I learned from my mom tonight that one of the cats, Irma, died over a month ago. She told me she didn't tell me earlier because she didn't want to make me sad.

And I am really sad that Irma's gone.

She was 15. That's a reasonable run for a cat. She was an outdoors cat, and that almost always shortens their lives: they get into accidents, get into fights, catch diseases. Even though we keep our guys inside, part of me feels it's unnatural to keep a cat indoors all the time. They didn't evolve to stay indoors; they were bred for grass and trees and hunting, not for carpets and couches and balls of string. How many of us would like it if we could never go outside and walk around as we pleased?

But there's too much traffic and poisonous stuff for a kitty to inadvertently eat in our apartment complex, and I haven't the money for vet bills, so our guys stay inside.

Irma had a good life, I think, even though my parents are of a generation that doesn't believe in too much veterinary meddling when it comes to pets. The cats got their shots, but that was pretty much it. They've never had an animal put down, preferring to let nature take its course. Mom told me Irma was sick and having seizures toward the end. It had been years since she'd been able to meow, but when I saw her last December she seemed reasonably healthy, if a little thin of fur and flesh.

But the thing is, Irma wanted to be my kitty, ever since she was a kitten. Part of me wanted to take her with me when I went off to grad school, but it wasn't feasible. First I was in a dorm, then I was in an apartment with a big dog. Then I was traveling too much for any pet; then I had a housemate allergic to pets. When it might have been feasible for me to take her, she was old and it would have been traumatic for her to move across the country and leave the only home she'd ever known.

Somewhere there's an alternate universe where I did bring Irma with me. And in that universe she didn't get sick, or when she got sick I took her to the vet right away instead of hearing that my parents let nature take its course. In that universe she's still alive with a good five years left in her.

She was always there when I came home; she'd be the first of the cats to greet me and want petting. She'd follow me everywhere, letting me know that she was my cat, even though I'd gone off and left her.

A part of my life is gone with her. A part of my life I'd taken for granted, and goddamn I'm going to miss it.