“What happened to my cat?”
I’m fairly certain I also said hello, but that was the first real thing I said, because when you’re on vacation and the name of the who friend is taking care of your cats — the friend who always texts and barely ever phones — shows up on your phone, “hello” suddenly becomes less relevant. In any case, better to cut to the chase, better to avoid the awkward hemming and hawing, the onus on the friend of having to draw it out, find the least devastating way to tell you that your cat has died.
I’d expected her to tell me the name of the black cat, the Queen cat, the increasingly arthritic, slow-moving, 15-year-old cat. Instead, she named the grey cat, the beta-kitty, the little one (although “little” is a bit of a misnomer for a feline that we often referred to as “the harp seal pup” at her roundest). She was gone, unexpectedly. She hadn’t been sick as far as I could tell. She was eating well, had plenty of water. She was only 13.
If anything, she’d become more cuddly, more social, in the past few months. I had chalked that up to The New Normal, as people like to refer to it: one full-time adult gone; the two smaller, louder beasts here only half-time. When I put a positive spin on it, it occurred to me that maybe this shy, skittish feline felt as though she had a bit more room to maneuver in the increased quiet (and hey, that in itself could be a negative); other times, I wondered if she missed the everyone-all-the-time and therefore took more solace in me, sitting by my office chair and batting at it with her paw until I picked her up. “I think pets don’t handle divorce well,” said a friend of mine, and she may have a point.
But now she’s gone. This was the passive, mellow kitty cat who attacked Rowan when he arrived home from the hospital as a newborn, so determined was she not to be displaced by another small beast. She got over that, and good thing too, because we were firmly on the side of the baby in that tug-of-war. When Isaac was born, at home, I braced for the worst, but she surprised me, stretching out next to him on the bed during his newborn exam, purring. She helped to clean up the blood on the floor. I think the difference was that this baby never came into the house from the outside per se — he just emerged from me into the larger family, the smells the same, the primal grisliness of birth something that made sense to her instinct. Isaac’s first word was “cat.” Rowan went to bed most nights with one of both of them cuddling him on his bed.
This is the cat whom as a kitten nursed on a green afghan; we hypothesized that she had been taken too soon from her mom. This was the cat whom as a kitten commuted by air between Toronto and Thunder Bay as Rachel and I spent her first year long distance. You could still take kittens on airplanes then, and we did, because we had no children and she was too sweet to leave.
She was pretty, with big round eyes and a nose the colour of a pencil eraser. And she was snugly, although she drove me nuts because she would never settle, taking great time and care to make the perfect nest in your lap and then half a minute later abandoning it for a different approach. She was typical in that she was deeply attracted to people who did not like cats. And, forgive me, but she was vacuous. “There’s no there, there,” I thought about her, often. She’d let you do pretty much anything to her (except try to trim her nails; then she would scratch and howl and squirm): hold her up in the air with one hand, raise her like an offering on her back into the sky. More lately, watching her move through the world with what seemed like almost no agenda, no expectations, I wondered if perhaps she could teach me a lesson or two in mindfulness. She seemed always completely present, surprised by everything.
And now, I am surprised that she’s not here, expecting her in places where she was but it isn’t any more. It’s jarring, and it’s sad, and it is one more thing that makes up the stuff of life.