As many of you know, tomorrow I lose an old friend, a cat. This is sad and inevitable. So for the moment, let's talk about the joy cats have brought into my life.
Phoebe was my first cat. In 1997 I was managing the Waldenbooks at the Eastfield Mall in East Springfield. A young women came in one day to buy a magazine. She had the folds of her coat a tiny tabby kitten. She put the kitten, no bigger than my fist, onto the counter and I fell immediately and irrevocably in love. "That's the most beautiful cat I've ever seen," I said.
The girl said, "Do you want her?"
Phoebe was taken from her mother too soon, I think. She tried to nurse at my beard. She was the sweetest thing. She talked the whole ride back to Northampton, and I talked with her.
In 2000 I sensed that Phoebe needed something, a companion more her size. I decided to get a second cat. A woman at work had a cat who'd just had a litter of kittens. I went to London that year, in May, and when I got back she had a tiny little greasy spindly dude waiting for me. He was black with three white spots: belly, chest, neck. Like a Chocodile. I'd observed the large number of Nigels and Simons I'd met in London, so I went with the former for a name. Phoebe was deeply aggrieved, and would not allow anyone to touch her for more than a month. Eventually, they found their way around one another and all was well.
In 2004 I met Katie. In 2005 we moved in together. She had two cats. Mehitabel she got from a friend. She's white and grey, skinny but healthy. Then there's Poop. The name has nothing to do with anything unsavory*. Initially his name was Livy. Then on TV Katie heard someone say, "You're getting fat, Pupkin." He also was getting fat. The name stuck, then was abbreviated. He is black and white, with a stub for a tail and white markings on his nose and chin.
We transitioned Poop from indoor/outdoor to indoor-only. He was having none of it. One day in October of 2005 he got out. He was gone more than 5 weeks. In our grief, we went and picked out a kitten. Sneech was his name, though now he answers to Peach Pie**. Within a few days, Poop came home. I was leaving for work and saw him dart under the porch. I got Katie and we snatched him up and brought him inside. (He'd do the same thing again a year later, four weeks gone that time; I found him by spotting his description in the paper - cat found, medium sized, black and white, half tail.)
That is us, our five, my Pride. Someone said that each cat has so many qualities unique to that cat that there aren't a lot of qualities one can say applies to all cats.
This is true.
Nigel is social, agreeable, affectionate, chatty, something of a brat, and crazy for food.
Mehitabel is a bit aloof. She sits on the radiator when it's cold. You can drape her over your neck like a stole. She takes whatever the vet does without the slightest complaint - a vet's dream, truly.
Phoebe is the most loving cat I've ever met and also the craziest. She's as old as Poop and she still bounces around the room like a superball. Not just anyone can pet or hold her. I have the most privileges. Katie has slightly fewer.
Peach Pie loves all cats, even the ones who growl at his approach. He's playful, silly, a goofball, a troublemaker, and an unexpected mouser. He and Poop curl up together, sometimes forehead to forehead.
Poop exudes a kind of stoic wisdom. My wife's sister says that it's like having another person in the room. He is an excellent old gentleman, an avid snuggler, and a calming presence.
Tomorrow we have to let him go. I'm not ready, and I'm sure Katie's not ready. But we will do right by him. I'm not going to replace every cat we lose, but we are going to get a kitten. Peach Pie will need a distraction. Us too.
*That doesn't mean we're not childish. I remember very distinctly saying "I spent a half hour trying to get Poop back inside last night."
**There are other names. Sneech the Peach McGeech from Geechy Gulch comes to mind.