It was late September of 2001, and I was a first year associate in a big law firm, living on Beacon Hill with my soon to be ex-boyfriend. We were still trying to find our way through the collective national nightmare and hangover of September 11th. Gabe had started smoking again, and we were both pretty frayed from the stress and anxiety. One of us, I don't even remember which, had the bright idea that what we needed to bring us out of our funk was to get a kitten. We both loved and had grown up with cats, and it seemed like the sort of thing that would bring us a sorely needed dose of happy playfulness.
We went to a pet store in a nearby suburb and signed up for a waiting list with a local shelter they worked with. A few weeks later we got a call that two black and white kittens, brothers from a mama cat that had been hit by a car when they were still just tiny, had come in from the shelter and were available for adoption. We needed to come get one that afternoon or it would be offered to someone else. So, we raced down to the pet store only to discover that one of the two kittens had already been adopted. The one that was left had been named Linus by the shelter, a beautiful little black and white kitten with one black ear and one white ear, a mask of black covering about 3/4 of his face, and along his back with a white belly and feet. His tail was black with a tiny little white tip. I wanted him immediately.
As the pet store was filling out the paperwork and loading us up with all of the gear we would need, we heard how we had just missed the family that had adopted Linus' brother Pigpen. I wondered if they had gotten the "better cat," but as we were leaving with Linus in a carrier and a sack full of food and toys, the family came back with the other kitten because they had forgotten something. Linus' brother was almost entirely white with just a few flecks of black here and there. We had clearly gotten the cuter of the two. We drove home with him in the carrier, and it was only when we exited Storrow Drive at the Esplanade that he meowed for the first time. The first of so many.
We renamed him Claudio, at my ex's urging because he was an obsessive classical music fan and at the time his obsessions were with Chilean pianist Claudio Arrau. (He first wanted to name the cat Ludwig or Wolfgang and I said no, so Claudio seemed like a bargain.) He was almost 12 weeks old when we got him, so not a tiny kitten for very long, but extremely energentic and curious. He made us so happy right away, even as he attacked our feet under the covers in the middle of the night, or bit Gabe on the nipple once when he got out of the shower, or fought a little too hard and drew blood and cries of pain when we play fought with him. Claudio played to win, all the time, every time. And as much as I didn't like the slash marks on my arms, the middle of the night attack dive-bombs as he tried to kill the snore monster in my face, or the finicky way he'd been sweet one second and then nasty the next, I loved the little booger.
He was mean to almost everyone, including sometimes me, because he very much did not like people trespassing in his home. He would howl and hiss at visitors when I had parties, and though I tried to tell them not to pet him, he invariably drew blood from someone who pushed it too far. He defied any attempts to keep him from eating people food, including thefts of meat or fish directly off of my plate on more than one occasion. When caught, he would stare you right in the eye and say "what?" like it was your fault for being dumb enough to turn your back for even a second. Even at the end, when he'd poop on the living room floor, he'd just look at me like shame or guilt were the last things on his mind. He had to go, and that was where he happened to be at the moment the urge hit, and I could just forget about talking him out of it. That's how he was.
But he was also capable of being so incredibly sweet, particularly when I was at home alone and feeling lousy. Claudio knew when to give me a nose-to-nose rub, or curl up with a purring belly at my side when I was sick, or hung over, or crying because yet another guy in my life post-Gabe decided to act like a jackass. Most of my friends and family never saw this side of him, but he brought so much comfort to me through some really tough times. Gabe and I broke up 3 months after we got him, then I got laid off and went through a period of extended unemployment, then I went to work in a job I came to hate, I moved several times, then I quit that job and moved to Georgia, then I moved twice more before settling into my house, and through all of this change and turmoil, Claudio was a source of great comfort and peace to me.
He was ridiculously smart for a cat: in Boston, when still very young he would climb my clothes while hanging in the closet, which as you might imagine was not desirable because of all the pulls and tears it caused. I put child-proofing sliders on the tops of the closet doors that were intended to keep him out of the closet. One day as I sat gape-mouthed in amazement watching, he climbed onto the elliptical trainer, jumped from there to the top of the bookshelf next to the closet, and then reached over and slid the childproofing off the door. He then dismounted and opened the closet. I have never seen anything like that in my life. But he was also stupid, and would do ridiculous things like try to sniff a burning candle and singe off half of his whiskers (this actually happened), or go chasing after a bug head-first into a wall.
He loved coffee and cigarettes, which caused my mother to call him Garfield. I don't drink coffee or own a coffeemaker, but when my parents would come to town while in Boston or as they were building their house in Georgia, they would go out to get coffee, and the cat would just go nuts to get his head in their coffee cups. Somewhere in the nascent days of this blog there was a picture of Claudio with his head stuck in a Starbucks cup, but sadly that photograph is now lost to the ether. He would lick the fingers of any smokers I brought home (of which there were...a few), right on the spot where they held their cigarettes. One night a particular guy left an open pack of smokes on the table while we slept, and Claudio ate a part of a cigarette. He looked pretty sick the next day. He also ate virtually anything I put a piece of on the floor for him, including cake, avocado, tomatoes, mushrooms, biscuits, potatoes, you name it. I think most of the time he was just happy that he didn't have to sneak bites when he thought I wasn't looking, so he was damn sure going to finish it.
The day we got him from that pet store, we purchased a cat toy that is essentially a tiny fishing rod with a string and a piece of denim at the end. He loved this toy. When I would take it out of its hiding place in the table next to my front door, he would start making this eh-eh-eh-eh-eh noise that he also made when he was hunting a bug in the house. We would play with this toy for hours, until his nose was so red that I knew he was wiped. I still have that toy, which is now reduced to a bundle of frayed denim threads at the end of that string. We played with it one day this week, but he was too tired to do too much with it.
As I wrote about a few months ago, Claudio was diagnosed with lymphoma in November just before Thanksgiving. I opted to put him on steroids, which temporarily shrank his tumors and gave me nearly three months with him at almost full speed before he started to rapidly decline last week. On Monday, he had vomited a large amount when I got home from work, and I knew the end was coming. He was better on Tuesday and Wednesday when I worked from home while sick with the flu, but he seemed tired. By Thursday and Friday, he was eating far less than usual. On Saturday I could only get him to eat a little bit of tuna, and by Sunday even tuna and chicken were not enticing him like they usually would. The vet had told me that after the steroids stopped working at the tumors started growing again, that eventually I would know it was time to end his life when he stopped eating. That would be the sign that the tumors were starting to close off his digestive system. So, knowing what was about to happen, yesterday I made an appointment at the vet. He seemed so tired and weak all day on Saturday and Sunday, and I knew I wanted to end it before he was in real pain.
Before we left, I brushed him and blow-dryed his back, which I knew he loved and made him purr for the only time that day. I carried him out to the back deck and let him feel the sun and the wind, see the trees and squirrels and birds out there, and to spend a calm and quiet moment with him before changing things forever. The vet examined him, said the tumors were fairly large and pushing on his stomach which was causing him not to eat, and confirmed there was little they could do to treat him at that point. I couldn't be there at the moment he died, so I signed the paperwork and authorized them to give him a sedative with painkiller, and then a controlled overdose of anesthesia to stop his breathing and heart. He growled the whole time while I cried and petted him, praying for a moment of peace as our last few minutes together. Then, they left with him and I waited and cried.
My baby cat is gone. He was 9 years old, would have been 10 in June. He was beautiful, and crazy, and sweet, and mean, and brazen and brilliant, and defiant, and stupid, and loving. He left scratch marks on the walls, stains on my rugs, scars on my arms, unrelenting white fur on every surface of my house, and I will miss him terribly every single day for a very, very long time.