I grew up with cats, but I had not considered having one when I went out on my own. I love cats, but I didn’t want the responsibility. My first non-chosen kitten was foisted upon me on my 23rd birthday by my boyfriend Lou. I suspected he had ulterior motives, that he gave me the cat because I was considering taking a job in London. He knew that I don’t like complications, and taking a cat with me to a foreign country would have been overly complicated. I resisted, demanded he return the kitten from wherever he got it, but Lou eventually won the day. Wizard, as my presumptuous boyfriend called him, was the runt of a Siamese litter. His eyes and his coat were blue, and we assumed he was Siamese, but a few months later, he bore no resemblance to a Siamese. His eyes were no longer blue, and his hair was long, black, and white.
When the time came to take Wizard to the vet to get his first shots, I had no transportation and no carrier for him. I called a taxi, but the driver would not allow a pet. Lou suggested I do what he did– bundle him under my shirt. With no other recourse, I took his advice. Wizard was quiet during the bus trip, purring softly against my midsection. When I entered the vet’s office, the receptionist asked me where my cat was. I brought out Wizard from my shirt, and explained my lack of a carrier, noting that he was very well behaved on the bus. The receptionist gasped, and offered me a free carrier in which to bring him home.
As he grew up, Wizard became fiercely territorial, and attacked anyone who entered my apartment—including Lou. In the end, I fell in love with Wizard and broke up with Lou, although we remained friends.
I never suspected that Lou’s name for Wizard would define the cat’s personality. The first time I came home to my tiny apartment after work to feed Wizard, I could not find him. I opened a can of cat food, the quintessential remedy for errant kittens, plopped a sizable spoonful into his dish, and called his name, but he did not come. I looked everywhere, in every conceivable inch of that miniscule apartment, calling out his name, crawling on hands and knees to look under every stick of furniture, but I could not find him. I sat on the edge of the bed, dumbfounded. As I stared at the gray carpet, wondering what to do, I saw Wiz out of the corner of my eye, coming toward me. He had returned as mysteriously as he had gone missing, an event that would occur frequently throughout his life.
When I moved to the country, I wasn’t sure how Wizard would react. He had never been outdoors, and I was concerned for his safety. For the first six months, I kept him indoors. He had more to look at from behind the large windows and sliding-glass doors of the country house than he’d had from the tiny window of our apartment in the city. Opossums, dogs, turkeys, peacocks, foxes, and other cats tempted him. He clearly wanted to get out and explore the life that waited for him outside, and while he may have been ready to take the next step, I was not. At least, not until I woke up one winter morning to an entirely snow white landscape. Wizard and I stood at the sliding glass door, gazing out at the vast carpet of snow. He seemed transfixed by it, and I thought it was the perfect time to let him go outside because I assumed he wouldn’t enjoy walking in the snow. I slid the door open and watched him walk cautiously outside. With each step, he shook off the cold snow from a paw, set the paw down, and shook another. It was slow going, and he didn’t make it far from the deck. The chill of the snow on his tender paws brought him running back into the house.
I eventually gave in to his yearning to explore the world outside our house. He’d had a taste of the outdoors and was eager for more. I would rather he enjoyed his life outdoors than stare wistfully out the window all day. One afternoon, nearing dusk, I glanced out the window and saw a surfeit of skunks bobbing and bouncing down my driveway toward the street. It was a cheery, amusing sight, all those skunks on their dusky adventures, but when I realized Wizard was shoulder-to-shoulder among them, I was horrified. I flung open the window and shouted his name, but he was already across the street with the skunks, heading towards a large, grassy field. I ran outside and apprehensively followed them from a very discreet distance, intermittently calling out his name. I would have shouted down the sky if it weren’t for the possibility of me—or Wizard—getting sprayed by one or more skunks. I watched them disappear in the fading light and waited for him to come home. Thankfully, he returned a short time later, and he didn’t smell of skunk.
When Wizard was eight years old, I started dating Ted, who had two young boys. The boys lived on the other side of the country with their mother, who would not allow them to spend the summer with Ted unless I was there to supervise and provide a stabilizing influence. In retrospect, I didn’t blame her a bit. Be that as it may, I came home from work one day to find a kitten in the house. Ted had taken the boys to an SPCA fair and adopted the cat. I was livid. We barely had the money to take care of bills—and his children, that summer—not to mention how Wizard would react to the new member of the family. But I couldn’t bring myself to take the cat back to the SPCA. Ted’s oldest boy had named the cat Spotly wotly oxy oxy oxy, better known as just plain Spot. From day one, Spot’s personality was clear: friendly, mischievous, lovable, and adventurous. Wizard, being the large feisty alpha cat, brooked no quarter with Spot. When Spot wanted to play, Wizard had only to whip out his massive paw and send Spot tumbling across the floor.
When the summer ended and Ted’s children left so did Ted. Of course, I ended up with Spot.
Spot eventually needed shots, so I put him in Wizard’s cardboard carrier. A few months later, I used the same carrier to take Spot to get neutered. I had put him in the box, which was buckled up in the back seat, and I was driving the short distance to the vet’s office, about a mile, when Spot went berserk. I glanced into the rear-view mirror and saw him tear at one of the quarter-sized air holes in the box, first with his claws and then, having made the hole larger, his teeth. He ravaged the cardboard so fiercely, he was able to pop his head through the hole, and by the time we got to the vet’s office, he was out of the box and running around inside the car. I debated leaving him in the car and getting another box, but decided against it. I thought I could hold him against my body and walk the short distance to the office. No such luck. He kicked his hind legs, and tore my shirt, but I held him tightly, and dashed to the vet’s door. They saw my state of affairs, and took Spot away, yowling and angry. I was told to pick him up the next morning. In the interim, I bought a heavy-duty carrier that would withstand the wrath and claws of any housecat.
Although Wizard brought me his share of hunted prey from the yard—gophers, moles, lizards and snakes—Spot was king of hunting. When he was nine months old, he leaped out the window I had left open just enough for Wizard to come in and out. I was surprised that Spot actually made it to the windowsill, and even more surprised when, an hour later, he jumped back in with a gopher in his maw almost as large as himself. The gopher was so heavy it fell out of his mouth and rolled across the floor. He jumped in after it, gave it a sniff, and then looked up at me with obvious pride.
All was well until Wizard began to lose weight very quickly. He went from 18 pounds to 9 pounds in a matter of six months, and his previous curmudgeonly attitude changed, not only towards Spot, but also towards the people who came and went in the house. Wizard usually avoided people, and sat only on my lap, but when I saw him sitting on someone else’s lap, I knew something was wrong. Like all my cats he’d had regular vaccinations and examinations every year, so I couldn’t fathom what the problem might be.
After an examination and x-rays, the vet said: Cancer. All through his body. Treatment would merely decrease what little life he had left. The vet offered to make a house call, when the time was right. As the months went by, Wizard became frail, rarely ate, and spent most of his daylight hours under a bottlebrush bush. At night, he slept on the pillow next to my head, something he’d never done before. Oddly enough, he seemed tranquil and peaceful, more loving. I worried that I couldn’t tell if he was in pain.
I wished that he were a wizard so that he could magic away his own illness and stay a little longer. The window route to the outdoors was no longer an option, and he had to call out in a husky voice, eyes large and glowing with strange colors, to be let out. I watched as he changed, loved him as much or as little as he wanted, and grieved. Even Spot left him alone, knowing that Wizard was dying, and that we needed to be kind to him.
He came to sit on my lap one evening when I was eating tomato soup. He seemed hungry for it, and tried to put his paw in the bowl. He meowed, raspy, gazed up at me with his glowing eyes, and so I gave him the bowl to eat from. He ate it all, then curled up into a ball in my lap.
As the months passed, I watched him deteriorate and I realized that I had to make a decision. Continue to see him suffer or have the vet put him to sleep. I started thinking about how it might happen, where it might happen, and where I would put his body when he died.
In the end, he died in my lap under his favorite tree. I buried him under the bottlebrush bush, and painted his epitaph on a chunk of concrete that served as a headstone:
Was loved here
I dug the hole in advance, and a friend came over to help me because I was hardly functional. Spot came by, briefly, to watch me dig the hole, but when we lowered Wizard’s body into the ground, Spot ran away. I didn’t see him again for two days.
For the next year, I mourned. Spot tried to entertain me, but he perpetually reminded me of Wizard’s absence.
At six years old Spot was always charmingly up to something, and the weight of Wizard’s death, as well as my grief, had eased, and life was good.
Spot had taken over territorial duties from Wizard, never passing up a chance to oust the neighbour cats from our property. One day, as I was eating breakfast, I saw a cat I’d never seen before strolling across the patio. All of a sudden, Spot raced across my line of sight. The neighbour cat ran over the small concrete wall boundary of the patio, and Spot, fearless and hardcore, launched himself from the wall, all four legs splayed out like a sky diver, and disappeared beyond the wall. That particular cat was not seen in our yard again.
Spot, my chivalrous hunter, often brought me the dead (and sometimes live) creatures he had managed to capture. I once saw him sitting at the edge of a gopher hole, waiting for his prey, when suddenly he jammed his paw into the hole all the way up to his shoulder and pulled out a massive gopher in his paw. He killed it, and rolled around on it, like cats do. He brought it into the house and ate everything but the butt, as was his style.
He was my little buddy, following me around in the house or hanging out with me when I was gardening. He knew his name. If he was hunting half an acre away from the house, and I called his name, his head would pop up from his meditations on gopher holes, and run at full speed towards me. Just like a dog. He slept with me most nights, though he wouldn’t come in to sleep until very late at night, sometimes covered in dirt or drenched from rain or reeking of something vile. As I was sleeping, he would jump on the bed and meow quietly, just once, to wake me. If I were sleeping on my back, he would walk back and forth over my stomach until he decided which side of my body he wanted to sleep on. There’s nothing like a 16-pound cat repeatedly walking across your belly while you’re half asleep. If I were sleeping on my stomach, he would walk back and forth across my back and then settle in between my legs, pinning the covers to the bed, and making it impossible for me to turn over.
But he didn’t always sleep with me. If I had houseguests for a weekend, he would sleep with them, and in the morning I would hear about his shenanigans. He bit someone’s nose to attract attention. He tried to shove a 200lb man off of the sofa bed. Then there were the two weeks that he didn’t sleep with me at all, which was curious, but since I saw him in the house every day, I didn’t think much of it. Come to find out, Spot was sleeping with the man across the street.
We matured together, Spot and I. When he was sixteen years old, I started to notice that his hearing was failing. I would call his name, but he wouldn’t respond, even if he was a few feet away from me. One day, at dinner time, I called him to come eat. When he didn’t come, I went outside to look for him. He was sleeping on the chaise lounge on the deck. I called his name, and he didn’t respond. I got closer, and called his name, and he didn’t respond. I finally touched him, and he woke up with a confused look and unfocused eyes. I said, “Spot.” And he knew it was me, and came into the house to eat.
Aside from being kicked by a deer once, which cause him to regularly howl in pain for a week, or getting a chunk taken out of his arm by who knows what in the middle of the night, Spot was healthy and happy. He misbehaved with his certain amusing charm. In his advancing age, he sometimes yowled into the closet in confusion, and he sometimes seemed confused when he saw me, as if he didn’t know me.
He became hypnotised by the tall grass field next door, and he would stare out the window at that field for inordinate lengths of time, as if he were waiting for someone or something to arrive. Sometimes, I would sit with him and look out at that field, wondering what was on his mind. Spot was absolutely intent on something lurking in the tall grass. I became concerned that when he went out at night through dearly departed Wizard’s window something terrible would befall him. But if I kept the window closed he would yowl incessantly to be let out, all night long.
These strange changes triggered feelings that our time together was coming to an end. Between his hearing impairment and unusual behaviour, he seemed to be getting ready to go. I felt a sort of quiet, aching restlessness myself as I watched him change. He was waiting for something out in the field, and I suspected there would come a time when that something came for him.
I woke up one morning with a feeling of dread and I looked everywhere for Spot, but could not find him. He hadn’t come in for food that night or in the morning. His food dish was still relatively full. I was agitated, calling out his name, looking in the yard, in the house, to no avail.
Finally finding him was a surreal, gut-wrenching experience. I didn’t see any blood, just his back legs and tail, as if his front part had dived into the grass leaving his behind…behind. I couldn’t cope with what I saw and what it meant. I couldn’t cry, but I wanted to. I was at once feverish and shaking with chill. My mind was blank. After wandering around the yard with my hands on my stomach, hyperventilating, for who knows how long, I went into the house to call a friend. As soon as I heard a voice on the line, I burst into tears, babbling about Spot being dead and I how didn’t think I could bury what was left of him. But I knew I could dig the hole because I’d done it before.
I had the shovel out when my friend arrived. He offered to dig the hole, but I was adamant. I had to dig the hole. I couldn’t put Spot in the hole myself, but I could dig it, and I could make a gravestone for him like I did for Wizard.
Here lies Spot
My little buddy
The trauma and grief stayed with me for months. I couldn’t get the sight out of my head. After a few months of therapy, I was more grounded, but Spot’s death changed me, and I decided to let it change my life entirely. For many years, I had wanted to move away from the rural, isolated area where I was living, and move to a city. I couldn’t imagine Spot in a city. His departure from my life and my home opened a door of opportunity. I began to think seriously about living elsewhere, not only because I wanted to leave, but also every inch of the house and yard reminded me that Spot and Wizard were no longer with me.
As the idea of leaving grew stronger, day after day, I found myself remodelling the house, bit by bit. After four years of work, I was ready to move away for good.
During those Wizard and Spot years, I’d had cats that weren’t given to me by boyfriends, but the boyfriend cats stayed longer and forged closer bonds with me. Although my relationships didn’t last with the men who provided me with cat companions, I am grateful for their contributions. I had such deep, rich, and rewarding relationships with my boyfriend cats, the non-chosen ones that worked their way into my heart, and enriched my life. Both of them, like furry little boyfriends, remains a part of me in their own unique way.
Copyright © 2017 Marla K. Greenway