Monday I sobbed over my cancer-stricken cat Mokie as our vet slowly, gently injected him with the sodium pentothal that would put an end to our collective suffering. He’d been losing weight since early summer, but never a thin man, he looked fabulous for a period of time before we realized something was wrong. Such a cruel irony that the boy we’d affectionately called “Fat Man”, who tipped the scales at more than 14 pounds at one point, whose head seemed too small for such an engorged body, was wasting away into a delicate skeleton. By the end, he lost more than half his body weight, earning him the new name of “Tiny Love Man”, or TLM for short. It was a mindfuck at best that our boy who once seemed to gain weight by breathing was in a weight loss free-fall, his appetite dimmed, muscles wasted, bones protruding.
Mokie went from a boisterous, energetic, curious big boy, passionate about food and attention to a tiny shadow of himself within a period of three months. We weren’t ready to see him go at age twelve, and we were doing everything we could to arrest his weight loss and get him well again. Just a month before we realized he was sick he came tearing down a flight of stairs, landing on the wood floor and taking a sharp corner with grace and ease. “Is this guy ever gonna age?” I remarked in wonder to myself. Yes, oh yes. Rapidly and before his time. In the last days, we would be carrying him up and down those same stairs.
But before these hard, anxious, dreadful months of vomiting, wasting, ear cream antacids, antibiotics, kidney support drops, raw food, baby food, food mixed with chicken broth and water, running home from work to check on him at lunch, and a hail-Mary pass steroid course there was Mokie, my first cat who changed me forever.
I hated cats. I was afraid of cats. I didn’t “get” cats. I thought they were weird and gross and scary. My dad’s severe allergies meant he hated them, and that I wouldn’t be getting a kitten as a pet. The first cats I remember were some of the worst for making the case for their lovability as pets.
There was Atisa, a neighbor’s crabby old tom whose eyes were red and whose fluffy exterior hid a cruel heart. One time my neighbor friend and I were playing in her room when he leapt onto her, tearing his claws into her on his slide down her back. “Wheeee!” he seemed to be saying, as my friend screamed in agony.
When that neighbor moved, a new friend moved in with a beautiful female tuxedo cat, whose grace and elegance masked her sadism. Legend had it she’d eaten the majority of her most recent litter when they died shortly after birth. Talk about gruesome. Buster would run up to you on the street, rubbing herself hypnotically against your ankles, even caressing the top of your foot with her head. You’d reach down to return the favor and she’d slash open your hand. Every time.
A couple of school pals who were twin sisters had an old, disfigured manx replete with missing tail. Blue’s appearance frightened me, and they took great pleasure in hurling him at me during slumber parties while I was tucked into my sleeping bag on the floor. He hated it, I hated it.
The other cats I came into contact with were aloof, distant, didn’t come when called, didn’t play fetch, had short attention spans and licked their assholes at every chance. Why would anyone ever want a cat? Ugh.
Upon moving to Arizona, my boyfriend at the time started working on me about getting a cat. He had a counterpoint for all my misgivings and stereotypes, but I wouldn’t budge. He was in his first year of law school, and after taking his first midterm, he slid into a pit of anxiety and despair so deep I took him to Pet Smart to look at animals, which had always made me feel better.
No sooner had we walked in the front doors when the cat adoption center became visible, those temporary high-rise condos for cats and kittens alike. Front and center was a large “display case” of a cage that featured four tiny black kittens. He made a beeline toward it and I followed. Even cat haters like kittens, in theory.
Curled up into tight little balls atop carpet-covered pedestals were three sleeping kittens. The fourth was racing back and forth down below, chasing a ball. He jogged up to the Plexiglas when he saw us and proceeded to interact with us, following the fingers we traced along the surface. His green eyes were electric against his velvety black coat, and this little dude was tuned in. He was present. Friendly. Engaging. And 100% cute. We had to have him. Alas, the shelter who ran the adoptions didn’t allow them except on weekends, so we spent two days thinking of names and hoping he’d be there when we went back.
In order to surprise my boyfriend with this special gift, I feigned a loss of interest in the kitten and the subject dropped. No sooner had he left the house on Saturday to hit a college football game than I was in the car, peeling out toward the little man. The store was packed, children and adults crowded around the cat center. This cat hater was hysterical about someone else adopting “Ace” and elbowed small children out of the way in order to snatch his “about me” tag and present it to the shelter folks. I was asked to calm down and wait my turn by a volunteer. I would not calm down until they assured me he was to be mine. Clearly, the little black kitty cast a spell on me.
His soft eight week-old body was placed in my arms, after I experienced a moment of panic about how to hold him, flashing back to Atisa’s rage and Buster’s claws. The thirteen year-old volunteer sensed my hesitation and showed me how to drape him over my shoulder, where he commenced purring loudly. I was holding a cat for the first time, and wasn’t being attacked! Hey, this was kinda nice, actually. Huh.
Our first afternoon together, “Moclips” (named for our favorite beach town on the Washington coast) wandered around our apartment getting into everything he shouldn’t, while I followed, futilely commanding him no, too afraid to reach for him. The first few nights together, I didn’t want him in our room, because I was still unconvinced about the cleanliness factor. The third morning, he leapt off the back of the couch, skidding into my legs as I opened the bedroom door, his delight plain. That’s when it clicked, and my heart and understanding of myself were changed forever.
I felt like shouting from the rooftops, I’m a cat person! And I didn’t even know it! Hallelujah, I’ve been a cat person all along!
Mokie, my tiny black kitty, who became a big fat boy, who wasted away into a tiny little man gave me everything he had in our twelve years together. I used to come home from work in the early days and hoist him onto my shoulder, going about my evening with him perched there. He came when I called him, every time. He always wanted to be touched, always wanted to be loved. He loved to play, his first move upon encountering a toy mouse biting off and eating its felt tail. And oh, he was passionate about catnip. My little boy loved to get high, rolling his body in the stuff until he was covered. He greeted people at our door, looking up at them expectantly with his friendly green eyes. We had a dozen years of perfect health and happiness, and how often can you claim that?
On our last afternoon together, my husband (the boyfriend for whom Mokie had been a surprise gift) lifted the end of the divan under which Mokie had made his lair for the past months. He was in a pose we call “hen”, his limbs tucked into a neat package under his frail little body. I lifted his tiny form and gently placed him over my shoulder, the way I had the first time at his adoption, all those years ago. He was light as air when we descended the stairs he’d once torn up and down to our vet waiting below.
Placed on his favorite blanket on the couch where he’d spent his final months in quiet repose when he didn’t feel like hiding, he roared when the vet injected him with anesthetic. I cheered through my tears, because that was just like him, to express outrage when poked by the vet. Then a glorious calm settled over him, and we could see the pain leave him and we knew for sure what we were doing was right. We took turns holding him and looking into his sweet little face before placing him down for the final shot.
In the moment it was happening we huddled around him, our faces pressed to his, our second cat, Keisha who we got six months after him right there with us. (Our third cat, Lucky couldn’t stomach the scene and stayed hidden upstairs). He purred as we walked into the fire together, and as his purrs dimmed, those of Keisha increased until our vet told us his heart had stopped.
His heart doesn’t stop, though. He will always be my first cat, the creature who changed me profoundly and permanently.