Actually, her name was Lilly, and she exited my life today much as she arrived: Solely on her terms.
20 plus years ago I already had a cat, a friendly fellow named Baxter only about a year old at the time. Even tempered and affectionate, he would willingly break cat protocol and come when I called (if I offered a treat as a result of this good behavior, I learned there and then that the difference between a reward and a bribe is sometimes... well... whisker thin.)
I was a couple of years sober, and as many young newcomers do, I'd been whining to my sponsor about wanting a Relationship. "A Relationship?!?" he said, his voice an insulting mix of doubt, alarm and scorn, "Fine. Why don't you start with a pet." Thus, Baxter.
The first year I had Baxter I was waiting tables at a little diner down the road from where I lived. It was an idyllic time, and I had just enough sobriety then to appreciate that fact. Meetings, work, home to read a good book with a friendly cat on my lap -- after eight solid years of blackout drinking and brutal hangovers, young as I was that fit just fine.
But then I got a new job, which entailed much longer hours and a terrible commute. The interview process alone scared the schnitzel out of me, but by now in AA I had at least learned to stop reflexively saying "no" to everything -- which, if you're not careful, becomes a non-verbal "yes" to many things. And so, one not-saying-no thing led to another, and (fools that they were) they decided to "give me a chance."
"Won't Baxter be lonely, with you away so much now?" a friend of mine in the Program asked me. (So often an innocent question from an alcoholic masks some self-serving agenda. Ah, dear Alanons, my heart breaks for you sometimes... but then I go back to thinking about myself, as that is the nature of the Beast.)
In this case, the self-serving agenda was the placement of a kitten; one of a litter who'd been born to a ridiculously inbred Siamese who narrowly lost out on being a show-quality cat because of some arcane pedigree standard, and thus her fate was to wind up living with my best-of-intentions alcoholic friend and his dizzying parade of alcoholic boyfriends. As an "almost" show cat there had been some scheme in the background involving breeding kittens to sell, so she'd never been fixed. The ongoing drama of serial relationships in the house made for lax supervision, so when the mood hit her, she slipped out and made the acquaintance of a...er... *cough* traveling man.
One short cat-pregnancy later: A litter of strapping healthy kittens, the very image of what vets call "hybrid vigor."
And last of the bunch, very last, the runt of the litter: My Lilly.
(You know, I don't think she ever forgave the Universe for that early kittenhood betrayal.)
Soon after, (the bare minimum of the appropriate time) my friend showed up on my doorstep, so cheerful and perky he made Mr. Rogers look like the Unabomber. (Heed me well: A perky alcoholic is a con in the making.) "Hi! I know you were worried about Baxter getting lonely with your new job, so... here you go!" He thrust an over-sized shoebox with air holes cut into the top at me and ran down the walk, jumped into his car and peeled out.
I looked at Baxter and shrugged, set the box on the floor and opened it... from inside exploded a tiny blur of fur, streaking across the floor and darting under the laundry hamper. Baxter, intrigued but un-alarmed, strolled over and peered under the hamper, then, deciding that a smell check was in order, began to poke his nose under as well. Several things happened at once: A sound like a tea kettle trying to cuss filled the room and Baxter got a swat on said smeller prompting him to jump back and look at me as if to ask, "Why is the dust bunny screaming?"
Tiny. Outraged. Gorgeous.
Eventually Baxter and Lilly reached the civil detente of two cats living together who, while not truly bonded, appreciated the warmth of snuggling with a fellow napper, and the tit-for-tat of occasional cross grooming. Baxter remained a mellow and friendly fellow till the end.
And Lilly never lost her edge. (Or her figure, for that matter.)
She was loud. She'd gotten that from her Siamese mother. Louder as the years went along. Her default was set at "Suspicious: DEFCON 3," and she was deeply committed to the twin feline modalities of remaining aloof and disdainful.
But late at night, after she did her tiny banshee impersonation, as I sat and wrote she would worm her way onto the chair with me, then move up and either sit on my shoulder like a parrot, her tail across the back of my neck for balance (so petite, she was) or would splay herself across my chest, head and paws over my shoulder, the rest of her trailing down across my heart like an occasionally purring fur corsage.
And in cold weather she would burrow under the covers, demanding in her best tea kettle impersonation that I roll onto my side so she could curl up inside my arms, pressing herself against my heart.
That's the way they get to you, you know.
Maybe two weeks ago I realized with a shock that she'd gone completely blind. And this last week the decline has -- had -- been steady.
As she got worse I could feel all the most dysfunctional parts inside of me wheeze into action: The denial, the procrastination, the avoidance... these are parts of the human experience, I know. And sometimes I think that alcoholics romanticize our disease and our dysfunction to a somewhat ridiculous degree. Are we using it as an excuse? An identity? A con (for ourselves or others)... ? I think that's an essay for another time.
But I can tell you that because I wanted to do right by Lilly at her end, I became acutely aware of these mechanisms chugging away inside me, how they thwarted clear thinking and, most alarming of all, how very deeply rooted they seem to be -- it was like I had to keep snapping out of it. The image came to me of the exhausted driver, nodding behind the wheel and then jerking their head upright in alarm -- that's what it felt like sometimes, as the mental fog of my dysfunction kept trying to uncoil its tendrils across my thinking.
That insight alone is worth further reflection and hard work. And self examination, both in talking with people and in writing, inventory-wise and here on the blog.
But I won't have a scornful little cat laying across my heart as I do, and as is often the way, even when you feel love, the true depth of our connections in life are sometimes only revealed after they have moved on.
Make no mistake, she was a real pain in the ass.
I'm going to miss her so much.