For the first time in 14 years, I am living in a house without a cat. It’s an odd feeling.
Hey Babe (no other name ever stuck) was born in Pacifica, California, to a friend of a friend of a friend who had taken in a stray cat and then been shocked to find this sweet single stray was actually pregnant with many kittens. I had just moved back to the U.S. from Hong Kong, and I wanted a cat, so I made the short drive from San Francisco to Pacifica to pick up Hey Babe. At first, after I brought her home, she hid in a closet for two days, then came out to mew at her reflection in the mirror. I think she missed her brothers and sisters terribly.
She was incredibly playful, in her first few years, and kept on befriending cats in neighboring apartments. In one apartment, the two cats would just slide their paws under the doors, simply trying to connect with each other. In another apartment, she would climb out our 2nd-story window onto the porch roof, walk around the roof to the neighboring apartment, then climb in their window to play with their cat. She would come home with new toys. Eventually, we had to knock on that neighbor’s door to say, “Hi, you don’t know us, but our cat has been climbing in your second-story window and stealing your cat’s toys — so we wanted to give them back.”
She was with me through my 20s, through lots of apartments. She was with me through grad school. She was skittish, at first, but gradually became a lap-cat, sitting with me while I studied for orals exams, graded undergrad work, wrote my dissertation, moved and moved again, had my heart broken, and got over heartbreak. In my best apartment, for one year, I got to live in the servant’s quarters of a 19th-century house on the banks of Long Island Sound. Waves lapped up eight feet from my backdoor, at high tide, and most of the neighborhood was a nature preserve. That was the place where Hey Babe desperately wanted to go outside, even though up til then she’d been an indoor city cat. I would let her out briefly, but when one of the neighborhood’s large dogs inevitably came bounding across the field, I’d try to scoop her up. She would panic & scratch me. She gave me cat-scratch fever twice that year.
Now I wish I had just let her be outside as much as she wanted.
When I met Ben, one of the reasons I liked him was because he was kind to Hey Babe. The longer he was around her, the less skittish she became. Ben had his own cats, gregarious cats without all HeyBabe’s hangups, and easily twice her size (she’s always weighed less than 8 pounds). They took over the bed as soon as they moved in. After a few days of watching her retreat to the living room every night, Ben said, “Let’s sleep on the couch tonight, so HeyBabe won’t be alone.”
When Soph was born, the gregarious cats kept jumping in her crib, trying to take over the changing-table as a nap-spot. Hey Babe just waited, and watched, and found ways to live with a wiggly newborn. She liked to sit beside me while I sat beside Soph’s bathtub. (She loved it when I pet her with wet hands. We started nicknaming her Dishrag.) Eventually, she started jumping on the bed as soon as we sat down to read a bedtime story. She knew the moments in our day when Soph’s movements would become still, so she could join in.
She and Everett became buddies pretty quickly. Lately, she almost always slept in Everett’s room, purring every time I came in at night to nurse him.
She had pancreatitis a month ago, then got sick again this week. She howled in pain so much last night that I thought it was my human baby howling. Today, we took her to the vet, who x-rayed her, diagnosed lymphoma, and then euthanized her.
Soph says, “I will miss the purring.”
Soph says, “Let’s get another cat and name her Hey Babe.” I said no, of course. I’m not ready for another cat, and if we do get another pet, that animal will have its own name. But, still, Soph is right about the purring. I will miss the purring.