My second grown-up love had blonde silky hair and eyes the color of liquid caramel. He never demanded much of me, apart from the occasional caress and dinner every night. He was a bit feisty, though, and did look perpetually haughty, as if life and people bored him.
Harry lasted nearly four years and then died suddenly. My Persian cat was my child before I had children. When he died I felt the grief of knowing he died too young.
We replaced Harry with Robbie, another Persian. He’s now 11 years old and shows a distinct preference for my company. He wants my attention as soon as I get home and curls up with me on the sofa the minute I sit down. Sometimes I want to shoo him away.
I have long days that start before 7am, and evenings with two kids which are generally chaotic affairs characterized by crying, screaming, pleading, imploring and everything that comes in between. Really, truly, I want to be left alone on occasion to drink my glass of wine in solitude.
And there’s the problem: this cat is what’s left of a life I no longer lead. He came along five years before kids, when I had more time to spare and when I welcomed the love of another thing.
Bottom line: it’s just one more thing to look after and feed – and he costs money. Robbie is insured for more money than we are.
A few weeks ago, Robbie started going to the bathroom outside his litter box, to my increasing irritation. I don’t know if it’s a behavioral thing, but I suspect my return to work, which leaves him alone in a dark flat for most of the day. Yeah, I’d start rebelling too.
One night I get home from work, feeling like a pack mule laden with bookbags and lunchboxes, coats and sweaters, when the Raging Bull slips on a huge pile of his vomit as she literally walks in the door. Well, I wanted to scream. I probably did, for more than a minute.
Last night he has something stuck to his backside - I smell it when I finally plonk myself on the sofa at 9pm. You get where I’m going with this. I wake the English Husband from a deep sleep to tell him that he has to help me hold the cat still while I yank the damn thing off. He utters words to this effect: ‘I am done with animals. I don’t see the point of them any more.’
Was there ever a point? Let’s see, I grew up with animals. There was Zoika, the black poodle who used to bite me because I’d taunt her with names like the black breath ninja of death. Then there was Pinta, a stray we found, who lived until her legs started to buckle from arthritis.
Laika was a dog who liked to escape from the house. We used to chase her down the street in a burgundy Oldsmobile, screaming her name from the car while my brother cried. There was Coco, the cockatiel who used to whistle to me and eat from my plate. There was also Astro, the love bird who liked to masturbate by using his perch as a sex tool (I kid you not).
Gigi was sold to us as a Bichon Frise, but she was actually more of a mutt who eventually lost her teeth. She died in my dad’s arms. And then there was one more cockatiel, two Chihuahuas, another poodle, another cat and finally Chloe, who is now the love of my mother’s life.
All but Chloe and the cat are dead. This is my childhood gone. I never saw my father cry until the day we put Zoika to sleep, the cancer eating her up. I remember first seeing the bloody tumor under her front leg and being astonished at the pungent smell. I was 12.
With the passing of each animal, I ticked off years, decades and eras. You see, animals are more than company. They teach us about life and death, they teach us about love, they give us companionship when we are spent, they don’t judge, they can break our heart. In essence, they teach us everything we need to cope with life.
Sure, Robbie drives me crazy sometimes. The last thing I want to do is clean his crap off the floor when I get home. Yes, he’s one more chore. Yes, his fur lurks in every corner of the house and clings to black clothes like a San Diego Charger fan clinging to hope. He’s a child who never grows up.
But would I give him up? Never. He’s part of my life and bound up in my memories. Surely, that’s the point.