Tuesday, August 04, 2009

I don't want to live on the moon...

I lost a friend this weekend. That makes it seem so melodramatic and huge, but I'd known this guy since the minute he was born. My cat died while I was gone to Haines, and everything seems a little askew.

Chester was the biggest one of the litter, and he stayed that way. Eddie was the wild one (his nickname was Psycho Dangercat), Vinnie was the slow one, and Sadie was the sweet thing adopted by Cap'n J, who was 4 at the time. Chester was big and quiet and a little boring. He didn't crawl in your lap and ask to be petted or move you to tears of laughter walking into the walls or falling off the stairs. He spent most of his time sleeping and eating his own body weight.

Vinnie was given away first, since we meant to keep Sadie. He was smallish and needy, and that appeals to a certain kind of person. They changed his name to Sundance and moved him to Colorado. Eddie's rock and roll attitude destined him for La Fab, who had the best kind of love/hate relationship with him. But Chester was a hard sell. He was a lump of raven black fur without the crazy eyes or endearing chirrup of the others. We kept him, too, because we couldn't risk him being put to sleep. We resigned ourselves to three cats: Emily, who belonged to my ex; Sadie, who belonged to J., and Chester, who belonged only to himself.

He had a feralness that was a little startling in such an inert animal. He would hiss and run at the smallest slight, never batted with sheathed claws and bit to draw blood when he thought he was cornered. All of us bore scars from the wounds he dealt, J. in particular, who will drink for years on the story of the divot in the bridge of his nose. We took to shying away from petting him or trying to pick him up; he took to sleeping in the backs of the closets and under the chairs. He was not a loving cat, except in the dark mornings when I was the only one moving in the house. He would come and join me on the couch while I read my email or the last chapter of my book, pressing himself against my leg and purring so lightly I could mistake it for snoring. If I made a move as if to touch him, he would tense and sometimes even move away. On rare occasions he would tolerate my overtures, and it always felt like a gift when he accepted my affection. I cherished that I was the only one he trusted.

Then Z. came.

It was astonishing to see two kindred spirits meeting. First Chester started coming out of the safety of the closets, and then he started joining us on the bed, and then he started coming when Z. - and only Z. - called his name. He took to curling up on my pillow next to Z. the moment I left the bed in the morning. He liked to be on something that belonged to Z. if he could, it didn't matter what it was: motorcycle jacket with stiff bits and pokey bits or cushy red robe or pile of slick magazines. You broke him, I accused. You took a wild animal and made him into just another housecat. It can't be helped, Z. replied. He likes me. And he was right. Chester loved him.

The worst part about his last hours are not thinking of his pained and terrified cries over the phone, or how he must have felt like his own body was drowning him. The worst part is that I think he came downstairs to find us, to find Z., and we were nowhere. I think he wanted us to make him feel better, to stroke his pain away, and we weren't there. In the end, I feel like we let him down. He had a merciful and dignified death, but I am filled with enormous guilt that I wasn't the one to comfort him and wrap him in a blanket that smelled like me so he wouldn't be lonely and scared.

I have had a few pets die, and it has always been swift and sudden, but I have known none of them so long or come to love none of them so well, and I have always been there before. I loathe the gaping tear in my life where he was. I know he was just a cat, but he was my friend, and I loved him.

I don't have any pictures of him because I am not the type lady who takes photos of her animal companions. The best I can do is to tell you to imagine if Aaron Neville were only two feel tall and covered in sable hair from head to foot, and only deigned to sing for you when it was the dead of night. That bulky build, that wild past, that sweet disposition, that lilting tenor voice - if Aaron Neville were a cat, Chester would have been his body double. Because I don't have any pictures of him, here's Aaron Neville instead:

Bye, buddy.