Why is it that when we tell stories about the cats we’ve loved, we so often talk about the accidents, the near-catastrophes and the horrendous messes? One of my very favorite cats, name of 149, was a friendly and affectionate little moggy. Every single morning he nuzzled into the crook of my armpit to knead me, purring while I writhed in happy agony because I’m ticklish. But in conversation I’m more likely to tell you about that time he got a huge abcess under his skin: The vet had to shave his whole side, make two incisions, and thread a plastic tube in one incision and out the other so the abcess could drain. 149 came home in that state. He could only walk sideways, tube side first, as if proudly showing it off.
Once I raised a kitten, Mekon, who indulged in every kittenish virtue: pouncing, chasing, snuggling, passing out in the middle of play. If we get to swapping cat stories, though, I’ll probably tell you about the time he licked my toast and then sneezed into my tea. My cat Quiktrip, a high-strung part-Burmese (with a voice to prove it), slept tucked in behind my knees every night for a year—all night. More often, I remember the day he was inside his cat carrier and got so worked up that he threw himself, carrier and all, off the table where I’d put him while I unlocked the front door.
I think we remember these moments of terror, exasperation and indignation best because those are the times when we most strongly relate to our cats. We aren’t simply cohabitating or engaging in some common owner/pet exchange, but connecting. Even if that connection is the cat saying, I am angry at you for going away, and now I’m going to piss in your suitcase.
We especially remember when those connections are about trust. During the reign of Mekon, I woke one night to find him tapping my head. But he didn’t want to play, he just sat still until I noticed an inch of dental floss dangling from his mouth. I gave it a tug and pulled out a good couple feet. He’d gotten himself into trouble, and even with only a quarter-teaspoon of brains he knew I would help him. We were communicating. Wet, gag-inducing (both of us) communication, but still.
And on the day 149 had that tube put in his side, I walked into the exam room at the vet’s, and the instant 149 saw me he stood up on the examination table and put his paws on my chest, meowing, looking me in the eyes, clearly recognizing me as a friend and ally; begging me to get him the hell out of there. Out of over ten years of living with that cat, that’s the moment I remember most.