Tuesday, August 4, 2009


In the fall of 2002, Katie called me from work to say that a co-worker was looking to give away two kittens and did I want her to bring one home? We had been talking pets for a few months and while my loyalties at the time leaned dog, the practicality and self-sufficiency of cats made them a better choice for our urban Chicago Uptown digs. Actually, Katie suggested we get the apartment ready and she bring home a kitten two days later but I was undeterred: bring both home at the end of your workday (on the orange line "El," from the end of the line all the way north to red-line Montrose) and I'll make sure they come home to a cat-ready apartment! I took the bus to Petco and bought cat litter, two litter boxes, cat food, cat climbing toys, cat treats, cat nip, food and water dishes, a play toy that consisted of a long wand with a furry thing at the end, and little furry round things filled with catnip. I took a cab home.

Katie arrived home with tiny kittens in a big white pillow case. They were no bigger than the palms of our hands (here's a 2002 photo of our holding the kitties, upon their arrival). One was wiry, aggressive, and loud. Assuming she was a boy, we named her "Chet" after Chet Atkins, one of our favorite country-western guys. The other was quiet, reserved, larger, and covered in incredibly soft white fur. We named her "Lucy" in honor of Lucinda Williams, whose Car Wheels On A Gravel Road was a staple of our CD playlist that summer.

Chet and Lucy were a big part of our lives for the next five years. They moved with us from Chicago to Miami, and on to Romania. We went through the many stages of animal care, from delousing to fixing to litter box location, to some play (they were, after all, cats) to brushing to let-us-be-cats-and-you-know-more-or-less-leave-us-alone. Truth be told, they were easy kittens. Lucy, in particular, had a kind of Ben "Big Baby" Davis quality: big and athletic, she could clear an easy four feet leaping into the air after said dangly cat toy. She took the lead batting at and hiding catnip-filled mice. Lucy was a quiet alpha cat who suffered no grief from Chet. Every few weeks Chet would test, unsuccessfully, the natural order, trying to claim Lucy's favorite spot in Chicago on top of the computer monitor, under the desk lamp; in front of the big sliding glass door in Miami; on top of the yellow leather chair in Romania. Lucy didn't like to be picked up or pet all that much, and unlike Chet she never let anyone put her on her back. But she would sidle up to the bed and sleep near my head, or stretch out under the lamp while I wrote in Indy, resting the pads of her feet against my arm. Lucy was affectionate on her own terms, which I always respected. The last few months, she got in the habit of waking us up in the mornings to go turn on the tub faucet, so that she could drink from it (a habit that followed her to every apartment where she lived). Then, she would return to the bed and climb up on top of my chest and sit there, purring, while I slept.

I wonder, now, if her climbing up on my chest was comforting to her because she had internal pain. Or, worse, if she was doing her best to communicate, in "cat", to us that something was wrong. However it developed, Lucy died of liver failure last Sunday. Cait and I came home to find her nearly-catatonic, unwilling to move too much, and the wonderful, sympathetic Dr. Wong at San Francisco Veterinary Specialists confirmed confirmed our worst fears. Dr. Wong was kind to give us as much time as we wanted to say goodbye; I've said this a few times in emails to friends and family, but it surprised me how much I had to say to Lucy, how much I wanted to communicate as best, and probably ineffectively, as I could. Cait and I cried a bunch. The vet let me hold Lucy as she died, which meant a lot to me.

For me, pet eulogies have always ranked up there with paeans to old cars and invocations of fertility deities at dinnertime. Truth is, Lucy was one of my best friends. I really miss her. I'm shocked that she's not sleeping on the red chair in the next room, or wandering in to mew and get a quick chin scratch. Lucy lived with me in five cities, on two continents, for seven years. In that time, she was a great comfort in all sorts of situations. Just knowing she was there, and would be there, gave a kind of continuity to a life that featured some unexpected transitions. More than that, I liked Lucy. She was easygoing, friendly, independent. She made cute noises when she yawned. Most of the time, she looked at me with this kind of "Really, what?" look on her face. If a stranger came over, or if there was a storm, she'd hide under the bed or in Cait's closet, in a shoebox. Unlike Chet, she didn't give Cait a hard time when she moved in and she made immediate friends with Cait's sister, Jilly.

I've been listening to Death Cab for Cutie's "Scientist Studies" a lot these last two days. Especially, the first two lines get me: "What ghosts exist behind these attic walls? There's got to be a simpler explanation." Strangely, Chet seems generally unfazed by Lucy's absence, though I think in the long haul, it's going to be a transition for her. So, keep both of my kitties in your thoughts. And, here's a poor recording of what otherwise sounds like a great live version of the song (drunken setting aside):


chloe said...

I remember when we cam to your apartment in chicago when i was about five and we would sit on the couch and the two kitties would be climbing all over us, cat hair flying everywhere. I always liked Lucy best ;)

Amanda said...

SO sorry to hear about Lucy. I'm glad you were able to have some time to say good-bye.