When I met my now husband, he was a bachelor graduate student, living in a shabby chic Victorian-styled lakefront walk-up apartment in Chicago. He was also a man with a cat. We then became a couple with a cat, and most recently, a family with a cat. Her name was Coltrane, and she came with my husband (in a package deal.) He had her for eighteen years, and she was part of my life for seventeen.
This is not one of those “OHMIGOD! BEST CAT EVER! SHE WAS MY FUR BABY! IT WAS LIKE I BIRTHED HER MYSELF!” eulogies. She was a hard cat to love. She was never declawed, and she wasn’t afraid to show you how proud she was to have escaped such domestication.
She went for my jugular once (I have witnesses,) and if I became too animated (particularly with joyful laughter,) she would attack me like I was prey. Once when my husband and I were still living in sin in Chicago, he left for a few days, and I woke up the first night after his departure to find that she had peed in one of my boots (which took real commitment and athleticism on her part.) She also liked to pee on our bed if she saw me packing, which I guess means that she wanted to keep me home where she could keep an eye on me and torture me. She didn’t trust the world outside to be hard enough on me.
I used to tell people that Coltrane (like all pets) was put in my life to teach me a valuable lesson. In her case, the lesson was, “Just because you love something does not mean that it will love you back.” We also used to joke that Coltrane, fueled by rage, would outlive us and would happily dance (and perhaps pee) on our graves
As of today, that won’t be the case. She lived until eighteen, which is an accomplishment for a housecat. She has been in sharp decline over the last few months, and in the last few weeks was cursed with fecal incontinence. Our vet was compassionate, but frank, and Coltrane was not going to get any better.
What’s important to remember too is that she also was our pet, and we loved her as best we could. Only my husband and I know the hilarious blood feud she had with a stuffed elk once, were sympathetic to her paralyzing fear of the outdoors and remember her wild acrobatic frenzy whenever a feather on a fishing pole dropped into her life. Mornings were her best time, and that meant head butts and rich purrs and something that felt like gratitude, and whenever the house was quiet in the afternoon, she would curl up on your chest and lull you off into a peaceful sleep as she did the same.
But those days are over and have been for her for some time. It is humane to prevent suffering, but it’s a bitch to have to be the one to see that truism through.
If Coltrane leaves me with a lesson now, it’s this: Sometimes you’re an asshole and you go for blood, and sometimes things are quiet and you get to show your true nature through a gift of simple presence. And that paradox, my friends, is life.