a meow when we first took her in that sounded for all the world like “Hello? Hello?”

Over the years, she grew large. I don’t think she ever really shook the street cat mentality to snarf up her food when it was available to her, so, despite our efforts, she developed quite the belly. As time passed, the vet said she’d reached an age where we should be more concerned at her losing weight than gaining.

Kris and I knew things were changing for the old girl when we began noticing over the winter the hesitancy with which she approached the basement stairs that led to her litter box. We moved it to our half-bath to spare her the pain in her hips.

Last weekend, Smidge began letting out occasional mews from under our bed, as if she needed to be comforted. I positioned myself so I could reach down and stroke her soft face. Kris noticed she was only eating a few nuggets of food before retreating to the bedroom.

Last week, the veterinarian said x-rays showed a mass in her abdomen. Exploratory surgery would confirm, but Kris and I believed that the trauma would be too much.

So, more for our sake than hers, we gave ourselves one more day before we would say goodbye. While this was Kris’ and my agreement, I really just wanted Smidge to have a last go-round to luxuriate in the sun.

The awful thing, once you’ve made this decision, is being hit with the guilty realization that you’ve set the clock ticking on the amount of time your near and dear one will have left in this world. So, on our last day together, we hovered over her. I sat on the floor for a comforting stroke of her fur when she’d sound distressed. My son made her a ball of twine; my daughter, a tiny Post-It sign. Kris gave a day’s worth of hugs.

I left for the vet’s office at 3:45.

Years ago, I began including Smidge in my prayers. Maybe, knowing she was no longer a kitten and the non-focus of our attentions, I was preparing for when she would leave us. I wanted to remember to be grateful and kind to her.

Ever since, when the random thought would enter of the end of her days, I believed my sadness would be like an app running in the background, sorrowful but unobtrusive. Instead, we've been tripping unexploded mines of memory scattered throughout our house, setting off tearful blasts of sorrow, longing and regret.

It had only been a couple of days, but we couldn’t bear this hit-and-run campaign of sadness. Smidge’s absence created an aching void. Kris moved to fill it.

She contacted the Kanawha-Charleston Humane Association. After a visit Friday, she found not one, but two kittens to join our family. A new adventure begins.

•••

Here, I will give our thanks to Drs. Eric and Paula Lee and the staff at the Kanawha Boulevard Animal Hospital for their expert and compassionate care. Their kindness will not be forgotten.

A shout-out also to the gang at the Humane Association for walking us through the adoption process. We learned we are helping ease a space crunch ahead of scores of dogs and cats coming up from Texas escaping Hurricane Laura. Please consider filling a void in your home with a grateful, furry friend by visiting adoptcharleston.com.

Philip Maramba is a former managing editor of the Charleston Daily Mail. He now works in government public affairs.