My apartment is catless now, and it's a profound adjustment. I've lived by myself almost continuously for more than 15 years, and for 13 of those, I've had a cat. The apartment is very empty. I sometimes still call out hello as I walk in the door, and stop mid-syllable, bereft.
I've had about a half a dozen cats over that time. Most were transients, cats I took in for a month or three and then found proper homes for. My household was anchored throughout by a primary cat, a big affectionate tabby, one for 10 years, and one for three. My 10-year cat, the Wabash Cannonball, was the Platonic -- Klibanic -- ideal of catness. He died of cancer in 1998. I went on the rebound and ended up with the City of New Orleans, a labile animal that resembled a black velvet painting.
Wabash Cannonball had lymphoma, and by the time he was showing symptoms, the disease was progressing rapidly. My veterinarian and I spent a couple of months exploring the possibilities, and it became clear that he could not be treated. It seemed wrong to keep a miserable shell breathing for a few months longer, so she came to my apartment to put him down. She later sent me a card telling me my devotion to my pet and his welfare had been touching to see. Her visit to my home was a profound kindness to me, and I hope that between us we spared him as much pain as possible while hope remained that he could be cured.
I had told my manager the previous day that my cat's appointment was at 10 AM, and I would be in the office around lunchtime. When the door closed behind the vet, I realized how foolish that was. I wasted the afternoon, moping around the apartment, devastated by this outcome and exhausted from weeks of attempting to avert it. About 4 PM, it dawned on me that I was about to spend the night alone in my apartment for the first time in 10 years.
The San Francisco SPCA is an astounding place. The cats live one, and sometimes two or three, to a room, with cat trees and beds and huge windows with lots of outside light. The rooms they live in would rent for at least $500 a month in San Francisco. Attendants are plentiful, and there are washing stations throughout the corridors, making it easy to wash your hands between handling animals.
I admit it. I was looking for a cat that looked exactly like the Wabash Cannonball. Cloning would have been overkill: Wabash was the most standard possible grey tabby cat, and thousands -- maybe even hundreds of thousands -- of cats just like him are born every year. And there were cats like him there, but as I looked I got more demanding. Absolutely no white spots, because he didn't have any. Should be the same age he was when I got him. Not that one, it doesn't have the right look in its eye.
I didn't get Wabash at the shelter, though. I found him in a horse paddock. Well, I went looking for him there. My dad had rented trail horses and was charmed by the affections of this cat. He complimented the owner, who said, "You can have him. We already have a tom, and he's becoming a problem." Dad and I came back the next week and walked slowly through the high grass, looking. I leaned over at a sound, and his stripiness jumped into my arms.
I sat in a room with an older cat for a moment. She was a tabby, but black, and seven years old. Not what I was looking for at all. She was declawed, though, and that seemed convenient. I only sat there for a moment, and she gingerly stepped into my lap and settled down. She had pink eye, and she looked up at me with one eye squeezed shut, the other a brilliant emerald with a sun-pinched black slit down the middle. The SPCA was calling her "Quivers." She needed a friend, and so did I.
I chose poorly, as we do when we are damaged. My great love gone, I made the mistake of thinking I had something in common with a creature that was just as lonely as I was. It was almost a relief when she was diagnosed with a metabolic disorder shortly after I got her. Maybe this would put an end, I thought, to the behavior problems that arose practically the minute I got her home.
It didn't, and while she became somewhat calmer as she stayed with me, I came to resent her bitterly for being just sweet enough part of the time to remind me of Wabash. It made her inevitable destructive moods all the more disappointing, and I made some attempts to find her a new home. Unfortunately, she was a biter, a snapping biter that would go for your face. It's hard to place a cat like that. A rescue organization picked her up, but it won't surprise me if she ends up getting put down one day.
So my apartment is empty now, quiet at least. It's littered, in fact, with more than five years of detritus. Giving up the City of New Orleans brought back memories of Wabash and made me realize I hadn't cleansed the apartment since his death. I've resolved to do that, and in some small ways, I've made progress. Just remaining catless for three months is a large part of that progress, but I've started to cull my clutter as well.
It feels strange to cry over a pet I lost almost four years ago. I cried at the time, but not in a healing way. I was so shocked by the pain in his dwindling form and the cruelty of that gentle creature suffering that I never got to how I felt. I just tamped it down with my need to do what I could for him and, later, with my new pet. It's a relief now to have a clearing to think and make peace.
I got a plant. I have a bad track record with plants, not only because I've tended to keep animals that eat plants. I forget about plants, and I don't really know what to do for them. I think this may be less of a problem now that I don't have a more interactive thing to take care of when I get home.
I'm starting easy, with a spider plant. I hear they are hard to kill. My mother, who has always had lots of plants, nodded approvingly when I mentioned that. And then she said, "If you don't water them at all for long periods of time, they will die. I speak from experience."
April 20, 2002