On Monday afternoon, December 1, 2009, a year to the day that we moved into our current apartment, my sweet, beautiful little cat, Precious, shook off her transient identity, as we Buddhists say, left her useless body behind, and merged with the universe. Once again. On Halloween she was diagnosed with a tumor growing in her chest cavity and obscured views of her heart on the X-rays. I had not expected such news, though I knew something accounted for the subtle change in her breathing that I detected. She was a modest, uncomplaining little creature, but believe me, she wouldn’t mind one bit that I write a cyberspace memorial to her. Memorial, right, because she would not warm to the word obituary.
How did Precious and I meet? Well, in another apartment in another borough, I was looking out my third floor window, and across the street, I saw a black and white cat walking the outside ledge between two windows, curtains fluttering dangerously. I almost fainted, and right away, I mailed an anonymous advisory to the people, with all kinds of information about cats falling from windows, myths that they always land on their feet and survive, etc. A few weeks later, the apartment was vacant.
During that time, I had met what I called my Fire Escape Cat, Sebastian, a stray who showed up one cold November afternoon. I began to feed and water him from my bedroom window. One day he scratched on the window, and when I looked out, he had stretched his body the length of one step, and there stooped at the food bowl was a small black and white cat. This Sebastian guy had turned his girl on to his stash, but what really touched me was the way that he blocked the stairs while she ate, as if to say Eat all you want. Don’t worry. I’m here to protect you. She was the cutest thing, obviously recently homeless, so each day I’d say to her, “Aren’t you so precious, you’re just a precious thing. Hence the name. Some months later, it dawned on me that Precious was probably the cat in the window across the street. I just had a very strong feeling about it.
The next cat to join was an older orange tabby with a large head and a gnarly meow, so I named him BigHeadRed, because if he’d been a person, he would have looked and sounded just like Redd Foxx, and BigHead sounded as if he’d smoked cheap cigars all his life. Not to be outdone, BigHeadRed brought along his girl, too, a small tortoise shell that I named Marbles.
In addition to my Fire Escape Cats, I had two indoor cats, Keisha and Greyling, who eventually passed away from kidney failure and feline leukemia, respectively, but I continued feeding everyone until one winter, when the somewhat severe depression that I suffered from was compounded by SAD, seasonal affective disorder. All my beautiful plants died that winter, neglected, and my cats saw me, basically, at feeding time. As easy as it seemed, I could not continue with the feedings. It was enough of a task for me to go to my job, feed my cats, come home, go to sleep and then start all over again, so my Fire Escape Cats, after futile clawings at the window, disbanded and moved on. (There’s a story to be told about my reunion with Sebastian and BigHeadRed — a later posting)
One brutally cold February night I was up late, 2 am, at the computer when I heard claws on the window. When I raised the blinds and looked out, I saw Precious. I opened the window and let her in because she was shivering, and it was clear, as I palmed her belly, that she was with kittens. I suspected Sebastian was the father, but Precious’s lips were sealed. Long story short, ten days later, when I came home from work, she had given birth to four kittens.
So, that is how I came to be Precious’s person (a veterinarian estimated her age to be approximately two years old, so Precious was about 14 or 15); I kept her and two of her kittens, Pushkin and Zora, and found the other two, Gadu and Linda, a home with a good friend.
Precious and I (along with the other cats) survived a lot: a fire that burned us out of our apartment; a two-week entrapment (self-imposed) of her daughter in the burned out apartment; life with a friend and her giant Schnauzer; life with a coworker and his companion and their two cats, two ferrets, three birds and aquarium; the passing of her son, Gadu, and a companion cat, Cetci.
Preshy — one of my many nicknames for her — loved the apartment we lived in, with its abundance of windows and light and adjacent gardens with city wildlife (singing birds, other cats, squirrels and the gorgeous vegetation). She started going out on a leash a little past Labor Day, and let me tell you, it was as if she’d always been on a leash.
It brought joy to my heart to watch her stretch out on the grass, graze and fall asleep in the flower bed.
That was her daytime habit. Nights were exciting, because she would walk the block, stopping along the way to test the grass of each person’s lawn. I loved the way she got into that stalking posture because I could then imagine that I was walking with a leopard. Nothing fazed her, not even the dogs and their people who did double-takes when they realized what was at the end of her leash.
Precious would want me to say that she never had her claws clipped. She was the only one I couldn’t clip, because to mess with her front claws meant you were as bad as she was, she being from the street and all, and I was not. She would want me to say that she could be just as gentle, spending days beside you if you were bed-ridden for any reason. She would want me to say she was persistent in getting her point across (another story for another time). She would want me to say she loved to sit with me when I did my Buddhist prayers and chanting and especially enjoyed prayers for deceased animals. She would say that she’d never met a bowl of food that she didn’t like (well, maybe once, a 98-cent box), but water directly from the faucet? Oh, puleeeze, only Brita for me.
She would want me to tell about the night I flung my arms wide in my sleep and wallopped her. There was a beat, and then a war cry, and then two claws and teeth at my wrist. I shook her off and turned on the light, indignant that she would attack me because of an accident, but she just looked at me, blinking, as if to say Watch it, fool.
And yes, she broke some skin that night.
I still marvel at how, on the last day of her life, after she’d had a brief respiratory crisis, the sight of her leash sent her bolting to the door. That was the day I let her out without a leash, completely free to do as she pleased.
She found her favorite corner, which no longer holds flowers but cabbage-like plants, and there she nestled and nested and purred until the cab arrived.
PostScript: I forgot to add: Last night I went outside to have a cigarette (yes, I started) and there was an orange cat sitting in Precious’s corner. He looked at me and I looked at him. And then I started to smile. I felt really happy. And then he went on about his business. Now, I know this cat. He’s kind of a Designated Street Mentor. Last year he befriended a little gray stray kitten and I watched them grow into friends and hang-out pals. A few weeks ago I noticed him with another young cat who follows him around. A couple of nights ago, when he saw Precious sitting in the corner on the grass, he went up to her, nearly nose-to-nose. I’ve always kept her away from the neighborhood cats because I didn’t want her to get hurt or ill, but I didn’t feel any aggression coming from the cat. They looked at each other for a few minutes, neither of them flinching or performing the great feline stare-down, and then he went on his way.