I spent a summer in the Midwest a handful of years ago. I would go over to my friend Neil’s house, to watch television or hang out. There were cats everywhere. Mad white cats that would get you stitches if you so much as looked at them wrong. Accident-prone black cats that skulked in the yard. Cats in the attic. Cats in the library. I tried to count how many cats were in the house several times, and failed.
One day while visiting, a tiny ball of fur came creeping out of the shadows towards me. I was sitting on the floor somewhere in the house, doing nothing in particular, and the fur pile crept cautiously closer and closer. She was a new cat I hadn’t seen before, and I was fairly sure I’d seen all the cats in the house. She crawled into my lap, situated herself into a comfy mound, and proceeded to make a noise like a lawnmower.
After that day, any time I was in the house, she would hear me, come out of hiding, and try to affix herself to my lap. If I wandered around the house she would follow me. Neil told me her name was Zoe, and she hated strangers. Whenever a car sounded in the yard– usually a UPS truck– Zoe would vanish back into whatever shadow she had come out of.
I was told she had arthritis in her back legs, and wasn’t as agile as the other cats. The arthritis had gotten so bad at one point, she’d had a titanium joint put in one of them. “The doctor said the options were to amputate, or give her a titanium joint,” Neil told me. “Any other cat and she’d only have three legs.”
And I got it. Because she was the sweetest, most human cat I’d ever met: she was brimming with unconditional affection and none of the haughty indifference that was trademark to other cats.
At the end of the summer I moved to Los Angeles, and a few months later I got a phone call. Zoe had come down with an infection and had to eat special food– only the other cats weren’t letting her anywhere near her bowl. Neil had taken to keeping her in own room, but at this rate, they were going to have to give her away. “Do you want Zoe to come live with you?” Neil asked.
And I did.
Any other cat and I would have said no.
My friend Kitty brought her to me by plane. Zoe was so delirious I swore she didn’t have long to live, and joked that I was operating as a hospice home for cats. I lived in a tiny studio the size of a broom closet, and when I walked from one corner of the apartment to the other, Zoe would follow me, glued to my leg, lost and nervous.
Gradually, she grew healthier and more confident. She became Zoe the amazing barnacle kitty. When people visited, she insistently crawled into their laps to cuddle. She would not move from her chosen perch, even when the object of her affection had stood up to go– she would purr in denial, clinging ever tighter as the lap became a ninety-degree incline.
She only hid when she heard a UPS truck in the street.
She spent most nights sleeping on my face. I should probably mention, I’m terribly allergic to cats.
I fell desperately in love with her. It was the first time I’d lived alone, but I wasn’t alone really, because I had this cat-shaped flood of love and affection with me.
I found out yesterday she’s dying. Tomorrow I go to see her to say goodbye. And it’s harder than I ever would have expected.