Robert Kafka, Cat of Cats
It’s a week since Bob died. I’m relieved to not have to worry any more about his being completely deaf, partly blind, camouflaged like gravel and prone to napping in the middle of the parking lot. I’m relieved to not have to clean up his incontinence-induced messes all over the house any more, or to have to wash him, or to have to smell that dying smell he had during those last few days. I’m glad that he’s not hurting any more, and I’m glad we helped him along before things got really bad.
Mostly, though, I just really seriously miss him. I miss the way his little sticky-up cutoff tail felt. You could feel the bone, covered with the softness of the fur that stuck up from the end of the stub. I miss the way his eyes looked when he looked up at me – I’ve never seen love in a cat’s eyes before Bob. Anthropomorphizing? Bite me, Modern Science. Obviously you never had a cat or dog. I miss feeling his purring on my chest. I miss hearing the loud deep rattle of him happy and close.
Bob was an interesting creature with a hell of a story. Much of it we had to surmise from his roadmap of scars and neighborhood oral history. He was born something like eighteen to twenty years ago in a house a few doors down from our old casa in Austin, next to the Bouldin Creek greenbelt. His first name was Kafka. He was born with a sticking-up tail and his people had it amputated. His original people were two women who had lots of cats, and he didn’t stick around. He became a feral, not all the way feral, but close. He lived wherever he lived, probably the woods above the creek, and ate off the porches of the people who fed the stray cats on that street – elderly sisters Miss Laura and Miss Naomi, his original lesbian mamas, the old woman with the yappy mini schnauzer named Schatzi. He was tough and scrappy. He survived a lot of fights. He survived being hit by a car (evidenced by the road rash scars down one side, where no hair grew).
He arrived at our place wild-eyed and skittish, but hungry, scouting things out. He and the resident cat, an ancient matty tortoiseshell named Chelsea, soon made an agreement (she was Queen, and would suffer his company) and he began coming around regularly. He wouldn’t let me pet him for a long time, though. Eventually, being patient and quiet and making myself small, I was able to pet him – briefly, then he’d run. Then, gradually, he began coming into the house – also briefly, with a quick darting exit.
That year, the year 9-11 happened, there were three deaths in my family, all within the course of one week. I lost both my remaining grandparents and my godfather. I witnessed my grandfather, my beloved Pops, die before my eyes. When I came back from Maine, I was a shell. I was hollow with grief. A day or so after I arrived home, I was lying on the couch with the door open, staring at the ceiling, thinking, how am I going to do this? Then that gray bobtail cat walked right into our house, jumped up onto the couch, settled down on my chest, and started to purr. I was claimed. And that was that. He purred on my chest day after day, and his purring healed my broken heart.
Harry, our landlord who also lived on the property, starting calling him McGee (after Bobby McGee, taken from Bob, due to his lack of tail), but I wasn’t going to have a cat named McGee, so Bob it was. He loved our sweet yellow dog, Sunny, though she was a little afraid of him. He kneaded on my tummy when I was pregnant. He fought and fought, and finally yielded to, a big, tough, fluffy fine fellow who acquired the name Blackendecker. (B&D died later, from cancer). Years later, when we decided to move out of Austin, we debated whether or not to take Bob with us. This neighborhood, Bouldin Creek, was his home. We were not convinced he would use a litter box, since he always did his business outside. We were afraid he’d try to come back to Bouldin. He would go stay with neighbors, and disappear for days on end. We just weren’t sure he was entirely OURS. In the end, he showed us that family was what mattered. Home, he told me, is wherever y’all are. And I quote.
In Louisville, he never stopped visiting neighbors, and convinced a few that he was theirs (before we made ourselves known). He would, true to form, be gone for long nights and days, to reappear a few days later fat and smiling. He was a deadly hunter of small bunnies, squirrels, moles, mice, and birds. He had a special liking for cardinals. He left parts on our welcome mat. He nearly died many times throughout his life, starting (we assume) with the car accident. We said goodbye to him three or four times, knowing each time that this was the last, the very last life, but the Cat Came Back. Until it really was the end. And even then, he wouldn’t die. We had to do it for him.
Robert Kafka, Cat of Cats, my sweet Bob. Oh, I miss you. I’m so, so grateful to have had your friendship all these years.