The cat's death struck me as the end of an era. It was, of course, the end of her era, but with the death of a pet, there's always that urge to crowd the parentheses and string black crepe over an entire 10- or 20-year period. I cried for it all and spent the next several months wondering why so few songs were written about cats.
I remember the first time I saw her. It was cold and rainy, and Daniel and I had been dragged along on an errand run. We were hurrying back into the car when we saw a little cat in the parking lot, wet and looking completely lost. In the few minutes that we watched, she narrowly avoided being hit twice.
"Mom! Mom! We have to help her!" We cried out, terrified that she would not be so lucky a third time. So we brought a wet and very frightened kitty home, and she quickly became an established member of our household.
'Abandoned' is a big word for a first-grader to learn, and I used it with great pride. "We found our cat abandoned in a parking lot," I'd announce to anyone who was interested, finding it was a great sentence to say because it elicited such a quick reaction in everyone. Teachers and friends' parents were sympathetic and interested, shocked that anyone would do such a thing to a cat and praising me for having saved her from a life of hardship.
I'm the one responsible for naming a primarily white cat Shadow. My dad's parents had a beautiful black cat named Shadow when I was young, that I thought was wonderful. Blind to the color aspect, I proudly christened our kitty the same.
Shadow had a lovely temperament and actually liked children, even young ones who would crawl after her and perhaps not pet her so gently. I loved to stay up reading in bed, and Shadow loved to try to stop me. She would sit in front of my book, kneading her claws into my neck and giving me little kisses. This generally wasn't too bad, but sometimes she'd really dig in and it would hurt! Then I'd have to gently try to extricate her claws and move her down to the bottom of the bed, where she'd stay for a few minutes before sneaking her way back up.
Once I found Shadow on the top of the washing machine, with the handles of a plastic bag stuck around her middle. I have no idea how she managed to get herself into such a situation, but guided her back out to freedom. She avoided looking at me the entire time, and once she was out quickly ran away to cover her embarrassment.
She was a terrific mouser. She caught a mouse we had no idea had taken up residence under the kitchen sink. One day she simply stopped, sat outside the cabinet for a few minutes, then pounced and emerged with a wiggling tail hanging out of her mouth.
Old age was not kind to her, though. Her eyesight began to fail, and when we needed her mousing skills in the basement she'd try to follow her nose, heading off in the wrong direction and following old scents. Her behavior completely changed as she reached senility. We kept expecting her to pass away, preparing as she hit the 15 year milestone, the 17, the 19.
When Nils left on his mission he said his last goodbyes, assuming she would never last the two years he was gone. Once he came back home she purred happily and jumped in his lap. My mom shrugged. "I read somewhere that cats butt their foreheads against things in order to mark them as theirs," she told us. We looked at Shadow, resting her forehead on Nils' chest all evening. He was definitely hers.
She really loved Jeff. Perhaps it was just due to having a new admirer
in her older years, but she thought he was the greatest thing. As soon
as he'd sit on the couch she wanted to jump up on him, purring and
dropping enormous balls of drools all over. Jeff hated that.
Summer of 2012 I was working when I got a text from my mom. "I ran over Shadow," it said. "Taking her to the vet." I demanded to know what happened. "She was in the driveway and she wouldn't move," the reply came. "So I" here the text broke off, and I kept waiting for the rest to come. Finally I had to ask - "So you what? So you just hit her??"
It was no secret that my mom was waiting a little more eagerly for Shadow's death than the rest of us - for an end to the accidents in the basement that resulted from Shadow forgetting what the litter box was. We teased her mercilessly about plotting to kill the cat, orchestrating this "accident." When the vet heard how old she was, she told her that this was like running over her 110-year-old grandmother. In addition to a broken pelvis, she diagnosed her with a thyroid problem that explained her skin and bones appearance and unruly fur. Treatment was unnecessary due to her age, the vet told us, warning that she would probably not make it through this accident.
She was put on bed rest, which lasted a few days before she grew tired of that and refused to stay in one spot. She lived on, though. A little decreased mobility in her hind legs, but still wandering around, meowing at the top of her kitty lungs and begging for human food.
Just about the time that I had decided that she must be immortal, she finally passed on to the other side. Calmly and quietly, and the first of our pets to let go without vet assistance.
Shadow, I hope there is a kitty heaven just for you, where you can relax on books and keyboards and feast on eggnog and cheese.
I love how David Sedaris compares a pets life to parentheses in our lives, containing an era of events. In that sense, Shadow's death officially ends my childhood. She was there as I moved from elementary school all the way through college graduation. It was such a significant time of growing up for me, and for her it was her whole life.
"She lived so long," Jeff told me, "because you loved her so much."
How I remember Shadow, lounging on my bed. Daniel took this picture of Shadow in 1994, and won an award in the school's Reflections contest with it. It was titled, "Kitty Comics"
Reading comics again while on bed rest for her broken pelvis. Wondering if the pumpkin would be good to eat.
Courtesy of Anders.Photo bombing a portrait of Mom.
Exactly a year before she died, I made this guide to understanding Shadow's many expressions. Unlike our other cat Maggie, who always had the same stoic expression, Shadow communicated many types of emotion with her little furry face.
Labels: Oh Brother - The Family Files