When we lost Scamper last spring, we were already in the process of losing Vanna, too. Vanna had been diagnosed with intestinal lymphoma two years earlier, and, after thriving for longer than expected under the excellent care of her veterinarian, she was beginning to lose ground.
Vanna had been my mother’s cat, which undoubtedly contributed to the depth of my attachment. She was a living link to an unrecoverable past.
What’s more, she flourished in Virginia. In Tennessee, among Mother’s four cats, Vanna had been the neurotic one. The reclusive, skittish one, rarely glimpsed by visitors.
In Virginia, she became the dominant personality in our household.
When the cancer finally overwhelmed her, almost exactly a month after we said goodbye to Scamper, I stumbled into another depression.
Our lively household of three cats had been reduced, in a month’s time, to a quiet household of one. I couldn’t write about Vanna’s death. Could barely talk about it.
Within a year we were losing Sabrina, too.
Sabrina was the sweetest, gentlest cat I’ve ever owned. Perhaps the sweetest and gentlest cat I’ve ever met.
She and Scamper had been rescued, at only a few weeks of age, from a construction site.
She suffered a serious injury at about twelve weeks old, losing one of her eyes and undergoing multiple surgeries to salvage the vision in her other eye. She lived the rest of her life with a slowly advancing cataract, but didn’t seem bothered by her limited vision.
She played and romped through adolescence, survived an episode of liver failure in early middle-age, and settled into her senior years with the same calm serenity she had shown from kittenhood.
I had hoped, of course, that we might have a few more years with her, after losing Scamper and Vanna in such close succession. But in November Sabrina began showing signs of discomfort while defecating, our first hint of the rectal tumor that, while repeatedly testing benign on biopsy, was likely malignant at its core.
By March she was too uncomfortable to continue. So I made yet another last trip to our wonderful vet and said yet another goodbye.
Spice’s years as a feral cat ended in 1994, the moment I saw her huddled in the back of a cage with a vast, scabbed wound covering her neck and shoulders. She nosed forward to sniff my hand, speaking in unmistakable cat-language. My name is Spice, and I’ve been waiting for you.
Spice was my constant companion for fifteen years. We shared a dorm, an apartment, a duplex (with my future husband), and, in her final years, a house in the suburbs.
She taught Sabrina and Scamper how to be cats, and they kept her young longer than time should have allowed.
Losing her closed a door on my twenties and thirties. I would never be twenty or thirty again, and I would never have another cat like Spice.
All those that came before
Before Spice? The list is long, stretching through memory into the hazy nostalgia of childhood. Mischief and Jackson. Diana. Gizmo and Annie. Morgan and Shere Khan. Sadie and Daisy. Sheena and Poppy. (This list is far from complete, and includes none of the dogs. I’ll save dogs for a later post.)
Many of our cats were named for characters in books and movies. Some came to us already named, relinquished by owners who could no longer keep them, owners who were happy to let an eager young vet assistant adopt the cats they were losing to eviction, a family illness, or one of life’s other jarring turns.
Some of the cats materialized out of thin air, simply showing up in the yard. Others were dumped on the driveway, plucked from parking lots, and chased down in ditches by a trio of sisters who found it biologically impossible to just keep driving. Mother simply sighed and made room for them all, a tide of cats drifting in and out of our lives, in and out of the house each morning and night.
They were never all in the house at the same time, thankfully. Most preferred the yard, sheds, and pasture, most of the time.
Cats have been one of the few constants in my life. They’ve shared all of my memories, every place I’ve ever called home, and almost every job I’ve ever had. I don’t know how to be without cats. In the end, loving cats is part of how I love myself. So…
Meet Duchess and Marie
Cat Team 7 is a local rescue group who work primarily with cats living at Naval Station Norfolk. The majority of their mission involves a Trap-Neuter-Relocate program, but they sometimes have adoptable kittens.
Duchess and Marie (two of a group named for the Aristocats) were trapped in a warehouse in early June, along with two male kittens about the same age. I saw their photo on social media, contacted Cat Team 7, and the rest is happy history.
They were quite shy, in their first weeks here.
Duchess (or Dutch, because sometimes she’s more Killjoy than Aristocat)
Marie (just Marie, because it fits)
It didn’t take them long to settle in. They have plenty of windows, soft beds, toys, and treats.
They are closely bonded, more dependent on each other than Sabrina and Scamper were. They’re rarely apart.
(Except when Marie plays fetch. Dutch, who has no interest in fetching, stalks the action until she can tempt Marie into a thunderous, romping game of chase.)
And me? I’m sharing my life with cats again. That’s enough for now.
Recommended reading about topics that are more urgent and more important than my cat memories:
- “Congress may ban the bump stock, but what is it?” by Joshua Gillin at Politifact
- “No More Shootings That Follow the Rules” by Roxane Gay at The New York Times
- “By age 3, inequality is clear: Rich kids attend school. Poor kids stay with a grandparent” by Heather Long at The Washington Post
- “We Legitimize the ‘So-Called’ Confederacy With Our Vocabulary, and That’s a Problem” by Christopher Wilson at Smithsonian.com
- “The Problem with Sheldon Cooper and the ‘Cute Autism'” by Lydia Netzer at Autism Support Network
- “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” by Peggy McIntosh at The National SEED Project (Yes, I’ve posted this one before. I’ll be posting it again, too. And again. And again.)
Finally, here are three of my favorite recently-read books. Have you read them? What did you think?
Poetry: Who’s Afraid of Black Indians? by Shonda Buchanan
Fiction: Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
Non-fiction: NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity by Steve Silberman (I haven’t finished this one yet, but it’s already one of the best books I’ve ever read)