Twenty years. For some it is their lifetime; for others it is a fraction of a life. Twenty years is how long my best friend and I had. Twenty summers, twenty winters, twenty Christmases. That’s what we got.
When we put up our Christmas tree at the beginning of December, Rajah looked really happy. The tree always made him extra happy. But he looked at me with a look I had not seen as we were decorating – a look that said “I don’t think I’ll see another Christmas, Tim.” I immediately hugged him tight and told him that I was pretty sure we’d have at least one more together. I was wrong.
As I write this my chest is hurting; it’s hard to breathe. There is a hole in my life now, a hole in my heart. There are no more beautiful green eyes, smiling at me with love. There are no more gentle morning pats on my face telling me to wake up, a new day is here and we need to get moving to experience all it has. There are no more leans against my arm while I pet his chest and head. No more meows as I walk past. No more reaching his paw out to me as I lean over to pet him. No more time on my lap, purring away as he drifts off to a wonderful sleep. No more of the softest fur I have ever touched. No more breakfasts with little weekend kibbles before the main dish. No more sharing my yogurt after I had eaten most of it. Rajah loved yogurt; he loved peach, raspberry, blackberry, blueberry, key lime, and lemon or orange. He never liked coconut or pomegranate.
Rajah was a rescue kitten, a mix we adopted at a Pet’s Mart event. His littermates and his mom were due to be terminated in a few more days, so the local animal shelter was offering them up for adoption. He looked up at me that first time with these wild little green eyes and a beautiful reddish pink nose with a black outline. He was grey with multicolor stripes, mostly black. He had a white chin and chest that faded into the grey. His tummy was light brown, really tan. He had little pointy tufts on this ears, like a linx. He was tiny; he fit in the palm of my hand. Playful, oh yes – rambunctiously playful. I knew he would be my buddy right then and there.
His name is Indian; it means prince. At the time I had another large orange tabby, named Shere Khan, like the tiger in the “Jungle Book”. Shere Khan lived up to his namesake in all ways. Rajah was his little sidekick. Khan taught Rajah how to use the litter box, how to groom himself and how to play and fight. Pintsize Rajah would pounce on Shere Khan with all of his might, and the two of them would tumble around locked in a fierce, but pretend battle. Minutes later they were snuggled up together. Shere Khan was the king; Rajah was his little prince.
He used to sleep on my lap when he wasn’t busy eating me. Feet were the best toys, and toes were wonderful little things to bite. They wiggled, they curled, and then with a good bite, I would scream out, “Yeow!” Rajah thought that was awfully fun.
Before long, the little prince was about 16 pounds and about 3 feet long all stretched out (7.26 kilos and nearly a meter long). Our vet figured he was a Maine Coon mix. He was a big, imposing guy with a full chest and an incredible tail, like a snow leopard. He had a beautiful, full mane like a male lion. And he was strong, really strong. But under all of that was the heart of an angel, always up for a pet, a snuggle, and a good love.
Rajah endured several dogs; his favorite was a small rescue Labradoodle named Filbert. Filbert was a sweet soul who loved to play. When they were both young, Rajah would throw Filbert down, and they would wrestle around. In fact, when we got Maddie, another rescue dog (a basset, scotty mix), Filbert would flip over on his back to try to play with Maddie. Filbert though that’s how you play – like a cat. Filbert and Rajah became good buddies, especially after Shere Khan passed away from cancer. But, most of all, I was his best friend. Rajah loved me deeply.
Our bond was tight and strong. He preferred me to feed him; he always loved it when I cleaned his box – twice daily for both boxes. He was picky. He loved it when I was in the workout room, doing my stretches for my back. That was Rajah snuggle time with his Tim. Every night, unless I was away or working, we would walk to the kitchen together for dinner. He would follow me to the bathroom for my morning routines, and wait near the door.
Rajah hated it when I traveled; he cried when I was gone. And when I returned home, he played aloof until the evening. Then he was attached to me for days. He hung out in my office frequently (I work out of my home), and he loved to intimidate my client visitors. A few folks asked my if he was a bobcat due to his size.
But to me, he was my little buddy. Rajah was there for me giving me comfort when my Dad died in January of 2004. That was tough, and I took it hard. But Rajah gave me extra loves. In 2005 when Shere Khan passed, my heart was totally broken. From that night forward, Rajah usually slept on my bed, down between my calves. In 2011, I had to put my beloved horse, Perhaps, down do to a horrible foot condition known as laminitis. That was awful, even worse than Shere Khan. For a year I couldn’t go in our barn without breaking down. I know that Rajah knew something was amiss; he was always close at hand and ready for loves.When Filbert passed away a few years ago, Rajah and I (and especially my wife, Sheri) took that hard. Rajah looked for Filbert for quite awhile; it made me so sad to see his little lost expressions longing for his old friend.
We have been through so much together over the twenty years — so many great memories. Rajah was just always there. Every single day that I came home, his bright green eyes glowed with love when he saw me. Every morning for twenty years that I was home, Rajah would wake me up at sometime between 5 and 6 am wanting to play and/or get breakfast. Every single day, even on his last day. It was usually a gentle meow and pat. If I was especially sleepy, I would awake to Rajah chewing on one of my fingers.
Every evening that I was home, I would tell him good night and give him a little kiss. Most nights he would ask to be carried to the bedroom and placed on the bed at my feet. He had his spot. When I would get up at night, Rajah would reach out with his paw to touch me. When he was upset, he liked it if I put my hand and finger under his paw. He would grip my finger.
As Rajah got older, he needed more complex care and diet. Feeding time was a pretty big deal as he had been on some special diet most of his life. He tended to get too heavy if we didn’t carefully monitor his diet and weight. A few years ago, his kidneys started to slow down a little, and he started taking some fairly expensive medication to keep the kidney hormones in check. This last year he has been on a kidney care prescription diet.
But through everything, he was always there. His beautiful green eyes and smile were always there. He always kept himself groomed immaculately. In twenty years I think I only ever cut out two hair knots.
Thursday morning he was fine; got me up and ate his breakfast really well. He asked me to put the blanket down over Sheri’s chair in our living room as he had grown to really like that during the day. It provided a view of our backyard and pasture, some sunshine, but was warm and snuggly. When I went to some meetings, I gave him a kiss and a hug. He seemed to relish that more and more as the years ticked on. I got home about 45 minutes before I had to leave again for a haircut. When it was time to go, he was asleep in the chair. Not wanting to wake him, I just said goodbye and that I would be back soon. I wish I had given him another kiss.
Arriving home he was not in the chair; I found him in our bedroom lying on the floor. It was kind of an odd place for him, but I gave him a kiss and petted him. He appeared OK, but after a couple of minutes I thought I needed to look in on him again. Now he was gone; he had crawled under the bed and was curled up in obvious distress.
I got him out from the bed, and when I stood him up, he crumbled to the floor. His legs could not support him. He wasn’t paralyzed: he could move them. They just were really weak. I was scared: I knew that this was awful. Quickly I went to check his boxes, and found that he had not urinated as per his usual schedule. I knew what happened.
My little Rajah, the mighty prince who had become a king had had a stroke or a heart attack. Sheri said his pupils were dilated, and he was cold. We took him to the closest and best emergency after hours veterinary clinic, but it was an hour away in the rush hour traffic. The doctors ran blood work and xrays. They thought it was a clot. The prognosis was not good. For too long they would not let me see him. I was in absolute agony.
Finally, they brought Rajah into the room. He looked bad, really bad. He now couldn’t really even keep his head up. He was in pain; he was meowing in distress. As I held him, he calmed down and began to purr. His head was on my arm, and he seemed content to finally have his Tim with him. The doctor wanted to keep him overnight for observation and to give him fluids and nutrients. I couldn’t even think.
I left the room, and left with him with Sheri and the nurse for a few minutes. I needed to clear my mind and think about my Rajah, his needs and our promises and bonds. You see when Shere Khan died in 2005, I promised Rajah that he would never die alone. That I would be with him at the end, holding him. I promised that he would not suffer. I PROMISED RAJAH; THOSE WERE MY WORDS. AND HE WAS MY BEST FRIEND.
A couple of minutes later I walked back into the room, and held him again. I looked into his eyes, and he told me everything I needed to know. It was the end; he was saying goodbye. I told the doctor what we needed to do. I cried, and I know Rajah was crying too. It was up, no more time.
Twenty years, that’s what we got. Twenty years with my very best friend who loved my with all of his heart. It was not nearly long enough. My heart is broken, my soul has a huge gaping hole in it, and the world has lost a king. I lost my best friend. Twenty years; it is not as long as you think.