Monday, October 1, 2012

A Brief Self-Indulgence.

My cat died at the beginning of last month.

This was Tinkerbell. She was the second of a pair that Kathy and I got shortly after we moved in together. It's okay if you want to mock her name...

This was Hook. I didn't want any cats. My ex-wife and I had cats, and when I lost them, I didn't want to get attached again. Kathy had never had cats though, and she wanted them. So one day I came home and we had this guy. He was 7 months old, and a stray. A friend of Kathy's used to put cat food out on her back porch for the neighborhood strays. As a scrawny, under-nourished wimp, the only way Hook ever got any of it was if Karen stood guard over the bowl while he ate. She used to pet him while he frantically gobbled. This had long-term consequences for the neurotic little guy...

when Kathy brought him home, she thought the single black eye marking made him look like a pirate. So she asked me for some good pirate names.

Naturally, I had dozens. I started into a long-winded exposition about Edward Teach, and Francis Drake, and Henry Morgan, and their various accomplishments, and the difference between pirates and privateers...

and she cut me off by telling me, "I know! We'll call him Captain Hook." This was a huge hit with my kids, who at that age were watching "Hook" every 3rd day.

(image from Wikimedia Commons)

Hook was a cute little guy, but scarred by his traumatic kittenhood on the mean streets of Wilkinsburg. It was nearly a week before the poor dimwit twigged to the fact that there was cat food in his bowl even when Kathy and I were out. He used to go tearing into the kitchen the second we arrived, purring like a Vulcan cannon. Even after he made the discovery that food existed in our absence, he wanted you in there, petting him while he ate. Hook's happiest moments were eating, while I sat on the kitchen floor and stroked his fur, telling him over and over what a good kitty he was.

This led to some... complications. In a bid to keep us home, he began snagging Kathy's pantyhose, because when she was putting those on, it meant we were leaving. And there was an unfortunate incident one night where Kathy got home before me. Hook was fed, (well fed. He never stopped gorging) and in Kathy's lap, and purring...

and I got home, and he promptly climbed out of her lap, and into mine. He loved Kathy, but I was his. We used to spoon, with the waterbed heater set to 100 degrees.

(pretty sure Kathy'll make me delete this pic of her spooning with Hook. But I like to show her off, too.)

So Kathy decided he needed a playmate to keep him from being so lonely during the day. Her decision had nothing to do with jealousy.

We went to a shelter, and Kathy saw Tinkerbell, and never looked at another cat. She insists that the reason Tinkerbell preferred her to me was because Tinkerbell remembered my voice saying, "What about this one? Come look over here!"

It didn't work out like we'd envisioned. Hook took one look at Tinkerbell, hissed and spent the next week under the bed, sulking. Except to over-eat, of course. He wasn't THAT angry. Tinkerbell did her best to make friends with him...

But he wasn't having it. If he was asleep, she could sleep close to him, as long as she didn't touch him. Any attempt to touch him resulted in a savage bathing, which quickly devolved into him chewing on her while she wailed her distress.

Eventually, she came to loathe him, too. He hated having her use his litter box, so we got several. She used to go to each one, pee just enough to annoy him, and then move to the next one and do it again. After he got too fat to jump well, she used to sit above him and smack his head with her tail.

She had some other hardships, too. My son is... well he's my son. So despite being explicitly and repeatedly told not to, he used to stalk Tinkerbell like Elmer Fudd, with his Nerf Bow, or my belt ("It's my lasso!") or even the straw from a juice box, which he felt looked vaguely like a gun. She never forgave him. Nearly 20 years later, Tinkerbell would use him as furniture, but he was NOT allowed to pet her.

We lost Hook in the Spring of 2011. By that point he was 22 pounds. He looked like a panda bear. We'd tried limiting his food intake, but his food neuroses meant that if there was no food in his bowl, he lost his mind. We tried putting him on diet cat food, but it made Tinkerbell really sick and feeble. He was 19 when his organs failed, and I'd been carrying him to bed with me for probably a month before that. He was a happy boy right up until his last week.

I will spare you the details of having him put down, except to note that when you're an old man, carrying an empty cat carrier down the street, openly weeping, you draw some second looks.

(Wikimedia Commons)

Kathy and I were crushed by Hook's absence. Tinkerbell on the other hand...

Tinkerbell blosomed. It only took her a few hours to realize he was missing, and she changed from a meek, low-profile somewhat furtive cat to the Queen of the Castle. The first thing she did was go to each of his favorite spots to sleep, and take a long, luxurious nap. She became preemptory in her demands for attention. And since we were still grieving for Hook, we indulged her. She started getting fed off our plates; in fact she had her own "plate", that used to be a coaster.

She used to show up at the same time every day to be brushed. If I didn't drop what I was doing, she would remind me. And in the mornings, you could practically hear her form the words...

"Are we having English muffins? How lovely!" Well actually, she would just chirp, like a bird. But I knew what she meant.

We had been calling her our kitten for 19 years, but of course she was actually a delicate old lady. And unlike Hook, she kept getting thinner. As her appetite declined, we switched her to an all wet food diet. As she lost interest in that, I started mixing a spoonful of Gerber's baby food in with her food. But eventually, she started finding obscure places to hide, and spent all her time sleeping. When she stopped purring for us, we knew it was time.

I have a theory that cats lucky enough to be adopted by Kathy have hit some sort of karmic lottery. I think they must be the reincarnations of Buddhist saints, because no owner could be more loving, and more attentive, and more sensitive to a pet than Kathy is.

Hook and Tinkerbell had long, happy, pampered lives, and when they stopped enjoying that life, we let them go without forcing them to continue an existence which had lost its joy.

It was hard. It's still hard; I'm a lot more comfortable in the rational, analytical part of my head. The various stages of grief are best compressed into a nice prescription for Prozac, to my way of thinking. I'm told that's an unhealthy perspective.

And in any case, there are other kitties out there waiting to win the karmic lottery.

The one on the left is Ellen Ripley. The one on the right is Sarah Conner. You can mock their names too, but they were actually Kathy's idea. She was trying to prevent their being saddled with something horribly obscure dredged from my ancient history reading. I apologize for the blurriness of this, but they are NEVER still. We've had them for two weeks, and they're just starting to get the idea that maybe they don't have to sleep with us the entire night. If they can get a few hours in snuggled up to us in a way that forces us to contort our bodies into an unnatural posture, and another few hours under my chin or on top of Kathy's head, that's plenty till the next day's naps...

naps which have to be spent with me holding one of them in my arms, while the other occupies my lap. I typed most of this entry with one hand, although by cleverly constructing soft kitty beds on my desk, next to the keyboard, I've given myself the use of both hands, again.

Sarah is bigger than Ripley, and perhaps more active, although they're both off the hook. Ripley has a disturbing need to bathe us. It's kind of sweet, in a disgusting and unhygienic way.

And... I spoke too soon.