There was Muffy. She was the first pet I remember. Muffy, the cat, and Scruffy, the Lhasa Apso. Scruffy died of distemper and Muffy met a bad ending with a badger. There was Sugar, the Cockapoo, who ran away every week. We were always driving the country roads looking for her, until the day we did not find her. There was Winston, the purebred Cocker Spaniel, who never adjusted to life outside the kennel so we returned him. There was Jack, the anorexic Labrador. There was Kinky, the first of our blue-eyed Siamese cats. There was Hobbes, who the veterinarian told us had a personality disorder. There was Bob, who never meowed and seemed to have prehensile paws. There was Elvira, who was quite simply the epitome of the Halloween cat.
Kinky passed away while I was at college. While I was home for the summer, I came home one night from work and my parents gifted me with Martin. He was a tiny blue-point Siamese. He had beautiful blue eyes like Kinky and I would forever after fall in love with blue-eyed cats.
My bed was lofted and I feared he would fall out, so that first night I put him in his bed on the floor. He would not stop meowing, there below me on the hardwood, all alone. In my mind there was only one solution, so for the first few nights I slept on the floor with him, until my mother discovered me. She opened the bedroom door to find me asleep on my stomach, while Martin slept curled in a ball on the back of my head.
Martin made it to California with me. He meowed the entire flight. Nobody knew it was my carry-on that was meowing. I played innocent. For a little while there was Pinky, such a nervous little one. Then they were both gone. In their stead came Henry, the Ragdoll cat who thinks he is a dog, and Casper.
Casper. My Japanese Bobtail. My Maneki Neko. He came from Northern California. I had researched breeds and fallen in love with the “JBT,” but they were rare. The breeder I spoke with did not have kittens, but she knew of one in San Francisco. She was going to be up there at a cat show. She brought him back for me.
I went to her house and when we entered the cat room the dozen JBT’s scattered and disappeared into the furniture. She assured me once we located him I would fall in love. She told me he was special, that he was a lover. “Once you get to know him, you’ll understand,” she told me.
We poked around until she spied him under the bed. She and I sprawled on the floor calling to him for quite some time before she coaxed him out. She stuffed him into my cat carrier and away we went.
When I got him home he immediately hid. He found a six inch space between the couch and the wall and squeezed himself back into the corner. He refused to budge. For three days he refused to budge. I was not sure what to do. How could I live like this, with the cat stuffed in the corner? I thought he might starve himself, so I left little bowls of water and food by the edge of the couch. They remained untouched.
On the third day I went to look for him and he was not there. I found him cowering in the bathroom sink. When he felt my eyes on him he panicked and in a white streak returned to his dark little corner.
On the fourth day he decided he loved me. There was no turning back. From then on he was under my feet, in my lap, on my computer keyboard, in my book. He had to be where I was, no matter where I was. And if you pet him, if you even made eye contact with him, he was just so excited to have a friend, he could not sit still. He would knead and circle and meow and poke. He would purr and purr and purr.
I could hold him only briefly before his excitement turned him into a squirming octopus. I learned to hold his paws in my hand when I picked him up to cuddle him. Otherwise when I went to put him down, he would spin and attach his claws to me like Velcro. He had to be attached, but he could not sit still. It would be the first of a millions times I uttered the words, “Casper, stop!”
When I came home from work he would be there inside the door waiting for me. Half asleep, fur scruffy, stumbling out from the closet and not sure why, except that he knew he was supposed to greet me.
At night, I would build a little wall of pillows around me if I read in bed, otherwise he would poke me incessantly and shove his fishy-breath face in mine. I slept with my back to him or he would not stop moving. He would curl up in a ball and press himself between my shoulder blades.
There was never enough love and he never stopped purring. His purr was more of a coo, like a mourning dove. The moment your fingertips brushed against his fur, he would sing. Even when he got sick, he still cooed.
The only time he refused to purr was during the syringe feeding, the pill swallowing, and the towel swaddling. We got better at that over time, he and I. We made each other pretty mad more than once. I tried to tell him we had to do this. He had to get better. Please.
It was the only time in his life I ever really got to hold him, when he was sick and swaddled. After the pills and food I would hug him until we both fell asleep. When I awoke, he would be purring again, tucked inside the towel, wrapped inside my arms.
A month passed. He was not getting better. He was skinnier. A few times he teased me, eating a bite of food on his own, drinking sips of water, but it never lasted. “This wasn’t supposed to happen,” the vet told me. “It just sucks,” she said. I whole-heartedly agreed. I thought if I fed him enough, if I gave him enough pills, if we tried different pills, things might change.
Nothing changed. And one day I realized it was time. I comforted him as the vet administered the drugs and he cooed right up until the end. I pet him until the purring stopped.
I laid my head on his little belly. I could feel the bones in his skinny body. I could feel the warmth still emanating. I told him I was sorry. I pet him and hugged him until I could feel the warmth start to leave. It was time to say goodbye.
I don’t know how they do it, how they get inside you like that. Muffy and Scruffy, Kinky and Martin, Sugar and Jack. And Casper. He was the sweetest cat that ever was. I am sure of it. Everybody told me so. I got to know him and I understood, and it does not quite feel like home without him.