Although this reads like a tribute to a missed cat, the reason I wrote it was to illustrate how important unconditional companionship can be to those of us with a chronic illness. Married or single, living with one’s parents, college roommates, or alone, there will be times when being alone for days at a time will happen. Family members and friends can get burnt out having to comfort us, but truly loved pets will not. My husband was so wise to point out that cats are the best companions for us because often taking a dog for a walk isn’t an option. Cats are much more self sufficient and can handle a little less attention while riding out a flare. Just remember to pay them back for how much of themselves they give by loving them, not overfeeding them, and having them visit a veterinarian regularly.
It’s the first birthday without him and it’s crazy that I find myself just a few miles from where he bit his way into my life. I was a sophomore in college looking for my first pet as an adult. I’d answered a craigslist ad of a man giving away kittens for free, and drove out to his apartment in Oakland just to check them out and see if I clicked with one. The man informed me before I drove out that he had a full litter of kittens to choose from, but when I arrived there was only one left.
You see, the man had a cat whom he couldn’t bother to have spayed. So she went out and found herself “in the family way”, as it were. Well, he was pissed about that and couldn’t wait to get those kittens off his hands. When I arrived to his sketchy upstairs apartment, I met the frisky feline that apparently nobody would take because he bit anyone who tried to hold him. He was a mere 2 1/2 weeks old, waaaaay to young to be taken from his mother. The horrible man told me that If I didn’t take him he’d throw the poor kitten in the dumpster. I of course took him home, and quickly realized his bites were attempts at kisses.
He had been separated from his mother almost immediately after being born, and away from siblings for who knows how long. He hadn’t learned “how to be a cat”. I bottle fed him for quite some time until he was strong enough for regular food. He used a preemie baby pacifier for about a year, but eventually moved on to sucking blankets and what became HIS slipper, which he did all 12 years of his life!
For those who don’t know, he was more than a cat; he was a theraputic companion during the downturn of my illness. He was my co-pilot on long drives home in my old mustang never spending a minute in a cat-carrier. He insisted on riding in the passenger seat like a human. I brought him camping in a tent with me and a friend to Lake Isabella here in CA, spent weekends at my parents lake house, and was the center of attention at every house party I was able to throw.
Needless to say, that bites turned to kisses (with the occasional nibble). Bacardi kept me on my toes with his human personality, but one thing was ever constant: his desire to end up spooning in bed at night, often being the big spoon. (Case in point below.)
He had conversations with me, sang when I sang, and rocked out to his favorite song, “hey yeah!”
He liked to hang his head out the car window, be held like a toddler on my hip, and be allowed to throw a leg over me when he slept. He snored terribly because of a malformed soft pallet, but stopped when I’d roll him over on his side, just as I do to Frankie.
He had a radar for the sound of splitting wooden chop sticks because sushi takeout meant he’d be getting a tiny piece of tuna. However he also knew that if he begged or watched us eat he wouldn’t get squat. He’d lay down on the floor next to us, and just wait for permission to eat a sliver off of a napkin.
He stayed by my side when getting out of bed wasn’t an option, and welcomed me home after each MRI, nerve test, and physical therapy appointment. He never let this isolating illness allow me to be truly alone. This “cat” wasn’t a cat. He was a human sent to care for me, keep me from being lonely, guard me in the big city, and amuse me everyday.
His little sister, Harley, was the yin to his yang, and he never passed up an opportunity to use her butt as his personal pillow.
He calmed her when we all flew across the country, and mellowed her out when we drove to and from Chicago. He lived in 4 different states, drove through countless more, and made his mark on everyone who met him along the way.
Again, I say that those who think it’s nuts to feel this emotional for a cat, obviously never met him. They never saw how a “pet” could care for a human suffering from a debilitating illness alone, far away from family. They never experienced a cat who sensed what you were feeling and acted accordingly. When I couldn’t handle the cards I’d been dealt and would break down in tears, he would know. He’d lay next to me, bathe my face, then fall asleep sharing my pillow.
He was my companion and my comfort. He’s in a better place now, but still visits me in my dreams. I’ll forever feel indebted to him and will always work to pay forward what he gave to me.