Thursday, September 27, 2007

Rodentia Is Seventeen

Today tastes of sentiment. Of candied violets, of wine left in the bottle till it turns to syrup, of Halloween candy the day before Thanksgiving. Dry, dusty, bittersweet.

Rodentia is seventeen this year.

Rodentia is the elder of the two cats who share my life. She was a kitten when I moved to Phoenix. She was a hand-me-down cat--a friend of one of my roommates had acquired her from a shelter with an eye to looks rather than personality. She was beautiful--a fine-boned, long-haired, green-eyed tortoiseshell.

However, she was antisocial. She was very nearly feral when I met her first, unwilling to be touched at all. So Rodentia was dropped on the roommates with a request to "take care of kitty" for a week or two. So far as I know, her original owner has never asked after her.

I found her a charming and independent cat. A fierce little thing, seven pounds of cattitude. I talked to her, moved slow and easy, and gradually taught her to trust, a little. As a kitten, she'd play fetch with a jingle ball--I'd toss it over the couch that we used to divide the great room, and she'd leap and leap and leap to get it, then come trotting back to lay it at my feet for another go.

But that was years ago.

Rodentia is seventeen this year.

When I found the man who would be my husband, and we finally decided to get our own place so he could walk around naked, I was packing my stuff. My bed and dresser and bookshelf had been moved, I had most of my non-work clothes packed away, and I was stuffing the last T-shirt in a box when one of my roomies, Captain Vectril, knocked for entry and asked if we could chat.

"Sure," I said, "so long as you sit on this box so I can close it."

"Are you taking Rodentia with you?" he asked.

"Wasn't planning to . . ."

"But she's your cat. Or rather, you're her human." I looked at him skeptically. Rodentia would turn into six pounds of hissing flying feline fury if anyone tried to pick her up, and she would rather have her tail braided than sit next to a human.

I said as much.

Vectril answered, "When you're gone for the weekend, she sits outside your door and cries. When we let her into your room, she wanders around for a bit, then comes back out and wanders through the house yowling because she can't find you."

So, Rodentia was the last thing I packed out of that house to take with me to the new place. She was three then, just all the way out of kittenhood and turning the corner to full-fledged adult cat.

Rodentia is seventeen this year.

It wasn't hard to move from a house to a condo. So far as Rodentia was concerned she was trading one interior for another. We made sure she had balls with bells inside them, especially the fragile caged kind she was fondest of. Even though we stepped on them in the middle of the night and they splintered under our feet.

Rodentia began warming up to the idea of being owned by humans. She would sit in the same room, just sit and watch until she fell asleep. She was friendliest when we were lying down, because then she was bigger than we were. She would climb up on the headboard of the waterbed, look down like a little fuzzy tin god, and purr, and purr. She'd get up on the back of the couch against the western wall, where it was warm and secure, and read over your shoulder. She'd rub up against the soles of your feet when you lay on your back, sharp canines digging softly into your big toes.

She'd jump up onto bookshelves and nap. She'd lay her chin on a book on the floor and go to sleep. We'd ask if she wanted a Japanese wooden pillow for Christmas, and she'd look back, cooly, inscrutably.

She's mellowed quite a bit since those days. She's watching from the other desk as I type this, which is surprising because she doesn't climb very much any more.

Rodentia is seventeen this year.

She hated trips to the vet. She hated to go outside at all, so it got so I'd only take her for a rabies shot to pacify the groomers. Once every three years, we'd go and get the one stick. She'd hear me getting the box out, and run hide quick. Once there, she was well-behaved but terrified. There'd be times when we were finally done with the exams, and I'd let go, and Rodentia would hop back into the H-E-L-L box because at least nothing too bad would happen while you were inside.

This last trip to the groomers was hard. We've used the same person for four years now. He's a cat in a human suit, so I thought they'd be okay together--she's familiar with him and with the procedure. Usually I stay with her the whole way and act as a spare pair of hands.

But he was busy and it was going to be a good hour before he could get going, so I left. About 75 minutes later, I got the call that Rodentia had turned into a little psycho hose beast from hell, and could I come down and help?

So I came down to the shop and Rodentia was huddled in the very back of the kennel, blood on her muzzle from where she had hit the mirror in a mad dash to get the hell out of Dodge.

I stood at the door of the kennel and talked to her. Told her I'd been planning to revoke her driving privileges, but was now reconsidering. Told her how disappointed I was, that she'd told me I didn't need to stand there and hold her while the groomer did his work. How she'd said she was a big cat now.

And slowly, slowly, she crept to the front of the cage and let me touch her. And after a while, I picked her up, and this fierce little animal curled into my chest and clung to me.

She never does that.

I walked her to the table, which would normally be the time for fussing to be put down right now, but she wasn't budging. I stood there and held her for minutes while the groomer finished checking in another animal, and then we finished the job. She's fine as long as I'm there. She'll vocalize, but she doesn't struggle.

And that was when I realized we'd turned a corner. Turned away from late middle age with the occasional bad day, and turned towards old age with the occasional good day.

Rodentia is seventeen this year.

And because I am of the species with the big brain (and the thumbs, yes, and the thumbs) I can see where this is going. I've read Kipling, I know The Tenth Good Thing About Barney, I understand that it is truly Margaret I mourn for.

On the one hand, I grieve. I grieve for the inevitable day when I will bundle her into the carrying box for the last time (promise) and take her to the vet to do the last thing I can for her. To take away the pain forever.

And yet and yet and yet--I do not want to throw away our todays for fear of what will come tomorrow. We've had our ten plus four, plus a little. We'll have whatever we have, until it's all gone and I'm planting marigolds.

Rehearsing, through a little cat, the end we all face.

Rodentia is seventeen this year.


Cindy said...

What a lovely tribute to your furry friend. What a lucky cat Rodentia is to have a human like you! My husband and I have three ourselves, so I appreciate the love.

JoanK said...

Spike, this was beautiful and so poetic. You brought me to tears - Rodentia is lucky to own you and you are indeed lucky to be owned by her. Do enjoy the days and nights each of you are given with one another. Thank you for posting this.

Kathleen H said...

Lovely, poetic tribute. I have done this for my sweet Augie last month. Still crying over it. And wishing I could snuggle into his soft, soft fur.