In our first days together, you ran ahead of me each morning, glancing behind to see whether I went left or right on the way to the kitchen. At times you were so excited you would jump for the sheer joy of it. I was going to get you breakfast and that was the best thing ever.
However, you grew up and you realized I would get you breakfast regardless. Still, it was always fun to jump on the bed at 6 a.m. and swat my eyelid repeatedly. Get up, get up. It’s time to eat. Get up, get up, GET. UP.
Over time you changed your style from eager go-getter to the sauntering diva who decided how fast we walked to the kitchen. Once breakfast was served, you ate a few pieces of kibble, sniffed at it and walked away because there were more important things to do. What they were were none of my business, unless I was supposed to play with you. I respected your independence and used your feigned indifference as a chance to make my own breakfast.
Toward the end you still woke me up but you followed me to the kitchen, keeping close to my feet. More than once I backed into you and half-stepped on one of your paws. You cried out piteously but always forgave me as I apologized profusely and promised to be more careful.
As a kitten, you were curious about everything I ate, but each time I gave you a sample you recoiled, repulsed. How could I eat something so disgusting. Just before the end, you wanted everything I ate. But once you swallowed a bite, the underlying nausea that began putting you off your food kicked in. At the end, even the cheap, supermarket cat food didn’t interest you. You took a few licks of the morsels I had warmed and mixed with water and sometimes a small dose of Miralax, then slowly, laborously staggered back to the my bedroom closet, where you took cover from the assaults of age, arthritis and kidney failure. Finally in the last few days, you stopped eating altogether.
You still came out to nestle beside me as I watched TV or when I finally settled into bed, but long gone were the days when you stood sentinal on top of me, purring so loudly I was sure the neighbor next door could hear you. On those nights, you patted and stroked my face until finally, when I began to drift off to sleep, you left my side for your late-night occupations, having achieved your goal. At the end, when the comfort of my shoulder wasn’t enough to soothe your miseries, you retreated back to the closet after only a few moments with me. You have my respect and appreciation for trying.
Looking back it doesn’t seem like it was over seventeen years ago when I gathered you from your perch on top of your mother on a hot August midafternoon and placed you in my pet carrier and brought you home. In those first days, as at the last, you hid in my closet.
Life assumes patterns, but the reasons for them differ. It takes only one letter to change wariness to weariness, but it takes a lifetime to get there. Your preoccupations shifted from the naughty diva who could clear a desk with one swat of feline disapproval to a grande dame protesting the rivulets of chronic illness to a frail empress surrendering to the final torrent that swept you away for good. Now the only place I find you is in my memories and my heart. Sometimes I think I hear you rustling about in my things in the living room or hopping onto the stool by my bed to see if I’m awake or oblivious or inspecting my loads of laundry. But I know these are the afterimages of a lifelong photo shoot. I had thought the best images had gotten away, but here they are. I am reminded of a line from a Bob Dylan song: “I know every scene by heart. They all went by so fast.”
You have schooled me well about cats, what they are and what they do. But your most important lesson was about something else, and you persistently delivered it with imperious candor: I must let you do your job. What exactly was your job? Well, that was for you to know and me to find out.
It took some time to figure it out, but I did get it. I can say without hesitation that you exceeded all expectations.
It has been a privilege to serve you, your majesty.