Monday, January 21, 2008

My Best Friend is Dead.

My best friend died a week ago today. We didn’t go out to the movies together, we didn’t go out at all, because my best friend was my cat.

Before anyone thinks I’ve gone ‘off my trolley,’ let me tell you the story of my little buddy.

About 12 years ago my house was catless and being overrun with mice. I tried everything possible to rid the house of the problem, but the only time the problem was under control is when I had a cat. One of my friends worked for a vet’s office and was always trying to get me to adopt cats that were brought in to be destroyed, their owners distraught over their decision, whatever the reason, to get rid of their beloved pets. So they always told my friend; “If you can find a good home…”

The first cat she brought over was Celeste. Celeste was a house-bound cat and had no intentions of going outside at all. I called her a ‘defective mouser,’ and pleaded with my friend for another cat to ease my mouse burden. Incidentally, I still have Celeste, and she had never caught a mouse in the 12 years she’s been here.

The next cat she brought over was this orange tabby cat by the name of Tigger. I thought that Tigger was a clichéd name for a tabby, so I wracked my brain for a fitting name for this cat. His first night in my house was a nightmare. He attacked my legs in bed, howled all night and acted if he was going to scratch my eyes out, given the proper moment. Tigger’s previous owner was an old lady who had to go into a rest home and couldn’t take her beloved cat with her, and after that first night, I couldn’t possibly believe why this cat was beloved. I almost called my friend the next day to take him back, but I figured I would give a few days to settle in and I’m glad I did.

I am a huge Seinfeld fan, and the way he acted that first couple of days he lived with me, reminded me of the George Costanza character on that show. So I called him George. The name never took, and he became a hyphenated, Tigger-George for the rest of his life.

Tigger-George wasn’t much of a mouser, but when he was around he would walk up and want to be petted. Even outside, he was a loveable sort of goofy cat, full of life and personality, and would love to be carried around in my arms, because I was the one he took to. We bonded while he helped me change the oil in my cars, was next to me while I sat outside reading and relaxing. In the winter months, I always knew when it was cold outside, he would want to be let out, and if it was too cold, he turned around and made a beeline back indoors, so I coined the name “Catmometer” to describe to people how cold it was at my house. “My Catmometer made it 5 feet out before he decided it was too cold, so it’s COLD today,” would be my response. If Tigger-George made it 15 feet out, it wasn’t so cold and if he stayed out, well, that was a warm day.

I live in a really rural, wooded area, and I had Tigger-George about 4-5 years when a pack of coyotes made a den in the woods behind my house. Coyotes will swipe cats for food, so I worried about Tigger-George’s well being, and when he didn’t come home for a week, I thought I lost him. When he returned, I made the decision to keep him in as an indoor cat. He rushed the door to go outside for about a week, and then he consigned himself to the fact that he didn’t go outside anymore and took his newfound incarceration in stride.

But after this is when he and I really bonded. He seemed to have a sense of when I was upset and he would come over and crawl up in my lap and purr in my ear to try and soothe me. This cat helped me through some really rough times and some personal disasters with his comfort, and I shed more tears into his orange coat than I dare to admit. Tigger-George always had a way of knowing when I needed him, even if it was something stupidly self-imposed like watching a sad ‘chick-flick’ at 3 am and me bawling my eyes out. This cat was always there for me. When I would talk to him, he had a way of looking in my eyes and curling one of his front paws around, in such a way I was sure he was doing this as a way of communication to me that he knew I was there, and needed him. I talked to this cat about women, lack of women, career paths and everything else that and I believe this little cat gave me big courage to face life.

In the past year and a half, his heath started to decline. He started losing teeth and my vet estimated his age anywhere between 18-20 years old, very elderly for a cat. He had a few strokes, he writhed around for about ten minutes one day and the vet said that he was old and this was to be expected. In that same year and half time period, the only food he could eat was baby food, newborn meats to be exact. I befuddled many a grocery store checkout person by the 20-30 jars of Beech-Nut food I would buy at one time. I would get remarks like: “Is this YOUR child? How YOUNG is your baby’s mom?” So at each grocery store I would have a little fun. At one store I made up the story that I impregnated a 23 year old at a party and now was buying our child his food (I’m 50). At another store I used the story that my wife was 47 and this was our first and did the women have any advice for an older couple just starting on the road to parenthood? So even outside of my home, Tigger-George was present in my everyday life, and his aging provided me with all sorts of fun at the food marts.

My father was a Protestant minister, so I had religion shoveled down my throat since I was a young boy, and that’s the main reason I don’t believe in organized religion of any sort, but I do believe that there is a higher spirit that guides us all. Angels? Perhaps. If there is such a thing as angels, perhaps they take on many different forms and maybe, just maybe Tigger-George was an angel sent to me to be with me during this rough period of my life. In the past ten years or so, being around this cat, holding him and feeling his ‘power’ gave me the providence I needed to make some very tough decisions.

Last weekend Tigger-George stopped eating and his eyes grew distant and glazed. I knew the end was near. I held him and told him that if he needed to go somewhere else I understood. He spent last Saturday and wobbling weakly around, laying in front of the heaters and just staring off into nowhere. Before I left for work last Monday, I reached down and petted him and told him goodbye, and he responded by moving his front paws, much the way he did when he was telling me he understood what I was saying. At 2:30 PM he passed. My mother passed away ten years ago, my father died 32 years ago and I don’t ever remember grieving as much for them as I did for my little orange cat.

Goodbye Tiggy… I miss you, and you will be in my heart forever.

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