navel gazing


Last Friday, I brought my cat Avey to his vet for a routine dental cleaning and they somehow managed to almost kill him. He had a massive asthma attack and a bad reaction to the long-term painkillers they gave him, and he had to go to the emergency vet for the whole weekend so they could get him breathing comfortably again. Against all the 2020 odds, he pulled through and is doing great now, but it was an awful couple of days. I was really upset because this came out of nowhere–he has never had any known medical issues–and while I’m sure I’ll be devastated when I actually do lose my cats, I hope I’ll at least have a chance to see it coming.

I’ve had Avey and his sister Panda since they were six weeks old. They came to live with me in Boston about two weeks before I started my MLIS and they had little kitty colds that my ex’s dad, a renowned upstate NY vet, readily helped us cure. In retrospect, they were probably too young when I got them, but their clumsy, fuzzy stage was wonderful to behold. The two of them, a good 25+ pounds of cat today, used to fit on my 13″ laptop and Avey was fond of sleeping in my shoe.

2-ish-month-old Avey in a shoe

They’re 10 1/2 now, and both of them have now had near-death experiences, so I’m hoping we just coast comfortably for the rest of their lives now. I was a bit re-traumatized by having to take Avey to the same emergency vet that butchered Panda four years ago, but that place didn’t disappoint this time. A former roommate of mine slammed Panda in a drawer and broke her leg, and somehow was able to commit to a multi-thousand-dollar procedure to put an “extraskeletal fixator” on my cat instead of putting her leg in a goddamn cast. Four months and thousands of dollars later, after her contraption got stuck in the side of her kennel and she mangled herself even worse than before, I wound up taking Panda six hours west to my hometown smalltown vet. Dr. Corcoran laughed at the overthinking of her big-city counterparts (“we always say if you put a cat’s bones in the same room, they’ll heal”) and put a (leopard print!) cast on Panda’s leg. We brought her back for an x-ray in a couple weeks, and… she was fine.

Panda in her misery cone in her misery cage

So, both of these baby beasts are doing just fine today, but almost having to say goodbye to a cat that has slept on my head or under the covers with me every night for a decade was not something I wanted to add to the anxiety docket in 2020. I have a hard time not thinking of my cats as my chlidren, and if you think that’s nuts, I guess cool for you(?). Avey’s licked the tears off my face, man. I’m not sorry for loving his tiny butt.

I’ve lived with cats since I was three years old. The first cat we had was Shadow, a chubby gray lady who started hanging out at my house when she found a generous friend in the form of my mother. She was always kind of a mystery. We don’t know where she came from, but doctors told us she’d had kittens by the time she wound up with us. Next up came Data and Figaro, the first cats that were really mine. I loved the crap out of those boys, a perfect gray tabby and a ragdoll that couldn’t have had less in common. Shadow died in my senior year of high school; Data and Figaro passed the year I graduated from college.

Lionel, a fluffy orange fellow, showed up when I was in seventh grade and my best friend and I wanted to name him Axl, but my mom was having none of that. He used to be called “Buddy” and lived with a pair of Pomeranians, and his owner left him behind on our street after coming over and yelling at my mom about taking care of him one night. Lionel lived a long life; he passed only a couple years ago. There was also Graeme, a very Nermal-to-Lionel’s-Garfield character who became our cat and vanished without a trace in the duration of the summer between high school and college.

The most tragic of the cats my mom and I owned was Serena, the beautiful Maine Coon tabby with a heart of gold who showed up at my dilapidated apartment in West Utica when I was in college. When I moved in to a weird Tudor in the nice part of town with a couple of Boomer-aged roommates, I had to give Serena to my mom. She lived happily with her for a few years until she met a horrific end in the front yard of my childhood home when a pitbull off its leash from a few streets over mortally wounded her before she could find a way to disappear. My mom called me to tell me about it when I was working late one night at the MBLC. I cried and cried alone in those cubicles and then walked over to Modern Pastry and ate three slices of tiramisu and cried some more. I’d seen Serena a week before when I was in town for Thanksgiving. That same year, my grandma died in the spring and I got divorced at the end of summer.

My mom now has three cats, two orange and one black – Patsy, a rare female orange tabby with one tiny piece of white on one foot; Fox, a long-haired creamsicle boy, and Salem, a slinky black cat who loves everybody. Patsy and Salem were shelter cats and Fox was a stray who appeared a couple years ago when I was in town for Thanksgiving, and seemed like he didn’t have the street smarts to stay warm for the winter. I inherited my adoration for our four-legged, nine-lived friends from my mom without a question. Maybe I’m a crazy cat lady, but I’m okay with being an apple that didn’t fall far from that particular tree.

Avey and Panda will always mean so much to me. They were the first cats I had as a fully-formed adult human (I’m not counting Serena because she only lived with me for a few months). They became a part of my life when I was about to shift into a very different chunk of it, not just pursuing my MLIS but delving into my brief semi-serious dalliance with being a musician. I lived alone for the first time with them; I moved to Oregon and back with them; they’ve followed me to progressively less shitty Boston-area apartments. Though I love them both, Avey is practically my familiar, my daemon. As much as everything sucks right now, every time I see him in one of his usual sleepy places, I’m awash with gratitude that he came home safe and sound on Sunday.

Avey in his cave, beneath the covers

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