Sunday, February 07, 2010

My Life, in Cat Years

In July of 1991, about a year after my mother died and I was still getting my adult sea legs at age 23, on a whim one day I found myself at the Delaware SPCA.

I was in search of a black cat, preferably a female who, I hoped, would exhibit the same charming disposition of the calico I loved growing up. (She was named C'mon, pronounced "Simone," after my sister's misreading of the slang phrase in books when she was a kid. To this day, we will say such things as, "Simone! Let's go!" You can imagine the havoc wrought by railroad "X-ings.")

A shelter worker quickly disabused me of the pairing of my desires, reminding me of what I had learned in a college biology class, that color genes are sex-linked, so solid-colored cats tend to be male -- just as calico cats are female.

She showed me to a row of cages. One of them held a tabby kitten; the other, a black one. She let out the tabby and I held her. She squirmed out of my hold, wanting nothing to do with me. Then the woman placed the 4-month-old black kitten in my arms. He curled up against me and began purring. And the love affair began.

In honor of his color I named him Vesper, "of the evening star," also reminiscent of "vespers," Catholics' evening prayers.

He was incredibly annoying.

At night, if I let him have the run of my small apartment in Wilmington, Del., he would dig up the African violets on the coffee table in the living room.

If I kept him in my bedroom at night, he would jump on each piece of furniture and meow, trying to get out.

If I shut him out of my bedroom, he would spend the night meowing and scratching, trying to get in (when he wasn't tearing up the Afrian violets on the coffee table).

But he settled in with me, and I with him, and it came to pass that for the next 18 years, in whatever joyful, devastating, harebrained, ill-advised, wonderful, romantic, miraculous life scenarios I found myself in, somewhere in the frame was a wispy black shadow regarding the antics with gold eyes that held unconditional affection and forgiveness behind a seemingly detached stare.

From Wilmington, Vesper moved with me to Yorklyn, Del., where I shared a house with my college roommate Vicky, her two cats, Theo and Sophie, and Barney, an ornery stray tabby already living there who I would end up adopting.

From there -- now with Barney in tow -- we humped it over to nearby Hockessin, down to Wilmington, N.C., up to Boston, down to a summer in Riverton, N.J., and finally, about 14 years ago, all the way across the U.S.A. to San Francisco.

Vesper was there when I met the man who would become my husband. He was there when that man said goodbye. He was there when I lost my father, and when we lost Barney. He was there in my life for the birth of my best friend Shaken Mama's three girls, who decorated him with ribbons and jewels (above), just days before I had to put him to sleep.

Vesper was dying of congestive heart failure. On Aug. 20, with Vicky by my side and my sister on speaker phone, the vet eased Vesper into the Long Nap as he lay on his favorite afghan, in his favorite spot by the window.

It was the end of an era, a slicing of the umbilical cord that connected me to my 23-year-old self and all the "me's" in between.

And so it was that a chapter of my life closed, and I was on to the second half of my "book." But I will continue to use the memory of a gold-eyed wisp of black as my bookmark, forever marking my place.

1 comment:

Shaken Mama said...

He did look glamorous in his final days, did he not?

And here it is, with this blog entry, my chance to...

Vesper! Pesper! Read all about him!