(this is) Not a Black and White World

13 06 2012

ImageYears and years ago, but not so many that I hadn’t already become known among my group of friends for my matched set (at least to other people’s eyes) of tuxedo cats, a friend of mine returned from a trip abroad with this cloth print from Malaysia for me.  He said “you have black and white cats, in a colorful world, so I thought, here, you should also have colorful cats in a black and white world.”  The print is currently up in the room that’s going to become the nursery, although Matt and I haven’t really talked yet about nursery art and whether or not it’s staying.  But it–and the Live! song referenced in the title–have been on my mind for the past few days, as I’ve tried to figure out how to even start this post, let alone what on Earth to write in it.  Another friend recently posted on Facebook about the peaceful, sleepy death of his cat, and how because of it, “the world” had become “less fuzzy.”  My world too has become less fuzzy, and less black and white, and less so many, many other things that it’s hard to start anywhere at all.  Image

The world, Saturday, became less.  Technically, it became less only one cat, albeit one well-renowned and well, well loved Piddy-the-Cat, whose real name probably fewer than four people even remember, because that’s what my mother called him, when he was itty-bitty (you can extrapolate, but I’ll fill the whole thing in later on), and he learned to come when called that, and so it became the name that everybody knew.  My world became less a best friend, a bed-mate, a hand to hold (literally as well as figuratively), a spooning partner, a source of laughter, a source of spontaneous affectionate headbutts, my very favorite pair of sea-foam eyes, and the most rewarding, oft-secret purr I’ve ever known.  And that’s just an awful attempt at a first list.

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Headbutt of love

The best thing, for me, about remembering Piddy-the-Cat, aka Mr. Pids, Pudlin, Piddles, Pittens, Padiddle, P-cat, my prince, my bestest boy, and of course “my sweet baboo” (and also, long, long ago when it was still in use, Sejarez, Sej, and Sir Jar-head the Tyranasaurus Rex with the active fantasy life), is how many people have their own fond memories of the time they spent with him, because we spent a long time together, that cat and I, and as he lived with me for the past sixteen years, he also got to meet, know, snuggle, head-butt, and live with an awful lot of other people (and cats, and occasionally dogs, and once, briefly, even a couple of birds that he never ate, not one time).  Sangeetha called him the best roommate she ever had–and we know he loved her back, because he slept in her bed all the time (when he wasn’t sleeping in her closet), and once he even consented to model a collar for her.  For almost an hour.  It was blue, with a little gingham bow, and was the only collar he ever donned.

Best roommates don’t even judge you when you do your homework wearing devil’s horns.

People in several countries are mourning him right now, which really shouldn’t be surprising, thanks to the internet’s ability to spread news and the penchant of graduate students to cross paths with folks from everywhere: he was with me through ten years of graduate school, and a few years of random mid-twenties housing arrangements before that, and the tail end of my undergraduate education first, before spending the last year-and-a-half of his life practicing married-with-children (or at least child, and dog, which is probably about the same as “children,” if you’re a cat).

Hanging out with Marc and Kassala at study hall.

Counting my husband and stepson, Piddy lived with fourteen other human housemates, and made countless friends, often with people who didn’t consider themselves cat-people and couldn’t have cared less about anyone else’s cats–still, if they stopped by our house, they called out to him, or looked around until they found him, and then greeted him politely, and then sat down to chat with me and wait, until he brought the nuzzling and the headbutts to them.

He was also unfailingly good about tolerating other cats–and dogs, and children–even though he was, of course, superior and indifferent.  Mostly.  Unless there were kittens, and then he could often be found sleeping beside them when no one was looking, making them feel at home.

Sprawling in the summer heat with Dooku and Felix.

Borrowed and boarded cats, adopted-for-keeps and temporary cats, all got the companionship of the Pids, who was everybody’s favorite for a reason.  Well.  Really, for a lot of reasons.  He always did come out to say hello.  He slept on all the roommates’ beds, not just mine, to spread the love around, even though there was never any doubt about whose cat he was.  I got the spoons, and the secret purr, but everybody else was always graced with greeting, and with being napped next-to, and with moral support for academic work of all kinds.

“Helping” with Comp-Rhet reading assignments.

Words are failing me.  This sounds like an encyclopedia entry about the Life and Works of an Important Feline Figure, which is ridiculous, considering that I’ve been weeping around the house for days, inconsolable, falling asleep snuffling on the cat’s favorite stuffed animal, (his inner circle, and they alone, will understand why the words “tiger rape” are funny) waking Matt up first thing in the morning to the sound of yet more crying, wailing that the world will never, ever, be right again without my favorite paw to hold (really: despite how most cats hate their paws even being touched, this cat would, as he started to fall asleep, reach out one or both front paws to touch the closest part of me, and oft as not would finish falling asleep with at least one of those paws closed into my hand).

The “climbing over my shoulder and onto my back to sit down for a nap” phase.

Like all cats, he moved in phases.  There were phases when he slept on my pillow, phases of the foot of the bed, phases of one sofa or another, phases of only sleeping under things–blankets, pillows, feet, notebooks, you-name-it–phases when every night had to start with his insistent burrowing into the bed to lie down and purr in a tent made of covers and whichever of my arms wasn’t petting him, until the arm ached and the cover started to droop, at which point he would fly out of the tent and across the room in a single bound.  There was a looming from the top of the refrigerator phase, a no-amount-of-warring-will-get-me-into-this-cat-carrier phase, a “hell no, I won’t come out of this closet” phase, a catnip addict phase, and an I-must-kill-your-shoelaces phase (that one about fourteen years in length), but not a chase-the-laser-dot phase, because he figured out in the first five minutes of me owning one of those that the light came from the gadget, and after that he would watch my hand instead of the dot.

The “sleeping on Paul’s keyboard” phase

There were phases when he would regularly–even daily–wake me up at 3am yowling, as if desperate for food or water, when both were available, because he wanted a hug.  After I paced around the living room for a few circuits with him in my arms, he would leap down and stay quiet the rest of the night, but he wanted what he wanted, and he would not be denied.

Piddy was my first cat, acquired when I was still living with my mother, who didn’t want a cat, didn’t like cats, and was so insistent about this that she wept when I moved out with him, and then got one of her own.  And another.  And another.  And yet one more to replace the first one when he was gone.

Baby blue-eyes: dubbed by Mom the “itty bitty piddy kitty” & thus for life

When he and I were first a pair, he went literally everywhere with me: shoe-shopping for a friend’s sneakers, to parties in random friends’ basements, down the long driveway to my mother’s mailbox on my shoulder like a parrot, around town perched (dangerously, I now know) parrot-like on the shoulder of the driver’s seat beside my head.  I remember (and still have) the first treasure of mine he broke–a tiny blue-eyed ceramic tiger, now missing an ear.  When we moved out of Mom’s house and my new roommate (then boyfriend) and I were both gone all day to work-and-school commitments, he would be so lonely by the end of the day that I would have to carry him around for half an hour when I got home before he would consent to being put down; that was the year we brought him Kassala, his first kitten, whom he had the grace to never even mind.  He had others, during the 9 years she was with us, but they went on to other homes while she stayed. Then there was a span of three years when it was just he and I again–and boarders and roommates and borrowed friends’ cats and borrowed boyfriends’ cats and borrowed roommates’ girlfriends’ cats–until Matt and I brought Picabo home.

With Kassala in the laundry bin, supposedly a transport to Zimbabwe.

And while Matt likes to talk about how disgusted Pids was about the further indignity of kitten, piled on top of new man, new apartment (he hated moving), fast-moving child, and child’s cat-obsessed dog, the photo-record soon enough shows evidence of curiosity and cuddling.

Caught in the act with Picabo–cuddling.

This is turning into life-and-times again, and who cares, really, other than me.  But it’s sixteen years.  How other than lists and factoids can one even try to capture that much of one life’s story to eulogize such an enormous part of it?  For sixteen years–all the boyfriends, the roommates, the apartments, the houses, the parties, the dogs, the loud music, the jobs, the classes, the mad loves, the teary break-ups, the mournful nights, the endless papers written, the endless papers graded, the entire months–if not years–worth of time on the computer–he was always here with purrs and headbutts and hand-holding and spooning and occasional somewhat-obsessive soft-tongued hand-bathing.

These are the hands made for holding.

He lived with me longer than anybody but my parents, and undoubtedly knew me better, as they never really slept beside me, and he did it for years and years.  He loved me better than anyone, because there were no conditions, no judgments, no arguments, no hard words, and few apologies (except for those times that one vet or another insisted that pills were necessary).  He loved me no matter how stupid I was being, who hated me this time, how much I deserved it, or how long I’d been crying about the same dumb, pointless thing.

He even forgave me after THIS bath. Eventually.

He loved me no matter how many nights a week I was spending at somebody else’s house, forgave me for the three week trip to England and Texas when he had to live in Scott’s basement, being harassed by his dog on a daily basis, and even put up with I-can’t-count-how-many five-to-eight-hour car-trips up or down 81 to Mom’s place for holidays–where he had to put up with sharing his house with all of her cats–including the one he had to spend wedged with the luggage in the way-back of Jason’s old car.  He put up with baths.

Of course, he gave us his fair share of things to put up with as well: the most memorable was his obsession with the above-mentioned tiger (I learned, in time, to warn the cat-sitters; Xaq thought we had a poltergeist, finding the tiger in a different room every time he came to the Blacksburg house to put food in the cats’ bowls), but there was also that little issue about the sink, which then became the bathtub, and how he would only ever drink out of it, not out of the cat-fountain Janet donated to us, not even after the cat-fountain was engineered to be more faucet-like, so the bathtubs in apartment after apartment and finally this house had to either be left on constant-drip or turned on at the cat’s behest repeatedly throughout the day.

Bathtub faucet, with Escher and Jonas.

Drinking out of a bathtub faucet, when you’re a cat, means you flick water up your own nose with your curly pink tongue, so this process was always punctuated by a wheezing cough that sounded like the predecessor to a hairball.  Always.  Every day and night for so many years that I can’t remember when it started.  This same cat would drink lowfat milk, preferably out of my cereal bowls, but rarely half-and-half, would come running through the house with desperate anticipation to drink the water poured out of a can of tuna but couldn’t be bothered with the actual tuna, and would climb anything to achieve a vantage point from which to take yogurt from my hands–or your hands, or anybody’s hands.  When it came to yogurt, he did not discriminate.

Viper lying in wait, ignore, ignore.  You don’t suspect a thing.

He loved boxes–even a few months ago, an empty box on the floor would immediately have a cat in it, and once inside, he would become kitten-feral and ferocious, hunching down inside hoping for fingers to rap across an outside flap, leaping at said fingers with a boxer’s punch of his cotton-paws, and sinking his enormous fangs into the corrugations.  When he was small, I would layer socks 4 or 5 deep on my arms to wrestle with him, in awe of those fangs.  Paper bags were almost as good.  And dear lord, plastic newspaper bags.  I hadn’t had occasion to enact this stunt in years, as it’s been that long since I lived in a house that received a regular, bagged newspaper, but I have every confidence that if I’d had one just last week, we’d have seen it again (and maybe gotten a picture, since in all the years of its performance, that particular scene was never captured).

Paper bag hideout (and Picabo)

Here is what would happen.  I would hold the newspaper bag open along the floor, open end toward him, call the cat, and waggle my fingers behind the clear, closed end.  He would run–full-tilt run–at me, launch himself into the bag to get the fingers, and thus in seconds find himself wedged tight as a sausage, paws mashed into belly, fur smashed all twisted against the plastic sides, maniac teeth snapping at my fingers.  I would usually poke a hole to make sure he could breathe, and then shake him loose of the trap, and then do it again.  And he would run, again, and SHOOMP thud into the bag, trapped sausage, over and over until it was ripped beyond cat-holding capability.  Pids was the originator of how all-my-houses required that housemates and guests learn to play cat-soccer: you dribbled at the door, coming in or out, or he would go out, and thus would begin either a short chase into the grass (where he would lie down, wild-eyed, looking around the jungle as if completely camouflaged) or a long, long wait for him to come out from under one porch or another.

Contemplating an escape-attempt–from a story-and-a-half up.

He never wanted to stay out–when on rare occasions we missed the escape attempts happening, my housemates and I would always find him eventually, back on the porch, plaintively demanding to be let back in (I remember waking up that way one morning in Blacksburg, with no idea that he’d gotten out the night before, I can’t count the number of times he jumped off the balcony of my Woodbridge apartment before I stopped letting him out there at all; I also came home from a grocery run no more than a week ago to find him locked out on our porch here on Summit, although he wasn’t on the porch when I left, which means he must have been under it–some tricks never get old, apparently).   He loved Paul’s Mexican blanket, although I can’t find the picture I have of him sleeping on it, and Matt’s rough petting-with-man-hands; he also liked Shawn’s couch, Dave’s feet, Sarah’s lap, Claire’s room, the papasan chair, windowsills, high places, the mouse-scented attic, and eating the fish food–but only the flake kind.   He liked mushy wet-food, but not the kind with recognizable chunks, and only if it was fish flavored.  He would climb strangers’ heads to get into position to eat shrimp off their forks, and bite strangers if they tried to pick him up–strangers, my mother, and Jason, but not me, unless I was trying to wrangle him back into the house after an escape.

Negotiating some temporary truce with Mom in her kitchen.

He was a fierce maker of fighter-plane ears and an avid plate-licker particularly fond of spicy sauce-leavings, especially Indian or Mexican.  He did not like the dog–any of the dogs in his life, but particularly Maggie, because she insisted on trying to herd him, lick him, or impede his access to me, and he did not particularly like Caleb, as he is young and often shrill and moves quickly, but he would allow pet-the-cat lessons, and I did catch him once bestowing a headbutt of acceptance.

Coy upsy-downsy one-eyed sleeper.

What he liked best of all was me.  It feels egotistical to even write that–about a cat, even–but that’s the beauty in the love of an animal.  They don’t know boasting.  They don’t have reasons for choosing who to love beyond the way they feel, and so you can’t really brag back about their choices, because you had no say in the matter.  I held Picabo under my chin incessantly for weeks after Matt and I brought her home.  I fed her and cleaned up after her in the middle of the night; she slept in a box in the bed beside my head until she was old enough to climb in and out of the bed on her own.  I let her gnaw my knuckles and lacerate my arms to her heart’s content, while Matt smacked her for biting and threw her across the (soft and smushy) bed when she clawed at him, and she chose him.  I get notice, occasional purring, visits to the chin-spot of sleeping some nights, for a minute or two, but his is the lap she pours herself into, his the hands she blisses out about, his the voice that makes her purr just by speaking in the room.  They choose whom they choose, and they love whom they love.  And Piddy the cat chose, wanted, sought-out, and always loved me.

The magnificent whiskers.

And when I had to go in to the vet’s office Saturday to say goodbye, after Matt and Caleb came to dispense last pettings, and the vet came to check on us and explain what would happen whenever we were ready, and then they all went out again, the cat who always chose me, who had had to spend his last night on Earth in a cage surrounded by strange smells with an IV in his leg and a catheter in his other parts, who was still wearing the IV and its surrounding bandage, limping on it as he stubbornly explored the sterile, strange room, all curious with kitten-whiskers, climbed up onto the exam-room sofa, hunched into uncomfortable cat-loaf position, let me wedge my fat-bellied self onto the couch to spoon around him, settled his feet, IV and all, out into relaxed cat-loaf position against me, and purred into my hands, giving the petting-hand a weak little headbutt.

This baby is going to have to work hard to love me as much as that cat did.

Keeping my spot warm in the bed.

He ended his life in my arms, in a stinky, hairy blanket that smelled like home, and although it’s perhaps not poetic that the last sound he heard was my snotty, weepy snuffling, at least the last sensation he felt was my left hand holding his chin while my right stroked his face the way it always had before.

The snotty, weepy snuffling isn’t over yet, and at the moment I don’t feel like it ever will be, although I’m old-and-wise enough to know that probably isn’t true.

Showing baby-Picabo the ropes–or at least the front porch.

We’ll get another kitten, because Peeks looks lonely, and the herding dog is beside herself with self-blame–when I had to put him in the carrier to take him to the vet, I asked her to find him, and then ended up finding him myself, behind the wash machine, in the basement she’s not allowed in, while she was upstairs checking closets, so she thinks he’s lost still, and keeps counting her “sheep” (the three humans, one fat belly, and one fat 2-year-old “kitten” who remain) and coming up short.  And, of course, because I want a kitten, since Peeks is so firmly Matt’s cat.  But I’m not fooling myself: whether a new kitten chooses me or not, whether it adores me or not, no matter how much affection it might conjure up or how ridiculously endearing it might turn out to be, it will never–no creature will ever–replace my Piddy the cat.

Portrait of a prince.

And now more pictures, because if you’ve looked at this many, why not a few more examples of the best cat ever being universally adored, adoring, and/or adorable?

Napping with Kassala in Sangeetha’s room

Willing to take a friendly nap with anybody–even Job in his fur-tearing era.

Napping with Matthew in Isaac’s room.

Snuggling with Donovan.

Modeling Sangeetha’s collar.

Snuggling with Arthur-the-foundling, until we found him a home.

Modeling the perfect combination of wakeful snooziness.  Goodnight, sweet prince of cats.

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3 responses

14 06 2012
Claudia

This made me want to cry, in fact, I am teary-eyed now. What a wonderful eulogy for your furry friend. We have two black and white cats and one went missing for a week in late April. I was convinced I would never see him again. The pain was excruciating. Luckily, he did come back to us, and he’s now curled up in “his” chair just across from me. But I have to say, I’m glad you’re going to get another one, even though Mr Pids cannot be replaced. It’s not about replacing though, it’s about softening the blow a bit. Sixteen years is a long time. I’m amazed at how eloquently you summarized all that time. Another friend’s cats died at eighteen or nineteen last year. Fortunately, she had already made a new furry friend, again, not to replace, but to continue the line of her feline friends.

Be kind to yourself and best of luck finding a new little friend for Picabo.

14 06 2012
MaxAnn Twomey

I loved your eulogy to your kitty….I had my Mz Tazz for 16 years plus and it leaves a gap in your life. Take some time to select a new kitten though take time to grieve fully, OK Mammy

15 06 2012
Paul

So sorry to hear of Piddy’s departure from the land of the living. What a long and full life he had — loving and loved. A true companion, he will be missed.

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