I came back home to a nervous cat with a cloudy pupil.
It was hard to tell at first. It looked as if her eye caught the light. But it was the same from every angle: white, milky, with nothing to reflect. Did you know cat eyes glow in the dark? They really do. But with her, only one eye glowed. The other was blank. Blocked.
Googling commenced. I learned it was a cataract. We took her to the vet. They confirmed it was a cataract. But they said the cataract hardly mattered. Because both her eyes are blind.
Yesterday morning, things took a turn for the worse. Or they ended up where they would always go. Her cloudy eye stopped working completely. Even with the cataract, her pupil would contract into a sliver in the sun. A reflex, perhaps. But yesterday, that stopped. Her big cloudy pupil stayed big and cloudy and unmoving.
I had writing goals for the day. But I put them aside and… well, I cried. Because she really is blind. And old. This is the latest in a series of health issues. And this one is irreversible. She’s an old cat with a limited lifespan. Now I notice her bumping into things. Now I notice her testing the ground with her paw before making a small leap. Now I notice her crouching low to the ground, to feel the area out with her whiskers. Now I worry her future will be full of confusion, pain, and stress.
Elephant, aka Elliephant, aka Elefante, aka Ellie has always had mediocre eyesight. But I’ve never worried for her because her other senses are so strong. Cats have 40 times more sense receptors in their nose than humans do. Their whiskers can capture movements in the air. They have 30 sets of muscles in their ears.
But sight. Sight! What can replace vision? I can’t imagine losing my sight. I’d rather read a book than listen to an audiobook, or look at a photo of my cat than listen to a recording. When I go on hikes, I need to look around to feel alive. But why? Why does sight matter so much more than the other senses?
I think it’s the ability to linger. To reread a sentence when you want to experience it again. To let myself get lost in an image. To repeat, repeat, repeat and understand. With sound, in real life, you can’t rewind. When there are strange noises in my apartment — like new, heavy shoes, or a box dropping to the ground — my cat doesn’t have any additional information for context. As far as she knows, the world is exploding and there’s nothing she can do.
Yesterday, I pulled out my camera to take photos of her and her eye: close-ups, long shots, videos. It occurred to me I’d want documentation of her life after her eventual death. This morbid thought occurs to me often, but sometimes I need a reminder. It also occurred to me while photographing her just how powerful the eye can be. The camera attempts to recreate what we see, and it’s flawed. In a room with varying light, the camera cannot capture everything. It must choose a range of light to focus on. Our eyes make so many miniscule adjustments we don’t ever stop to say thank you. The nice thing about a good camera is getting to learn about light. How to adjust shutter speed, f-stops, and ISO settings to create the right light settings for the right mood. When I’m feeling confident behind the camera, I feel a sense of control. I can play with the sunlight and make interesting images based on how it lands. It’s why I enjoy flying kites: the feeling of playing with the sky, controlling the wind. When there’s no wind, you can simply run fast enough to create your own.
In reality, it’s less about control and more about understanding. I can’t change the sun or the wind. But in understanding, I can feel stronger about my relationship to it.
There’s not much I can control about the scent in our apartment. (I tried giving Ellie a sweaty hug but she was not having it). But I can sing to her when I enter the apartment, and I can touch her as much as possible. I can let my hand linger on her neck, scratching underneath her chin. I can put my face in her stomach, making a pillow of her soft white fur. I can remind her I’m here. And in the darkness, as one cat eye glows back at me, I’ll imagine her other eye filled with my image, with my eyes reflecting back at her.
-Denise (and Ellie)