“Someone who holds you too close/Someone who hurts you too deep/Someone who sits in your chair and ruins your sleep/And makes you aware of being alive . . . “
Animal lovers are unabashedly unapologetic about it. Too bad for you if you don’t get it, we say. People measure their lives in significant chunks. Perhaps it’s the relationships we have, or the homes we live in, or the jobs we work at. I break down my life into pet dynasties, beginning with the dogs of childhood (Colonel, Jay Jay, Peppy, Joshua and Gabriel) and moving forward to the cats who have allowed me to share the room with them. First, there was Buni (college graduation and first steps into adulthood), then Marty (finding my way as a teacher), and then Nick and Lily (coming into my own professionally and buying a home).
After Lily died, I was so bereft that I knew I couldn’t mourn alone for long. A colleague told me about a breed of cat called a Ragdoll, which some refer to as a “puppy cat.” I heard stories about Ragdolls who greeted you at the door, who loved lying in your lap, and who bonded with you in ways that you don’t normally find in as independent an animal as cats tend to be. So I sought out a breeder and purchased my first pair of purebred cats. I had to register them! I had to sign a contract promising not to show them and to neuter them immediately. I met the breeder, who was also a realtor, at a showing of the ugliest condo I had ever seen in my life. He brought along five cats, and I chose a boy and a girl. All Ragdoll kittens are basically white for several months, developing more distinctive markings over a four-year period. As far as looks went, it was basically a crap shoot as to whether I had chosen well. I christened my new family Elizabeth and Darcy, after one of my favorite novels, and took my them home.
The breeder told me that I should put them in an enclosed space for a while so that they could acclimate to their new surroundings. Faced with few choices, I let them stew in my bathroom for a couple of days. I shut the door on them and went to get some water. When I returned and opened the door, they were gone. Literally gone. I looked everywhere in that little space: the bathtub, the inside of the toilet, the cabinet that they were far too tiny to open . . . completely gone. I called their names: “Darcy! Elizabeth!” as if they might respond, and I got . . . nothing. I panicked.
Examining the floorboards more closely, I discovered that my sink and cabinet were built on a sort of ledge and that in both corners of that ledge were small openings that formed unbelievably narrow, small tunnels extending four feet or so to the wall. With difficulty, I slid my arm into the first hole . . . and met with furry resistance. More panic, until I finally grabbed onto a tuft of torso and pulled as gently as I could. There was a freaked out, dust-covered Ragdoll in my hand. I got the other one and then used whatever I could to temporarily block the holes, shut them back in and went to find better materials to fill in the holes.
I returned to discover that these tiny monsters had pushed aside all forms of barricade and reinserted themselves into the narrow tunnels. This time, they squirmed away as I attempted to pull them out, and I pulled out my arm, bleeding from scraping through that narrow aperture, and gave vent to my frustration. If one thing was clear here, it was that the cats hated me.
I called my brother – they have cats, too – and told them what was going on. My sister-in-law got on the phone, and as they both tried to calm me down and give me advice, I kept calling out, “Darcy! Elizabeth! Please come out.” My sister-in-law said, “Well, there’s your problem right there. Change those goddamned awful names!”
And that’s how Beau and Mimi were born . . . and borne away from the tunnel under the bathroom sink.
“Someone who kneads you too much/Someone who knows you too well/Someone who pulls you up short and puts you through hell/And gives you support for being alive . . . “
The kittens would have nothing to do with me, and I began to think that this Ragdoll phenomenon was either the biggest hoax perpetrated on the public or that I was doing something wrong. One night about a week into this non-relationship, I went to bed, feeling dejected. The kittens had basically hidden from me for several days, and the only evidence as to their existence was a dent in their food and small tracks in the litter box.
In the middle of the night, I awoke to the sound of two people talking in my living room. I live alone, and even I know that cats don’t converse in English, so I knew that someone had broken into my house. I could see a faint light coming from outside my bedroom. I did not sneak out of bed and close and lock my door and call the police. I did not grab a weapon and slowly advance on the culprit. I jumped, stark naked, out of the bed, took a deep breath, and walked into the living room.
The kittens were on the sofa, staring at me. They had jumped on the remote and turned on the TV. An old movie was playing. They looked at me as if to say, “Rick and Ilsa may always have Paris, but you mean nothing to us, bub!” I went back to bed and waited for my heart to slow down.
I took them to the doctor for their shots and discovered that they both had eye infections (probably caught from hanging out in that dusty bathroom tunnel.) I would have to put a salve in their eyes several times a day. I brought them home and grabbed a squirming Beau to dose his eyes. And that’s when the miracle occurred: Beau went limp in my arms and began to purr the loudest purr I’ve ever heard. His eyes rolled in their sockets as if he was in ecstasy. (I think – if you want to know the truth – my eyes did the same thing.) Our bond was formed then and there, and it strengthened with each passing day.
“Someone you have to let in/Someone whose feelings you spare/Someone who like it or not/Will want you to share a little a lot . . . “
Over the course of the next few years, it became clear that these were going to be beautiful cats. As their markings took form, Mimi developed an “M” on her forehead in honor of her name and beautiful chocolate feet. She had the thick coat of a lioness that blossomed like you wouldn’t believe in the winter months.
Beau’s eyes sparkled a deep blue. A diamond grew in the center of his forehead, expressing how precious he was to me. In terms of personality, Mimi pretty much resembled, well, a cat: totally aware of her beauty, finicky when you needed her not to be, and doling out meager helpings of affection on her own terms. Beau, on the other hand, was pretty much everything a guy could want in a boyfriend: languorous and affectionate when I came home, very good at the give and take of attention-giving and getting, appreciative when I cleaned the box or dished out the tuna, and just clingy enough to remind me that I was the most important man in his life.
I won’t bore you with the ways I shower affection on my cats. Those who know me well are aware of the Munchkin voice, the little songs, the nicknames (“Bodie Beast,” “Boodie,”, “Pooper Cat,” “Meemers,” “Ma” and “Mommie” were just some of them). Just like we crinkle our noses at the affection other people shower on each other, I expect you are squirming uncomfortably at this TMI moment over how Brad deals with his cats. Okay, I’ll tell you anyway: Beau and I would spoon. He would watch me shave at the counter, and I would watch him eat. He would greet each return home, each meal, each bedtime, with utter delight. My cat was my love and my protector. When things got tough in the outside world, I would often think of him and his sister waiting at home. When I had pneumonia, he understood. When I was anxious, he was my rock. Some call this endowing of animals with traits of human-like empathy, at best, pure silliness. Call it what you will, and frankly, if you don’t get it, I don’t really care. Because I’m setting you up for the fall, and I need you to understand what my baby boy meant to me for seven and a half years.
“Someone who crowns you with love/Someone who’ll force you to care/Someone who’ll make you come through/Who’ll always be there as frightened as you/Of being alive/Being alive/Being alive/Being alive.”
Beau got sick. I had been run through the mill by this horrific election season, and Beau was there to belly rub and kiss and talk smack about the other side with. His joy when I came home or fed him or got into bed calmed me down through all the ugly political rhetoric . . . until he stopped eating and stopped being joyful.
It all happened so fast that I am still wrapping my mind around it. One day you’re together, and a week later you’re fulfilling the final clause of that contract you signed in your head when you took this relationship on. It’s not a mortgage, where the house is yours for life if you keep up the payments. It’s not a marriage, where if you work hard together there’s an even chance you stay together (and the fact that you are the same species helps.) But with a cat, you make a promise: when the time comes that he cannot be happy, you let him go. So that’s what I did today with Beau. I let him go for his sake, not mine. Because what I’m feeling right now is nothing I want to get into with you here. It wouldn’t be fair to take you to that place. What I’m feeling takes time to pass, I know. I’ve been through it before, many times. It’s the price you pay for unconditional love.
Except with Beau, it feels different. The fact that he’s only seven makes it feel unfair. The fact that it’s so sudden, and that it’s Thanksgiving, and I wanted a miracle that I didn’t get – – – well, it makes whatever I try to write seem utterly inadequate.
So that’s my elegy to Beau, imperfect as it is. It’s not a blog about mysteries or movies or the one about Trump that lost me two readers. It’s not a call for sympathy. It’s me writing to myself in honor of that most glorious of things, true love and true friendship.
I don’t tend post personal things, but I did when Beau became ill, and I received wonderful support from people who share this kind of bond and people who don’t. I know I’m not ready to say goodbye. I know I have kind friends. I have my house and my job. I have my Mimi, and we’re processing this loss together as best we can. For one thing, she clings to me at night like nobody’s business. I cling right back. We feel incomplete together. I have my family, and there’s nobody who understands this bond like my dad does. I have so many memories of this wonderful companion, and one of the skills you have to learn is how to channel the memories in order to heal. I have that process to look forward to.
What I don’t have anymore is Beau.