Sometime around May 6th, 2002, I was sitting in my living room in Virginia when I heard my husband walking up the stairs to the apartment. He’d gone out about 40 minutes before to buy my birthday present. I had no idea what it would be and didn’t remember giving any hints about what I wanted. I couldn’t come up with anything I wanted, actually. I don’t know if I’d already resigned myself to living in a shithole apartment in an even shitholier neighborhood in what would prove to be the shitholiest of marriages, but the point is, I didn’t know what to expect.
When the footsteps reached the top of the stairs, the door opened. He wasn’t in the doorway. The door was open but he wasn’t there, and just as I was about to stand up and go over there to see what he was doing, this fur-covered thing was flung into the room. It landed on the carpet, took half a second to look at me with a face that said “OH SHIT” and tore ass to the back bedroom, where it went under the bed and stayed there for two days.
I didn’t even get a good look at it. I could tell that it was mostly black with some white at its chin, but other than that, I hadn’t had time to register anything other than it was currently under my bed and oh, yeah, I guess my husband got me a cat for my birthday.
Later, when I asked him why he’d given me an adult cat instead of a kitten, he said that when he’d gone to the shelter, he’d seen plenty of kittens. This cat happened to be in a cage with a whole bunch of kittens, but “he looked angry,” and that was why he got adopted and was brought to me (this is where Robin laughs and says “that cat has Erin’s personality”).
The shelter people said his name was Elmo, which I thought was a) super lame and b) unnecessary, as the people who’d owned him before apparently kept him shut in the garage the whole time so probably never used his name in the first place. So for a few days, we tried names for him. Loki was the front-runner, but for some reason, that didn’t stick. Neither did anything else we threw his way. Eventually, he became known as The Cat. It was what he answered to and appeared to like. Vet offices liked it, too, and I have yet to meet a receptionist who doesn’t giggle when she says “okay, bye, The Cat!”
The Cat was about a year old when I got him, and still spry as a kitten. He loved those toys that are feather strings on long sticks, and would leap over five feet in the hair, somersaulting mid-flight, to catch them. He slowed down eventually, which made him a tad overweight, but with his enormous frame (seriously, I’ve had vets clasp his head and go “oh my god, his skeletal structure is huge…I mean, take a look at this skull!”), he carried it well. He seemed good-natured about it, too, but then, he was good-natured about pretty much everything. He rode curled in my lap during the first cross-country move we shared together. During the drive to San Diego, he stood up in the passenger seat of my car and yowled at passing cars, prompting people to crack up while tearing down the interstate.
Although he was a gift to me, I always thought of The Cat as a shared animal. After all, I was married and assumed I’d have to stay that way. It was in San Diego, though, that he proved his true loyalties, when he bit and scratched at my husband when it became clear that he’d cheated, lied, and stolen money from me and I no longer wanted him around. This remains the only time The Cat has ever lashed out at anyone, and it made me proud to call him my friend.
As he does with most animals, my father loves The Cat. When my father flew to San Diego to drive back to St. Louis with me, he immediately scooped up The Cat, held him to the ceiling (he does this for some reason?) and baby-talked at him until The Cat politely asked to be put down. The Cat chilled out in the backseat for the entire ride back to St. Louis, voicing his displeasure only once, when he was babysat by a security guard so my father and I could get out of the car and see Meteor Crater. The security guard loved it, and other park guests remarked on how they’d never heard a cat so loud. He is talkative enough that I don’t think he knows he’s a cat, and I have no business telling him, so we can carry on mostly full conversations. Anyone can do this with him if they want. He’s happy to oblige.
The Cat accompanied me to two apartments and one house in St. Louis, enduring power blackouts, roving guests, weird schedules, and peaceably (eventually happily, even) cohabiting with another cat (Izzy), a dog (Marley), and a longterm regular-boyfriend-turned-live-in-boyfriend (Graham). When the time came to move to Seattle, The Cat, now older and a little more tired, seemed anxious about the number of boxes piling up. As is our custom, I took him aside and explained the plan. From then on, he seemed satisfied to know that we were doing this together, and that I’d never left him behind since the day I met him, and everything would be fine.
Upon arrival in Seattle, The Cat developed a deserved hatred for a neighborhood outdoor cat who I suspect lived part-time under our house when he wasn’t being a total dick. He held a grudge against Courtney when she looked after him while Graham and I were out of town. He then forgave Courtney and she remains one of his favorite people on earth, and he tells her stories when she comes over. He immediately loved Luke, Puglisi, and Crossley, and for some insane reason made Josh wait for it, but now he can’t wait for Josh to touch him when he walks through the door. He cries if Graham doesn’t pick him up to cuddle him like a baby. He reminds me if I’m five minutes late for his regular feeding time. He had a little trouble with the stairs in our current place, but limbered up quickly with the glucosamine treats I found for his hips. His eyes are gold when he’s angry and green when he’s happy, and he always looks up at me with green eyes.
The Cat is my homie. He is my ride or die. He is my best friend, my road buddy, my silly, my too durn, just so full of the durns, I can’t handle it. As my father would say, he is a suge (short for sugar). He is my Stink, my Big Stink, Stink of the Week, Stink with a Microphone, Stinker-Tron. Oh, he is crazy. Just too crazy. It’s too much for me. This is what I tell him.
After nearly 13 years together, The Cat is an old man. He is slower, weaker, and, now, sicker. I took him to the vet last weekend because I could feel his bones when I pet him, the lustrous fat of his middle age worn away. He’s too handsome to ever be haggard, but in a lesser cat, I can see how someone would use the word. After reviewing his labs, the regular vet sent me to a radiology clinic, where they found (and then took a biopsy of) some masses in his stomach and noted his now-deformed bladder, gallbladder, and pancreas. The Cat has been diagnosed with lymphoma, which means that what I thought would be our last couple of years together has shrunk by a significant margin, and this is really the beginning of the end.
I’m calling the regular vet on Monday to discuss steroids to make The Cat more comfortable. I’m also attempting to get a phone consultation with the cat oncologist (yes, really) about non-intensive treatments like palliative care. There will be no cat chemo, no immunology treatments. They will not improve the quality of his remaining life. For now, although he is extremely thin, his eating, drinking, bathroom, and attention-seeking habits are the same, he doesn’t hide from us or anyone else, and he never shies away when we pet him, no matter where that might be. So while I know that cats are very good at hiding pain, he seems to be a smaller version of his regular self, and for now, I take that as a sign that he can stay with us for a bit longer. When the time approaches, I will ease his pain the best I can. When the time comes, I will let him go.
I’ve occasionally felt silly about being heartbroken over this inevitability, but I remember what Kat told me after Marley died and I apologized for talking about it so much. “Don’t you ever apologize for loving another living thing,” she said, assuming, of course, that nobody would ever love, say, Hitler if he was alive. I’ve tried keeping this in mind, because even though there are plenty of people who think it’s ridiculous to love a cat so much (these are the same people who get angry if they think you talk about your pets the way they talk about their children), I choose to think that I am capable of wholeheartedly loving something that cannot, in spoken English, anyway, confirm that it loves me back. While this may not be as complex as the way a parent loves their child, I think it’s pretty close.
The Cat has been the greatest, most constant, faithful companion of my adult life, and I still cannot get over how lucky I got when he was literally thrown into my home. I love him to pieces and I hope like crazy that I have done right by him, that noble beast, my ride or die.