In his nearly two decades on earth, our Maine Coon cat, Blatty, saw the world, saved my marriage and endured over-affectionate children to no end. To show our love to him as we buried him yesterday, we put a jingle ball and two of his favorite foods: bacon and Cheetos.
He first came to us in 1996, about two years after he wandered into the New Orleans house of my Lovely Bride’s college friend’s roommate. When the roommate was moving from New Jersey home to Pakistan, Blatty came to live with me as I was moving to New York. He spent his first days living on the sly in a Times Square hotel, where my employer put me up while I looked for an apartment. I begged the housekeepers not to rat me out, and only once or twice did Blatty escape into the hotel.
He loved Alley Cat brand kitty kibble those first few days, but he beelined to my lap when I had muffins or Cheetos. He would lick-lick-lick off all the salty cheesy orange dust and then abandon us to barf on the rug. We learned quickly what not to feed a cat.
Our Pakistani friend named him for the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal, a monster in “The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy” that was so stupid that you could defeat it by putting a towel over your head. If you couldn’t see it, it couldn’t see you.
This cat saved my marriage. Only once, I think, but it was a big one.
I proposed in December 1996, and when I had bought the ring, planned the trip, chosen the venue and popped the question, I was READY.
“Let’s get married in October,” I said. “You know, football weather. It will be gorgeous.”
I drove my Lovely Bride to tears because I didn’t know she had other plans. Apparently, all girls are born with the perfect wedding entirely planned in their heads, like Athena springing forth fully formed from the head of Zeus. Lovely had always wanted a spring wedding, with an off-white empire-waist dress with cap sleeves. And no way no how was she planning a wedding while she finished law school and studied for the bar exam.
Boy did I step in it with that one.
She was in Washington, so I stuffed Blatty in the over-the-shoulder cat carrier and sneaked him on the Greyhound bus from New York, praying I wouldn’t get busted and left on the side of the Jersey Turnpike. She didn’t know I was coming. I hid when I knocked on her door and sent the cat sauntering in with a note on his collar saying “Will You Marry Him in April?”
She still has the note.
Years later, Blatty’s back feet started to slip out from under him, like his foot pads had lost their grip. We didn’t worry, though, because we figured that’s what happens to geriatric cats. And he hopped up on the sink for a drink less often. Lovely Bride and I always said that when he stopped sassing the dog – the dog looooooooves the cat; the cat hates the dog – then it was time for concern.
On Saturday, he parked on the living room sofa and stayed for two days without eating or drinking. When he disappeared Monday morning, I made Lovely look with me behind the boiler, where I always figured he would go. We found him in the basement with legs splayed, as if he went looking for the catbox but his feet gave out. Later I found him – poof – on the basement sofa, as if that’s where he wanted to be all along. Not sure how he got up there.
My Lovely Bride phoned the vet – when I couldn’t bear to – and found out they make house calls for situations like ours. We didn’t want his last moments to include a harrowing car ride (which he always hated) and barking dogs (hated them, too) and a cold steel table (ditto).
When the vet arrived, I had to ask him to park down the block so the kids wouldn’t see his VW bug painted up like a dog – complete with 4-foot-tall tail on the trunk – and know what was up. As I prattled on during the procedure, mentioning that Blatty had lived in New Orleans, New York, New Jersey, Washington and Baltimore, the vet tech said he was better traveled than she was.
The hardest part was seeing our poor cat suffer at the end – and then seeing his life end in a blink.
The other hardest part was telling the kids.
We had prepared them by pointing out that Blatty hadn’t moved for days because he couldn’t walk any more. He hadn’t eaten or drunk for days. For a couple of nights, certain he wouldn’t make it through, we told them to say their goodbyes and give him and extra squeeze.
Carla had the predictably loudest and most immediate reaction, wailing deeply. “When can we get a new cat?” she asked two minutes later, still sobbing. Eddie crawled in my lap and got teary-eyed and red-faced. He’s the one I’m more worried about – he’s older and will remember more, especially missing how the cat’s favorite sleeping place was curled up in bed next to my 8-year-old. Around Carla, who was jealous that the cat preferred to sleep with Eddie, Blatty started hiding after she once tied the him to her bed for the evening. As Carla cried, she lamented all of the mean things she had done to the cat and railed that the cat had never liked her.
We tried to think of favorite memories to share. Lovely Bride remembered taking Blatty in the middle of the night on a New York City bus to the kitty emergency room after a large animal bit a hole in his head, thinking he was done for. Okay, genuine, but not the pick-me-up we were looking for. One time my mother gave us a book about training your cat to talk by using a voice like Minnie Mouse. (It worked – we didn’t need an alarm clock for years.) Then there was the videotape for cats, showing birdfeeders and aquariums and getting our cat worked into a complete frenzy.
The kids cracked a smile.
Then I remembered a bag of Cheetos, forgotten and stashed after a road trip, and the kids sprang off the sofa before I even suggested them as a snack.
We kept the kids home from school yesterday for a three-minute funeral, which I cobbled together out of the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer. It always seems to rain at funerals, but it let up just enough to let us have our little service. We went back inside and cranked up “Stray Cat Strut” to shake the blues away.
Then we ate more Cheetos.
Goodbye, dear puss.
“Stray Cat Strut”
Black and orange stray cat sittin’ on a fence
Ain’t got enough dough to pay the rent
I’m flat broke but I don’t care
I strut right by with my tail in the air
Stray cat strut, I’m a ladies’ cat,
A feline Casanova, hey man, thats where it’s at
Get a shoe thrown at me from a mean old man
Get my dinner from a garbage can
I don’t bother chasing mice around
I slink down the alley looking for a fight
Howling to the moonlight on a hot summer night
Singin’ the blues while the lady cats cry,
“Wild stray cat, you’re a real gone guy.”
I wish I could be as carefree and wild,
but I got cat class and I got cat style.