Maybe I’m a cold-hearted bitch, but when I think of those I love who have passed on, it’s not the people I miss.
Today, I honor them.
My first cat, Sylvia was the best cat ever (so sayeth my mother). She came to us from a friend, who’d opened her door to Sylvia (who’d been living in Golden Gate Park) and dealt with the litter of kittens she had a few days later. We had a nasty problem with rats and needed a mouser. A formerly feral cat seemed like just the ticket. It was clear to all of us that Sylvia *chose* to give up her feral ways for the warmth and steady food of a house. The rats were gone within a few days, btw, and the mice only lasted a little longer, being harder to get to in the walls of our house.
She’d sit, peering intently into the coils of the refrigerator motor, for literally hours. If there’d been a visible thought bubble, it would have read ‘give up, it’s hopeless, you will not escape me.’ Sure enough, a mouse would just run out and into her waiting paws.
Moles and gophers in the garden were her other prey, and I’ll never forget the ferocity of her combat with a gopher one afternoon. She won, but it was a tough battle.
Her intelligence was unquestioned. I remember my step-father making a disparaging remark about her just sleeping and eating and being a useless cat. The next morning there were three dead mice laid out in a line on his side of the desk he and my mother shared. Sylvia looked particularly smug that day, and he never said a word against her again.
She lived a good long life but finally came down with cancer (stomach or intestine), and we had to take her to the SPCA where they put her down. I have always regretted that she spent her last night in a strange place, likely afraid and bewildered, and then died alone at a stranger’s hand.
Yaffa came to us a Christmas when we’d had Sylvia for four or so years. Yaffa was a golden/lab mix and just a sweetie. She shared my bed and chased birds at the beach. Yaffa had been with us for maybe 10 years when she got ill overnight with something unfixable (or so vastly expensive my literally poor family couldn’t afford it). I held her in my arms when they put her down and although I’d been crying for hours, when she went, I finally got my calm back. (I knew she didn’t hurt anymore, and that was all I needed at that point.) She taught me that I have a responsibility to be there to witness death.
When I first moved to New York after college, I had a dream with a gray tabby in it. The next day a work colleague brought in the kittens a stray had given birth to on her back porch. Morpheus was a 6 week old male and I fell in love with him immediately. The first 3 nights I didn’t sleep at all because he loved playing ‘jump on the feet under the blanket’ or cried all night outside the closed bedroom door. He, of course, slept all day. So I decided to get him a playmate.
I went to a local shelter and got Thanatos, a tiny black kitten about the same age as Morpheus. When I got home I opened her cardboard carrier up and put it in the middle of the floor and let her decided what to do next. Morpheus stuck his head over the edge and she whacked him on the nose, then jumped out and ran under a chair. From then on, it was their relationship: she was his toy and the apple of his eye. She’d be sleeping on a chair and he’d jump up and lie down on top of her with her head poking out between his front legs. She loved it. She never got any bigger than 7 pounds, although Morpheus got to 21 pounds.
At Christmas she’d climb into the middle of the tree and sleep on the branches. She rarely meowed, but often made a little ‘chirrup?’ sound when she wanted attention, or to ask a question about the service provided. Her favorite place to be was underneath Morpheus on a kitchen chair, completely covered by big big body, only her head peeking out between his front legs, for all the world like a turkey with a chick.
When I brought her in to be fixed I was told she had feline leukemia, the worst form of it, and wasn’t expected to live more than 12-18 months. She lived to 3.5 years in perfect health until the very last week. Then, it was as if the timebomb in her body went off and she only declined, quickly, not eating and only raising her heard to drink fresh water. I didn’t hesitate, but took her to the vet to confirm what we all knew was coming. I held her as she was put to sleep, her little body taking one last breath and then growing still.
Not long after I gave in to Morpheus’ sadness and sought another playmate and so Shasta came into my life. She was a petulant little thing that knew only that the world was no ordered to her specifications, and that made her grumpy. She was loved, but (I am sad to say) not as much as Morpheus and I think that showed. She was a good cat, full of charm, sass, and attitude and I will miss her.
Now I tell you the hardest tale of all, of Morpheus. My boon companion through countless moves, including one terrifying one in a plane across the country, and several relationships. Each was told he would not come before Morpheus if I had to make a choice, so live with it. Each did, until he left (and the one that didn’t has stayed with me still.)
What can I tell you of the 21-pound cat who could jump from a sitting position to the top of a 7-foot bookshelf? Who would become one with the earth and sky as he lay on the bed so that you literally could not pick him up? Who would grumble like an old man if you disturbed him. Who could give you a cold shoulder like it had never been done right until him in all the history of man?
He grew older, and slower, and in his 18th year he grew ill. Both he and Shasta were developing stomach cancers (or so the vet thoughts) and were growing weak and unable to move well. Once again, I was there, midwife to death. First Shasta, then Morpheus. I still grieve, I am crying even now. I miss him. I miss him. I miss him.
take life as it comes.
~P.J. Harvey “We Float” (youtube video link)