When I first saw her, she was small enough to hold in my hand.
My lover of the past seven years had just moved out, and taken custody of the cat (only fair, since it was originally hers). In sudden need of feline companionship (generally easier and faster to replace than the feminine variety–at least a satisfactory replacement), I responded to an ad on the bulletin board in the local grocery in El Segundo, and went to a house a few blocks from mine that was dispensing kittens from a recent litter.
They were standard-issue tabbies, though a claim was made that they had a Siamese grandmother. There were four of them, playing with each other. That is, three of them were playing, and one was standing back, more aloof. It was a grayish color, with just a hint of brown stripes. It was a little smaller than the others, and looked to be the runt.
I reached over and scratched between its outsized ears. It didn’t seem afraid.
“Her name is Francesca,” one of the girls of the household offered helpfully. I opined that it was a pretty big moniker for such a little cat.
I picked it up to inspect the nether regions, in order to verify the gender, and allow it to be henceforth described by a slightly more specific pronoun. After the inspection, she (as it indeed turned out to be) curled up in my hand, and promptly fell asleep.
I realized that my choice was to either wake her up, or take her with me. She seemed to have adopted me, and it was the beginning of a long relationship in which she would, whenever possible, seek (and generally find, at least for a while) slothful slumber on various temporarily horizontal parts of my body.
I think that she left her mother too soon–she wasn’t properly weaned (perhaps partly because she was the runt of the litter, and could never get enough). For years after I got her, she would suck my finger with gusto if I offered it to her. It also took her a while to learn to, in Garrison Keillor’s immortal words, work up the courage to do what needs to be done.
When I first got her home, Stella (as I subsequently renamed her) hid under various articles of furniture for the first couple days. I gradually coaxed her out with bowls of food and milk.
At first, she wouldn’t go outside. Gradually, she started to adventure out the door, but she would only go as far as the extent of the shade of the house, stopping at the terminator drawn by the sun. She was like a little groundhog, fearing her own shadow.
But eventually, she worked up the grit and gumption to explore the whole yard, and after a few weeks, she would come in only for food and to sleep on me, two passions in which she indulged herself almost to the end of her days.
It turned out that the aloofness toward her siblings at our first meeting was not out of character–Stella hated cats with a fierce passion (again, perhaps a symptom of having to fight for her place at the dairy, and often losing). I’m not sure what she thought she was.
Accordingly, when Patricia brought Jessica into the house a few years later, she didn’t take well to the interloper, growling at her whenever in her presence (other than at dinner time, when she was too busy stuffing her jowls to notice the other cat next door).
Taking her away from her mother early didn’t seem to have damaged her other natural instincts–she was a great ratter, one time cleaning out the garage from an infestation. But she’d been slowing down in recent years, as she approached her fifteenth birthday.
I dropped her off at the vet on Thursday evening for a follow-up visit from her hospital stay last week. She’d been eating all right for the past couple days, but I didn’t get a chance to feed her before I took her in, because I had been working late and had to get her there before the office closed. I boarded her there for the weekend because I was going away, and there was no one else who could get the pills into her twice daily. I planned to pick her up on Monday morning before work.
On Friday, I got a call from the vet. She told me that her blood count was back down as low as it was when I first brought her in the previous week, and that she was extremely weak again, with a lowered temperature. She was afraid that there was more going on than just the blood parasite that had been diagnosed, and for which she was being treated. She thought that without another transfusion, she would not last long.
Unfortunately, even with another transfusion, the prognosis was poor, and it would be very expensive, because this time she would have to go to an emergency clinic to have the blood typed, and a battery of tests to determine what the problem was. She feared that it was perhaps a previously undiagnosed cancer.
The choices were to spend thousands of dollars to keep her alive a while longer, or to see if she could fight her way back again, and hope for the best. She didn’t seem to be suffering, other than being very weak, so there was no consideration of euthanizing her. I was torn because I was two thousand miles away, and didn’t want her to die alone, in a strange place, but I was helpless, short of spending a lot of money that I didn’t have, probably in futility.
We decided to give her one more chance to fight her way through, as she had the previous weekend, but with little hope.
On Saturday, the doctor called to tell me that the fierce little flame had finally flickered out in the night. No more clawing furniture, or catching rats, or sitting on laps, unless she’s gone to a place where all those feline recreations are available in abundance, and perpetuity. Jessica now has no one to annoy by batting her tail, or leaping from heights.
She’ll be cremated, and I’ll scatter the ashes in the yard in which she spent so many contented hours playing and sunning.
How do these little creatures insinuate themselves so deeply, so inextricably into our lives and hearts? We’ve bred them for certain traits over the millennia, but in some ways, just as they adopt us now (as Stella adopted me), perhaps they’ve bred us as well, in a coevolution. It’s hard to know, but I suspect that when we spread our consciousness into the universe, theirs will go with us. And if I go myself, I think I’ll save a few of the carbon atoms from her corporeal existence to take along as well.