Imagine my surprise when Bingo paid me a visit as I was setting up his residency! When my son was little, Bingo always joined us for story and song hour at bedtime. One of my son's nightly requests was the song, "Memory," from the Broadway musical, CATS. Every time I sang it, Bingo would look me straight in the eye, purring and making bread on the covers of the bed. When I finished setting up his residency and returned to visited his page, that song began playing, and I realized that I had neglected to select the music! When I returned to the guardian area to check, sure enough, "No music" was displayed in the little window next to the list of available music. I asked Ginny about this, and she confirmed that the music wouldn't have been applied to Bingo's site unless I had selected it. Yessirree, Bingo selected the music himself!
He truly was King of Beasts, my Leo kitty, the King of our Jungle, our Bingo. Yes, Bingo was his name-O!
It was a crisp Saturday evening in September, and I was worn out from working in Retail all week. Michael was two years old and Donna (the woman who regularly babysat for us during the week) had always been emphatic about not working on weekends. She made an exception just that once because I was in such a tight pinch.
When I arrived to pick Michael up that evening, Donna asked if I wanted a kitten that had followed her daughter home. She explained, "...if you don't take it, Jack's gonna throw it in the river and drownd (sic) it." How dare she make such a hideous declaration in such a matter-of-fact manner! No way was I going to leave any animal in the presence of those Neanderthals!
My mind raced. "A kitten?" I thought. "Do we want a kitten? I've always loved cats, and I've been owned by several in my time. I haven't been looking for a kitten. On the other hand...a kitten would be a good companion for Michael. Every boy should have a pet of his own. It would be kind of nice to have a warm, furry little tranquilizer to cuddle on the cold winter nights that are fast approaching. Sure! We'll take the kitten!" As a result of my superior powers of reasoning (or inferior ability to resist), we gained a friend who enriched our lives immeasurably.
"O.K." I said, hoping I sounded reluctant. "Where is it?"
I looked around the room, but I didn't see any sign of a kitten anywhere. Donna said, "It's in the fireplace. It's been hiding there all day. It'll only come out for Michael."
"Smart kitten," I said to myself.
Michael patiently crouched in front of the faux fireplace, coaxing, and soon, the cutest little kitten I had ever seen crept cautiously from within. "It" was tiny, round, and solid gray, with huge amber eyes. I picked "It" up, and had a peek at "Its" nether regions, and saw that "It" was a boy. I was secretly thrilled. I had always wanted a little gray boy kitty, and here he was! I paid Donna for the day and left with the kitten under my jacket like contraband, and Michael (absolutely ecstatic) at my side. A quick stop at the store for cat food, litter, and a litter box, and the three of us were on our way home.
We tried a few different names, but nothing stuck until I thought of Bingo Little, one of my favorite characters from the Bertie Wooster series of stories by P.G. Wodehouse. After all, he was <I>so</I> little! He responded to the name Bingo instantly, as if we had been playing Charades, and he had been trying for days to get me to guess the right name.
A few days later, on the 23rd of September, Michael and I took Bingo to the vet for his initial exam. When I asked how old the little guy was, the vet said, "I'd say this one's exactly six weeks old." Checking the calendar when we got home, I saw that my birthday was exactly six week earlier. So -- I had a little birthday pal. No wonder we got along so well!
My two little boys were adorable together. They were inseparable -- especially when we would go out to play in the yard. Bingo would practically disappear in the grass, hoping through the blades to try to keep up with Michael, who would run and squeal with delight over the antics of his new playmate. At bedtime, Bingo would curl up with Michael while I read a story and sang a song (or two or three). Both of them loved the lullabies, and Bingo would inch toward me and purr along whenever I sang. A singer, I'm not, but those two could make me feel like and Ella Fitzgerald, Dusty Springfield, and Carla Thomas, all rolled into one. You couldn't ask for a better audience. The song, "Memories" from the Broadway musical, <I>CATS</I> was one of our nightly favorites.
Bingo soon grew big enough to jump up on the kitchen counter, and he rarely spent his time on the floor from then on. I constantly had to remind him that the water in his bowl was exactly the same water that came from the faucet, so there was no need to get on the counter to drink from the tap.
One evening, Mikey and Bingo were in the kitchen alone. Bingo jumped up on the edge of the sink, and Michael tried to push him off the counter, as I had done so many times. As he tumbled to the floor, Bing tried to regain his foothold, and clawed Michael's upper lip as he was flailing in mid air. The deep gash was bleeding profusely, and Michael said, sobbing all the while, "Bingo didn't mean to do it. It was an accident." The wound healed quickly, and left a faint white scar running diagonally above Michael's lip. It gave him an air of mystery, and I suspect that the girls loved it.
Bingo was a big, healthy cat who defended his territory enthusiastically, and returned home with his share of cuts, puncture wounds, and torn ears -- each of which he bore with great pride. I'd hate to have seen what the other guys looked like! We used to call him our "Million dollar stray."
In those first couple of years Bing survived some nasty abscesses as the result of his superior ability to defend his territory. He took them in stride, and was always patient when I would treat him with balms, and salves, and the dreaded antibiotics as if he knew that what I was doing was intended to help him.
When Bingo was about three years old, I awoke one morning to find him crying in a low, agonized tone. He was sitting in the litter box on top of the litter, which I had just changed the previous night. The litter was bone dry, and I could tell he was in intense pain. I took him to the vet where they did emergency surgery to correct a complete urinary tract blockage. The doctor told me that if I had waited until after work to bring him in, he wouldn't have survived the day.
When Bingo was four years old, we moved to an old townhouse down the street. He immediately went out to stake his claim on the new yard. Never mind that other cats already called it their territory -- he was clearly the ruler of all he surveyed. A magnificent beast. Perhaps because of his leonine birth date he was predestined to rule the roost wherever he went. That is how he earned the title KING BING.
We had been in that apartment for about five years when I began dating my husband, Jim. Jim is a musician, and although he and Bingo got along famously from the get-go (everyone got along with Bing. He was the kind of cat that could turn a dog person to a dog-and-cat person with one purr), their bond was sealed one night early in our relationship. I had fallen asleep on the sofa while Jim was visiting, and Bing sat glued to his side, helping him compose a song. Jim always said that he and Bingo wrote that song together.
One Sunday in late November of 1988, Bingo came inside for a bite to eat after a leisurely afternoon spent surveying his territory. As he approached his dish, he wobbled, and then his legs went out from under him. He looked up at me with fear and confusion in his eyes, and seemed to be asking me to help him the way I always had when something was wrong with him. I was terrified. I called my sister Barb and asked her to help me take him to the vet. I wanted to be able to hold him and comfort him on the way there, so I needed someone else to drive us there. She came straight over and picked us up, and off to the emergency vet clinic we went.
On the way to the clinic, I remembered that I had accidentally stepped on him -- a gray cat on a gray rug in a dark room -- a few nights earlier. The vet diagnosed "Blunt trauma to the hind quarters." She gave him a steroid injection to relieve the inflammation and advised that we keep him inside for a day or two until he improved.
The next day when I returned home from work, Bingo didn't run to greet me as usual. He had somehow escaped the infernal bonds of the dreary indoors and fled to the grounds he so loved. I called to him repeatedly from the front door and finally heard a very feeble "Meow" coming from the bushes next to our porch. He tried to make it up the steps to reach the door, but didn't have the strength to do it. As I carried him inside and held him on my lap, he wheezed and gasped uncontrollably.
Barb came to our rescue again, taking the two of us back to the emergency clinic. Bing's breathing continued to be tremendously labored. They ran tests and took x-rays. An accumulation of fluid in his lungs was diagnosed as pneumonia. He received an injection of antibiotic, and was put in an oxygen chamber for the night. I was instructed to pick him up by 8:30 AM and take him to his regular vet. When the vet showed us Bingo's x-rays, I was appalled to learn that he had a BB lodged in his spine, and it had obviously been there for several years.
In the morning Bingo was still critically ill. After taking him to his doctor and going in to work, I waited on pins and needles to hear what the diagnosis was. When the call finally came, the news was not good. The fluid in his lungs was Pulmonary Edema (not pneumonia), and he had Cardiomyopathy, which was characterized by a thickening of the heart muscle. In other words, Bingo had the same incurable condition that had taken my father's life five years earlier. Go figure. It was like irrefutable evidence that he really was one of us.
The prognosis was extremely dim. Even with tremendous effort, the treatment might only give us a few more months with him. It was time to make a decision. I looked into Bingo's eyes, and I could tell he had no plans to go anywhere without a fight except home with his family -- and as soon a possible, "Please Mom."
After several weeks in the hospital, Bingo returned home on the 23rd of December -- just in time for Christmas. As a retail goddess, I was not able to get away from work so close to Christmas Day, so my other sister, Marcia, did the honors and returned His Highness to the comfort of his kingdom.
Bingo's medical treatment was not something to be taken lightly, and needed to be followed to the letter. He took 5 mg. of Propranolol twice daily, 12.5 MG. of Lasix every other day, and a baby aspirin every three days. Of course, after dining on the soft, moist food at the clinic, dry food would never do again. He was on a strict diet of Hill's Prescription Diet from then on. His treatment was very similar to my dad's treatment for his cardiomyopathy, except Dad's diet was a bit more varied, if less delectable than in years past.
Bingo's physical activity had to be severely restricted during his convalescence. We installed a baby gate to keep him confined to the first floor. We moved his litter box upstairs from the basement. We made a soft, warm bed with his favorite blanket because he was too weak to jump up on the sofa. The hardest part of every day for all of us was bedtime, when we had to go up the stairs without him.
Before long, he was getting up on the couch at will. Soon after that, the stairs posed no problem for him. His litter box was returned to its rightful spot at the base of the basement steps, and he once again slept with us in our rooms. His coat returned to the soft, dense, velvety texture of his youth. His recovery was remarkable. He was our miracle cat.
He adjusted pretty well to the life of an indoor cat. We decided that if he had to stay inside, we would give him all the affection and petting he could tolerate to make up for his lack of scenic variety. He was always happiest when we were with him. Just being near one of us was enough to make him purr until he cooed like a dove. Still, from time to time, he would try to trick us. After a meal, he would saunter to the door, have a little post-food bath, and meow as if to say, "Hey! You guys! You forgot to let the cat out!" He was so good at it, he almost had us fooled on several occasions. We began humming the theme song from the movie The Great Escape whenever he approached the door.
On the 10th of January 1993, more than four years after his diagnosis of cardiomyopathy, I took Bingo in for his annual exam. He had done so well for so long, but he seemed thinner and his coat felt dry. The vet drew blood to run tests for hyperthyroid. When the results came back, we were told that his kidneys were failing and all we could do was slow the deterioration. It was remarkable that he appeared to be so comfortable when his toxins were eight times their normal levels. He had two treatments of subcutaneous fluid, we modified his Lasix intake, and changed his diet to Hill's KD. His appetite and energy increased, he gained weight, and his coat felt supple again.
Not long after that, while petting Bing one evening, I felt a lump on his right side behind his shoulder. It appeared to be free-floating, and it disappeared after a couple of weeks. We assumed it was a fatty lump, or something associated with the subcutaneous fluid treatment he had received, and nothing to be too concerned about. When it reappeared even larger in May, we took him to the vet to have it checked. He suggested having a biopsy done. He said that lumps like this were usually nothing, but we ought to check it to be sure. We were devastated to learn that it was a Lympho Sarcoma. The only effective treatment would be surgery, and given Bingo's medical history, the anesthetic could be more of a threat than the cancer. We agreed to give Bingo the best life we possibly could until he let us know that he was ready to go.
On the 22nd of September, Michael went to school, and Bingo ate his breakfast. Afterwards, he retreated to the basement, where he liked to nap on a pile of our laundry. I think he liked being on our clothes because he felt close to his "uprights" when he was surrounded by the smells of all three of us.
I came home from work at 6:30 that evening, as Jim was getting dinner ready. I went to the basement to start a load of laundry. I dropped an armload of clothes on the floor, and as I bent down to sort them, I saw Bingo was curled up on yet another pile of clothes that were waiting to be washed. I said, "Bing! Why didn't you let me know you were there? I almost dropped the laundry on you." He was too still. I knew he was gone, and on his way to the greener pastures of the Rainbow Bridge. I called out to Jim. He came downstairs and we held each other and cried, trying to regain our composure before going upstairs to tell Michael the sad news.
Michael knew this sad day had been coming. He was melancholy and quiet. He volunteered to call my sisters and tell them what had happened. While he made those difficult calls, I gently placed Bingo in his sheepskin bed. His fur was so soft, but he was cool to the touch. He remained in the same position -- curled up with a peaceful expression on his face. His forehead was the softest place in the world, just as it always had been.
Jim and I took Bingo to the vet the following day to have him cremated. His ashes are in a majestic looking terracotta lion figurine. It was the first thing I unpacked when we moved to our current apartment.
We have all marveled at Bingo's strength and endurance during his last five years. In retrospect, we realize that he had been saying his good-byes to us for about a month. He had been especially attentive to each of us, intensifying our individual bonding sessions with him, and returning our affection tenfold. He took as much love from each of us as he could possibly hold, and filled us -- one by one -- with all of his.
Bingo's death marked the end of Michael's childhood. When Michael took the responsibility of calling my sisters to delicately break the sad news to them, I knew that at the age of sixteen, my son would never be a boy again. Whenever I notice the fine, pale scar on his upper lip I recall his childhood with Bingo, his "little brother" and first best friend.