To understand my relationship with felines, you need to go way, way back, to when I was a small child, living in Brooklyn. My mother subscribed to the usual old wives’ tales about cats, and spared no effort in educating my brother Gene and me with all the “facts” (at least as she learned them when she was a child herself). The one adage that really hit home, however, was the one that said, “They’ll suck a baby’s breath.” (This referred, no doubt, to the propensity cats have for lying very close to, or even upon the chest of, a sleeping person, often near one’s face.) We were also taught that cats had nine lives, always landed on their feet, and that black cats were bad luck. They also had “evil eyes” that appeared to glow in the dark when a flashlight was shown upon them. The reason for this phenomenon is that the backs of their eyeballs include a special reflective layer called the tapetum lucidum, which reflects light. But, hey, what did we know? As a result of my indoctrination, I never had anything at all to do with cats—until 1989, when everything changed.
“We have a visitor,” announced my wife, when I phoned to tell her I’d be home in about an hour-and-a-half from a weekend fly fishing trip to the Catskills (we lived in suburban New Jersey at the time).
“Who is it?” I asked. “Is it Bill Bauer?” Bill was an old friend from South Carolina, who occasionally surprised us with a visit when he was in town. It had been a while, and the prospect of seeing him again was delightful.
“No, it’s not Bill,” she replied somberly. “Actually . . . it’s a little kitten. I . . . uh . . . accidentally ran over its mother with the car, and when I stopped . . . I . . . uh . . . found it on the side of the road.”
“Well, get rid of it!” I groused. “You know how I feel about cats.” (I had shared my dislike of cats with my wife on numerous occasions, so my reaction shouldn’t have come as a surprise.)
“Oh, honey,” she pleaded. “Can’t we please keep it? It’s so cute, and it won’t be any trouble at all, I promise. The kids would love to have a cat again.” (My stepchildren, Lauren and Jared, had been raised around cats, and were always asking me to get one, ever since I had married their mother, eight years earlier.)
“We’ll talk about it when I get home,” I said, and hung up the phone.
All during the ninety minute drive, I kept thinking about how much I did not want a cat. Any negative feelings I had were further reinforced by the scene that greeted me upon my arrival home. Becky and Jared were in the kitchen, down on the floor beside one of the cabinets. They both had tears streaming down their faces.
“Okay, okay. What’s going on? Where’s this kitten?”
“He’s trapped underneath the cabinet,” said Becky. “We’ve tried everything. He just won’t come out, and we can’t fit our hands into the opening.”
“You’ve got to get him out,” cried Jared.
“Hmmm . . . let me see if I can get my hand in there,” I said. But it was no use, the opening was far too small. “Okay, okay, everybody just relax. I’ll be right back.”
I went down to the basement and grabbed a hammer from my workbench. When I returned, everything remained status quo. “Watch out,” I barked. “Everybody back.” I opened the cabinet and quickly removed everything from the bottom shelf. Wham! Wham! I brought the hammer down twice on the bottom of the cabinet, splintering the thin plywood and opening a hole large enough to permit my hand to pass through. I reached inside and felt something warm and furry. It was the kitten. I carefully wrapped my hand around it, and extracted it from beneath the cabinet. I held it up and looked at it. Big mistake. Its eyes met mine and it was all over but the shouting. “Here,” I said, handing the frightened animal to my wife. “Here’s your damned cat.” Now what am I going to do? (I needn’t have concerned myself with that little detail. My mother-in-law, Arminè Giragossian, would see to that.)
The following day, when I arrived at Mom’s house to work on the new deck I was building for her, she chirped, “Oh, honey, I hope you’ll let them keep the kitten. You just know how much they’ve wanted one.” (I was nuts about my mother-in-law, so there was no way I was going to disappoint her. I was screwed, blued and tattooed.)
When I got home that evening, Becky, the kids, and the kitten were waiting expectantly in the living room. I took a deep breath and announced, “Okay, you can keep the cat on two conditions.” Everyone cheered loudly in response. “One, I want to name it. And two, I don’t want anything to do with feeding it, or cleaning up after it, or changing the litter, or anything like that.” Another round of cheers.
So, that night, I named him: Wolfgang Amadeus (after my favorite composer). Naturally, we called him Wolfie, and within a few days, he was sleeping next to me every night of the week. Before long, I was feeding him, cutting his nails, wiping his butt, and changing his litter. In short, I was in “furry love”—and I didn’t care who knew it. Everything went along swimmingly for the next five years. The relationship with my “furry son” blossomed, Becky and the kids were ecstatic, and life was just fine. And then it happened.
We had just returned home after a dinner party. During the course of the evening, I had proudly recounted the story of how we had gotten Wolfie, including how Becky had run over his mother and found him on the side of the road. Later that evening, as we prepared for bed, Becky said, “I have something terrible to tell you.” The blood drained from my face. Is she having an affair? Did somebody die? “What is it?” I asked.
“I didn’t run over Wolfie’s mother. I didn’t find him on the side of the road. I got him at the supermarket.”
“That’s nice,” I replied.
“You’re not angry?” Becky was incredulous.
“Nah,” I said. “It’s no big deal. Let’s get some sleep.” I slipped into bed—alongside Wolfie, of course—and turned out the light. I had officially gone over to the dark side.
Wolfie was thirteen years old when he left us. He was our “Best-est Boy.” He had been suffering from congestive heart failure and kidney disease for quite a while, and neither of us could bear seeing him drag his hind legs around the house any longer. He was in a lot of pain. Finally, I made the decision to have him put down. Once we were at the vet’s, I held him in my arms, all the while telling him “It’ll be okay, I promise, it’ll be okay,” as the vet put him “to sleep” (the irony of those words remained with me for years). Becky and I stayed with him for at least half an hour, and we both cried until we couldn’t cry anymore. I’ve never experienced more heartache than I did that day.
For the record, we now have two cats, both calicos, named Callie (Becky’s) and Cassie (mine). We may be empty nesters, but our home is, and always will be, filled with “Furry Love.”
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