Fifteen years ago today, my sister’s cat gave birth to a litter of four kittens. I didn’t so much ask my husband as informed him that one of them would be ours.
I’m the kind of person who needs a cat in the house. I’d grown up with a succession of felines, most of them strays that one of my older brothers would bring home and present to my mother with the plea “Can we keep her?” She’d give in after extracting a promise from him that he would take care of it, but you can guess who got up in the middle of the night to let the darn thing out. Anyway, this was in the 1970’s, when bringing your pet to the vet for shots and a spay was considered ridiculously indulgent. As a result, our house never lacked for cats due to multiple litters over the years, and my poor mother would scramble around for homes for the critters. Now and then we’d keep a kitten to replace the cat that had been run over on our busy street (indoor cats were virtually unheard of then, too). I remember finding one in the driveway, probably run over by one of our neighbors. His dust-covered eyeball had popped right out of his head.
The whole point of these pleasant memories is to celebrate the fact that our cat, Gib, has reached the unimaginable age of 15 years old. In human years, she’s what we call “older than dirt.”
She’d been the runt of the litter, a tiny little ginger thing with the distinctive bull’s-eye markings on her side. I knew she was ours the moment I laid eyes on her. We took her home at 6 weeks old, not realizing at the time that it was too early to separate her from her mother and litter mates. But my sister was understandably eager to get rid of the kittens, and I was eager to have her. I’d get her spayed, she’d be an indoor cat, she wouldn’t be like those scraggly, ratty half-feral things we had when I was a kid. She’d be a princess.
It’s my opinion that these several factors-the runt of the litter, taken away from the litter too soon, and her isolation in our seldom visited apartment-contributed to the fact that she turned into the grumpiest, nastiest cat on the face of the earth.
Nobody likes her, and with good reason. On the few occasions we’d have visitors to our apartment, she’d hiss at them and arch her back as if they were the devil himself. If anyone approached her, she’d growl and swat at them with unsheathed claws.
Boy, do people hate our cat.
Still, she was my baby and I loved her. While she tolerated my excessive fawning, it was Jay for whom she saved her adoration. I think it’s because, in the absence of her litter mates, he’d play and wrestle roughly with her, substituting his arm for a sibling. It formed a profound bond in her little kitty mind; and despite the fact that I’m the one who treated her like my baby, and I’m still the one who brings her to the vet and cleans her litter box, it’s Jay she lives for. She’s lucky he still loves her, for all those cat scratches on his arm led to lymphedema in that limb.
Still, she has her good qualities (really). I’ve never had any litter box problems. That’s a big deal. And when Lilly was born, I was afraid I’d have to get rid of her, fearing she wouldn’t accept the baby. Knowing her unadoptable state (who would want her?), I thought she’d end up in a kitty kiln. But I worried for nothing. She’s accepted Lilly and tolerates her, though they’re not best friends. She’s not a lap cat and has never enjoyed being picked up, so no tea parties with dressing up the cat for Lilly. But she hasn’t scratched my child’s eyes out or scarred her in any way. Lilly understands how she is, and they give each other a respectable amount of space. I think the cat was relieved when I directed my maternal instincts elsewhere.
Gib has mellowed a bit with age. She’ll still hiss at strangers if they get too close, but she more readily tolerates company. She sleeps most of the time anyway, and only pads downstairs from her interminable napping to greet Jay and demand love and attention from him. I don’t grudge her this. Every now and then, she’ll allow me to scratch her under her chin or smooch the top of her head. She’ll blink at me in that catty way that says, I know you, I trust you, I can let my guard down around you. You’re okay.
So while she’s not my baby anymore, she’s become an old friend.
Happy Birthday, you old varmint.