|On a recent rare visit from the basement. Can you see his talon?|
I find myself in this strange circumstance when I'm in my 30's and suddenly the pets have died. Most of my friends had a cat or dog die in grade school, not me. So now I find myself a grown man (of sorts) dealing with mortality-issues that most seem to have sorted out by fifth grade. While the news of the dog's passing was more tragic for me, probably because we put her down and it sounded like such a terrible house-call production, the loss of the cat is more of an end-of-an-era experience, a "things-will-never-be-the-same" occurrence.
I wish to memorialize our animal with a timeline, a biography of sorts. I have consulted no one on any of these dates or details so many are probably wrong and I am writing this before going to bed. This is just some straight-from-the-top-of-my-dome pet-musings, that's all.
The Pre-Cat Era: Growing up we couldn't have a cat because Dad had a friend who was allergic to cats and, if he ever wanted to visit us, he wouldn't be able to if we had a cat. But there was this time, late in grade school or at the beginning of junior high, that we catsat a cat for a friend of my uncle's at our house. The cat was named Meowi, or Maui, something along those lines. We absolutely loved having a cat around. There is a famous photograph of a very young, bowl-cutted Owen holding a stretched-out cat upside down, belly towards the camera. This cat is not our cat, this cat is Meowi. Meowy?
The cat-sitting experience really got the gears moving in our heads: We really loved taking care of that cat, we had an awful lot of fun . . . and maybe dad's friend was never going to visit us? Or maybe having a fun cat all the time was more important than dad's friend's allergies? Then, in March of 1990, Kristen had this friend who had a cat that was always coming home pregnant, the cat had a litter, we went over and picked out a kitten.
Cat: the Early Years: I remember that the friend with the cats, they had a glass dining room table. I remember putting the cat on the table, looking up at it. Then we took it home, all this was done without telling dad. He came home from work that night and the cat was in the kitchen. To our relief, he seemed pleased to see we had a cat.
Now, here is an important issue to address: our cat had a name, our cat has a name. When we got the cat, we were always listening to this "Best of Andrew Lloyd Weber" CD, and we really liked the song "Magical Mister Mistoffelees" from Cats, a musical which none of us had ever seen. I don't know if we were more excited to get a cat or to get to name a cat Mistoffelees. But that was his name, although he'd been going by "the cat" or "kitty" since the time I left for college.
I don't remember the cat being a kitten for very long, he probably grew to full size (a small panther) in a month. A semi-regular small issue with mice we had in our old, old house seemed to clear up within hours of the cat's arrival. He really seemed to fit in and like it around the house pretty quickly. He was playful, he was curious, he was a good proper cat. When we brought home dry catfood from the grocery store he went absolutely berserk, plowing through the other grocery bags to get at it, clawing at the bag desperately. He knew what he wanted, what a good quality to have in a cat.
Another thing the cat liked to eat: Easy Cheese, you know, cheese in a can. I'd put it on a cracker and he'd lick it right up.
Cat: The Cutest Thing He Ever Did: Our neighbors had this little white dog named Angel. Mistoffelees (because that certainly was who he was back then) made friends with Angel and would spend his days wrestling with the dog in their backyard. We could just stand there and watch it forever. Then one day our neighbor said she heard Angel come in through the doggy door and then heard something else come in after it. She came out onto their sun porch and there was Angel chilling one chair while Mistoffelees sat on the other, just a puppy having its buddy over to chill, no big deal. Neighbor snapped a picture, the picture is treasured, I haven't seen it in many years, though. Also: it was fun how our cat had like this devilish name and their dog was called Angel.
The friendship wound down after a few months, I don't know if there was a Fox and the Hound style falling-out or what.
Cat: the Late High School Years: The cat and I became real bros in my last two years of high school. I was on swim team and starting to get pretty good, I just swam all the time and relishing being in my physical prime—the cat was getting really good at being a panther-sized domestic cat, going out all the time, dominating the backyard, catching creatures. Our connection was understood and the cat spent those years in the habit of coming in at night to sleep at the foot of my bed. I basked in the preference, it was so gratifying. I felt like I had my Old Yeller. And things got shaken up around the house just before Christmas of 1994 when Emily got her dog, our dog Kelsi. While she was definitely an adorable puppy, a line (for me at least) was drawn: You either liked the dog or you liked the cat, you couldn't like both. I liked the cat.
At some point around this time the cat was taken to visit his mother. They fought viciously. It was not like one of those happy child-seeks-out-her-birth-mothers stories from This American Life.
Cat: The Most Hardcore Thing He Ever Did: In the summer of 1995 the cat brought us home his first baby rabbit. I opened the front door, saw him sitting their with the bunny in his mouth, the cat walked in, sat the rabbit down in our entry way, and headed off to take care of other cat-business. The perfectly-still little rabbit was assumed to be dead, but then—much to my surprise—it darted for the dining room, quite alive. We trapped it in a box and took it to the animal shelter at the forest preserve. We were told that cats do this kind of thing to show their masters respect, I think we took it as more of a message that Mistoffelees was not messing around. This clawless hunter meant business, and he'd take a trespasser down. He definitely did away with a few birds in the backyard, brought us a second bunny (this one very much not alive) about a year later, and there was this time where we found a dead possum in our bushes and wondered . . . could the cat have killed it?
Cat: the College Years: So I told the cat goodbye at the end of our great summer, went off to college, went on my mission, came back from the mission and something kind of changed. I started liking the dog, we started having some real fun together, we'd go on puppy rides in the car together, I'd take her for walks on occasion, I play fun practical jokes on her and she didn't seem to mind so much. The cat . . . well, he was kind of busy doing his own thing and I was realizing that, yeah, I was definitely pretty allergic to cats and far less inclined to let him sit on my lap and be petted while watching TV. But I still had a lot of respect for the beast, later in college I'd write this about him in the Firearm, a fake newspaper my buddy Andrew and I had during our last year of school:
"...stuff is always happening with our cat. He’s older, like ten oreleven, but the size of a panther. For many years he’s had the run of our neighborhood, but just last year this new guy with a kitten moved in next door.
Now, once or twice a week, when our cat goes out at night, runs into the neighbor kitten, and gets seriously messed up. See, while our cat is big and tough enough to catch rabbits all summer long, this kitten has got his front claws, and carves our cat up something wicked whenever the two meet. So my mom frequently writes to say that she found our cat
sitting in a pool of his own blood at our front dooryet again. He’s like a self-destructive drunk, going out every night and getting seriously messed up. We try to keep him from doing it, but he begs and begs to go out every night, there’s simply no helping the guy until he realizes that he needs help."
And I guess now is the time to address something: Yes, Mistoffeless had been declawed. Yes, we let him outside all the time. Yes, any and every veterinarian or cat lover told us that was bad and not to do it. But that's just how the cat wanted to live: outside, up to no good. We also didn't have a collar on him, he was like a part of nature, a wild beast with a home to come home to. And people cleaning his litter box.
Cat: the New York Years: So by the time I finished college the cat was already considered "old", little did we know he had so many years left in him. He remained an allergy-inducing fixture of the home, sleeping on top of my parents armoire, doing his stuff. While never not loved, I believe the family became increasingly pro-Kelsi, the dog stepped up into the role of the family pet, the cat transformed into kind of a cranky tenant. Mind you, a cranky beloved tenant, but there was a chore-ishness to keeping him locked in the basement at night (he could get so whiny when he was hungry! There, I said it!) and things like that. And our tenant-cat became increasingly independent in those days, looking out for himself in case no one else would, making sure he was getting the food he wanted, and that's where this, the best picture there is, comes from:
By 2006 the cat was definitely old, there were some health issues, I wasn't living at home so I can't remember what they were and didn't have to put up with them like everyone else around 728 Columbian. I remember when Owen was leaving on his mission (like, literally on his way out the door) I spied him sharing a tender moment, petting the cat goodbye in my parents bedroom. I thought to myself "Owen could be saying his last goodbye" but, surprise! The cat survived Owen's mission and then stuck around another two years. During his last two or three years I feel he experienced a resurgence in popularity. We were all so suddenly charmed by our indomitable beast, yes, he was not leaping onto counters anymore, yes, his hair was getting all matted, yes, his whiskers were droopy, yes, his right eye was kind of . . . weird (and yes, the vet told us he thought the cat was probably blind, but 'that doesn't matter so much with a cat as they spend so much of their time in the dark anyway'), but he was just back on top for being a champ. I think we were definitely hoping he'd make it through Greg's mission, because Greg definitely truly loved the cat for all their shared years (Greg just having about a month on the fellow, they knew each other their whole darn lives) but the cat was getting sleepier and sleepier, whiter and whiter at the chin.
When the dog died I expected the cat to follow very soon after, I had suspected them of sharing a duprass, but he hung in there another two months, sniffing at things, living in the basement most of the time, sometimes visiting us upstairs . . . so, when the news came that he had passed, well I can only compare it when I found out Gordon B. Hinckley had died: It was a day we knew would come, and that the numbers and common sense suggested could not be too far off, so the news was not a shock, and there is knowledge that he's in a better, happier place . . . but also an emptiness, a definite missing of the beast (I now am referring to the cat, come on you people). I found myself crying twice over the death of the dog, nothing like that has happened over the cat (yet? pictures from the funeral and my mother's account, they'll probably do the trick). We got many great years out of the fellow, I readily accept and recognize that his work with us was finished, but I'm going to miss having a cat. I'm going to miss talking about my cat that I have as I switch to talking about the cat that I had, and when I'm next at home, I know it will seem emptier without the sound of silent footsteps in the kitchen or the tensing and release of watching him bound from kitchen floor to tabletop, vulturing after our meals, the whiny pleading meowings at the front door to be let out or welcomed back in, the craning of his neck at the doorway to the den when he's looking for a lap, little nose wrinklings, annoyed mid-nap glances at whoever is making that noise, all the good cat stuff.
So it goes. Farewell you Mighty Beast, you Beautiful Animal.