I have fought and won a difficult battle over the last couple of weeks: I have resisted the temptation to add to the Internet slush pile of self-reflective odes to David Bowie’s creative genius, and Alan Rickman’s acting talent and purring voice. Instead I wrote a tribute to someone who is still very much alive: my cat.
Yes, my cat.
My cat, Buddy, will be 16 years old in May. His back legs don’t work as well these days, and he’s developed the unfortunate habit of peeing on any floor-bound item that vaguely resembles fabric. He is on twice daily pain medication and special food. He is an old man, and his body and mind are showing the symptoms.
He was nine weeks old and fit in the palm of my hand when I brought him home. I was worried that my older cat would squash him, but the very first time they came face to face, Buddy leapt onto her back and started chewing on her head. She didn’t speak to me for weeks.
Buddy jumped up onto the table and counter tops, crawled up my legs, flung himself onto my shoulders, and ran across my head in the middle of the night. He shredded my plants and gnawed off the heads of flowers. “Why must you destroy everything that is beautiful?” I exclaimed, but he was too busy climbing the screen door to listen.
I’d never had a kitten before and asked a friend if Buddy’s insane energy level was normal. He said, “That’s the thing about kittens: they’re really fun. But they’re really fun all the damn time.”
I lived near a busy street and intended for Buddy to be an indoor cat. But he had other ideas. One night, he slipped out through an accidentally unlatched door. I spent hours walking through the neighborhood, calling his name and trying not to picture him hit by a car, dead in a ditch. When he returned the next day, he was covered in dirt and cobwebs but clearly thrilled by his experience. After that, I understood that it is the cat and not the owner that decides whether he’s indoor or outdoor.
When Buddy was almost two years old, we moved to a hillside apartment surrounded by mature trees and dense bushes that housed a multitude of suburban wildlife. This is where Buddy perfected the art of evisceration. When I spotted the first flailing, disembodied lizard tail on the living room floor, I screamed like a little girl. Within a couple of months, Buddy had caught on to the lizards’ trick and I was escorting disgruntled tailless lizards out of my apartment on a daily basis. Then came the mice, the birds, the snakes, the occasional large insect. I recognized the sickly sweet smell of death the moment I walked through my front door, it was just a matter of finding the body. The vision of the dead mole tucked up into my comforter still haunts me to this day. I scooped them all into the Dustpan of Death and tossed them out into the bushes.
One time, Buddy watched with disdain as I discarded a mouse he’d left on the ledge above my bed. The next morning, the mouse’s head was perched on my doormat.
Buddy honed his surgical skills and soon left not bodies but body parts behind. Intestines. Hearts. Feet. At least they were easier to clean up.
There was the time he got stuck up in a redwood tree for eight hours. The time he was locked in my neighbor’s shed for two days. The times he came home with rips in his ears and one of his toes hanging off. The time…
My cat was a psychopathic murderer who was always getting into trouble. But there was no doubting his affection for me. When he wasn’t busy destroying the natural world, he loved nothing more than to roll around on my lap and have his head scratched. I started to ever-so-slightly understand how the parents of serial killers must feel. “I know he does terrible things, but really he’s such a sweet boy when he’s at home with me.”
The murders stopped six years later when we left the quiet suburbs for Oakland. Although we moved to a residential street, there are not nearly as many critters hiding out in the decorative shrubbery around my building. And while Buddy continued to prowl around the neighborhood on a daily basis, his territory had shrunk considerably and he started spending more time indoors with me, indulging in the comfort of the couch. At nine years old, he was finally starting to settle down. By the age of eleven, he had transformed from the frisky kitten that couldn’t sit still if a butterfly flapped its wings on the other side of the world into a lazy lap cat.
He is sitting on my lap as I write this, butting his hard little head into my bicep.
A little over a year ago, he had a spinal aneurysm and couldn’t use his back legs. He also lost control of his bladder. I washed the caked litter and urine and feces from his butt and legs, and held him and fed him salmon and did everything I could think of to make his last days more comfortable. Within a week, he regained some use of his legs, but they would never be the same. He can no longer get up onto the couch by himself, or the bed. He can no longer go outside.
Sometimes he meows all night for no reason. Sometimes when I’m not giving him the attention he wants, he taunts the dog so that she’ll growl at him and I have to step in. About six months ago, he stopped using his litter box. I’ve thrown away one destroyed area rug and put another in storage, along with all bath and floor mats.
He peed on my Hello Kitty slippers.
But despite all of his (our) suffering and his loss of independence, he is still happy to curl up in my lap and have his head scratched.
A few weeks ago, late on New Years’ Eve – I looked around at my slumbering cat, dog, and boyfriend – and I made this wish: I hope we are all still together this time next year.
This is love.