For much of my life I’ve enjoyed the dance of absolute love and staggering indifference that comes with the territory of cat ownership. Perhaps I should say feline companionship, as one never owns a cat.
The earliest communal gift I remember receiving was a green-eyed furball under our fragrant “live” Christmas tree when I was 3 or 4. Enamored of all things NASA, my sister, older, and thus entitled to dibs on name selection, scanned her aerospace obsessed mind and dubbed him “Michael Collins” after the Apollo astronaut.
As time passed his astonishing girth would engender the nickname “Big Mike,” as he, with his creamy white and gray markings (not the steely gray of a Silver Tabby, but rather the lush, rich gray of the Russian Blue) would lord over his kingdom–the yard of our Northeast Washington, DC home.
With one heavy-lidded glance, he’d strike fear in the hearts of people and animals alike. Once, a kindly woman cried, “Please don’t let your cat hurt my dog!” while Mike’s imposing frame nearly doubled as his ire was raised by the mere presence of her passing German Shepherd. A feline dictator, he ruled his narrowly-defined territory with an iron paw and despite his obesity lived to twenty-two.
Over the coming years there would be several more cats, at least two at a time, at most, four. Each with their own quirks, idiosyncrasies and peculiar charms. One, Ink, was the quintessential Tomcat, a feline lothario, gone missing for days at a time, only to return, loudly announcing his presence in a Siamese-accented yowl to fuel up for the next round of roving shenanigans. His street ways ensured an early demise.
There were a couple of beautiful but shy black and whites, a string of tabbies and a calico foundling called Sting, who was sent to roam greener pastures on an open farm when his brain tumor produced erratic behavior and sudden Trilogy of Terror fetish-like attacks from the bathtub.
Then in 1987, a bright-eyed black kitten entered my life, a rescue from a construction site. I’d answered a streetlamp posting for “Sweet kitty needs a loving home.” Her rescuers named her “Hidey” because she remained hidden under the bed most of the time. She was skittish and tended to cower but her fear slowly dissipated. When I observed her highly energetic nocturnal nature emerge, I rechristened her “Noche.”
She’d ride my shoulders, her silken fur draping my neck like a fine stole. She became, as pets often do, a real part of the family, loving always but attentive when it suited her. You don’t know what it is to be dismissed until you’ve been ignored by a cat
She had my back though. Once when I was sidelined with a stomach virus, she left my side only to relieve her herself or drink water, not to eat. She’s been a constant when all the other things of life ebb and flow. She’s been there through love, loss and additions to the family.
Thinking she’d embrace with a consuming maternal instinct a tiny, lethargic kitten who shared her fierce eyes and black coat, I brought one home from North Shore Animal League. She, underwhelmed, sniffed him and moved on. He promptly stalked the perimeter of my place, rubbing against walls, furniture, whatever, staking his claim, his lethargy usurped by his inner brute. Though he constantly sniped at and chased her around (which I think, kept her fit) Noche tolerated the little hellion called Chaos. She even defended him by standing guard and emitting a protective, guttural sound, an “enough” when his surliness got him into trouble. When we brought a scrappy pup we named Mocha, a mixed Lab who’d been born in our building upstairs to join our mix, Noche with typical nonchalance, ignored her.
When I moved to a no-pet building, my Mom graciously took Noche into her home, despite her vociferous demands (when Noche’s hearing began to decline, her meowing became increasingly louder). Near deafness aside, her veterinarians marveled at her physical condition as a twenty-year-old cat.
It is in the past year that advanced age took its toll on her. The brilliance of her golden eyes dimmed to a world-weary half-mast. Sleeping like a koala, she spent little time awake, only to eat and soil the litterbox. Her treks up and down the stairs were no longer the graceful glides of yesterday, but the arthritic gimp of a bum hip. Just shy of her 21st birthday next month her kidneys failed and those same doctors suggested euthanasia.
Sueño bueno Noche, thank you for sharing time on earth with me.