The first time I laid eyes on you, I mistook you for roadkill.
It was a hot summer day in Chicago and I was crossing the busy intersection at Ashland and Division in the Bucktown neighborhood. I wasn’t alone, but I might as well have been. I was in a relationship well past its “best by” date, with a guy I was with because I thought it was the best I could do and he was the only person I knew in a huge city.
Who knew that finding you would be the catalyst for realizing that I was worthy of more? Finding my soulmate cat would soon teach me that I could do so much more on my own than I thought I could.
On that July day, I spotted this tiny ball of fluff in the street as the crosswalk counted down to the walk signal, and I cried out “oh no, dead kitty!” in horror. I had seen plenty of those — battered creatures on the side of the road, hit by careless cars speeding to get to something tedious. But you weren’t dead, and when I saw you lift your head, I stopped thinking. I don’t exactly remember rushing out into the street and scooping you up into my arms — I say that’s what happened because it makes sense, it tracks well with what happened next. But it was so reflexive — like I already knew that you were meant to be mine.
But that’s not true, either, is it? You belonged to no one, just like the cat Holly Golightly feeds in “Breakfast At Tiffany’s” before Hollywood tacked on its cringe-y ending. It is more truthful to say that what I already knew was that I was meant to be yours.
The vet that day cleaned the black of car engines and asphalt off you and revealed your tiny tuxedo. She asked me if I wanted you, and I didn’t hesitate. I knew I had never wanted anything more.
Mere months later, I would move out of the dorms and in with the boyfriend just to be nearer to you. It was an unwise move — we would live with him only a few months before I finally ripped the band-aid off and broke up with him. You were my only true constant in my inconsistent life.
From a cheap studio apartment in Chicago to my sister’s couch in North Carolina and back again, it was you and me. When you were tiny, you would find all the smallest spaces to climb into and curl up. You used to rest on my chest and fall asleep. I couldn't move and I would just give in and nap, too — what else was there to do?
You were a hunter. In one short-term home, you snuck away to the attic and brought back a dead mouse that I had to block you from bringing up onto my bed. I know you just wanted to show me your proud work. And the laser pointer — you would follow that red dot so high up the wall, I would have sworn you could fly.
When I moved into my ex-girlfriend’s house, we used a baby gate to keep you separated from her dogs. Your side of the house included the screened-in back porch, where you would mew at the birds who would swoop down onto the deck. While they would peck around for the birdseed that had been tossed out, you would sit watching with curiosity. You were older by then and longed to pounce, but knew there was a screen between you and your prey.
You often reminded me of a Charles Bukowski poem, The History of One Tough Motherf*cker, about a cat that had been through a lot and was still hanging on. I never knew where you had come from. In the early years, you were skittish. As you grew older, though, you began to mellow. At least, with me. You still hissed and swatted at anyone else who came within a foot of you. But I was the one you curled up next to and purred. It never failed to make me feel special. Chosen.
It’s been a year, but I still can’t recount your last days without crying. The graphic images flash through my mind at warp speed and I have to catch my breath. I wish that I never had to feel that helpless, watching someone I love in agony, again. The idea of sharing my space and life with another cat feels impossible, but I do hope that feeling isn’t forever. Although we had 17 years together, it was not enough. You were my one unconditional love in this life, my feline soulmate.