This is admittedly not on the same scale of international importance as the death of the pope, but on the other hand, and no offense to John Paul II, it’s more important to me: My cat Rex died either late last night or early this morning. I went to the garage to feed the cats and found him there, next to his little residence (a large pet carrier that we had converted with blankets and other warm things). He lived through 14 years, the last couple not in particularly good health (the picture you see above was him in chubbier days), and there were signs in the last few weeks that it was getting near time. This was not an unexpected exit.
I first met Rex when he was a kitten and the pet of my niece Ashley, who for reasons that are too complicated to go into now had lived with me (as did her mother, my sister) when I first left college and got a job as a film critic in Fresno. I think very early on Rex figured out that I was actually the one paying for his kibble, so he pretty much lived in my room in the apartment, and after my sister and her kids moved out he opted to stay with me.
Thus began a long bachelor association, in which, in typical slob fashion, he and I would each much of the same food, sometimes off the same plate (this might explain why at one point he weighed 30 pounds). He was always a prickly cat — he really didn’t like most people, and at one point he actually tried to kill me by smothering me with his flab (I had put him on a vet-dictated diet, and he disagreed with it) — but he could also be very affectionate, and it was always very clear to other people and other pets that he was my cat.
And indeed, I can say without hesitation that he is the mammal with whom I had lived the longest: 14 years in a row, which not even my mother or my wife can beat, my mother because I spent a year living with an aunt when I was in kindergarten — another long story — and then went to boarding school, and Krissy because, well, we haven’t known each other that long yet. Naturally, I fully expect Krissy to take this record from Rex, but it’ll stand for a few years yet.
As I mentioned, near the end, Rex was getting wobbly. He’d lost a lot of weight and he was only sporadically continent, a condition which resulted in his general relocation to the garage for his final days; he was allowed in the house, mind you, and took advantage of those times to curl up in the rocking chair in my office or to sit in my lap while I typed, but eventually had to go back to the garage. And in fact, that was how his final day went: Lots of time sleeping in my office and sitting in my lap, and then I carried him out into the garage and said goodnight. In retrospect, I’m sad he didn’t spend his last night indoors, but I do know that he was loved right until the end.
I found him this morning, as I said; I put him in a small box as gently as possible and then went up to tell Athena so she wouldn’t wonder where he had gone. She took it actually very well, and wanted to see Rex again, so I went ahead and showed him to her. On the way to school Athena asked if Rex was up in cat heaven; I said that if there was indeed a heaven for cats that he was in it, because he had been a good cat. And then we speculated what a cat heaven might be like. I said that it might be someplace where cats had a lot of things to hunt and chase, like mice. Athena noted that this probably wouldn’t be heaven for the mice, which is true enough. I suggested that the mice were on staff and that when they got caught, they’d say to their captor “Well, Ted, you got me today. But you won’t be so lucky tomorrow!” and then off the mouse would go to his next chase appointment. We agreed that indeed this would be how it worked.
Then I dropped off Athena at school, came back and got Rex, and took him on his final journey to the vet, where he will be cremated. I had the option of having Rex cremated and his ashes disposed of, which is pretty cheap, or having his ashes returned, which is not. I opted for the latter. He was my cat, and he was my friend, and we lived together for a long time. I think I’d like to keep him near me.
Anyway. If you can find time in your thoughts today for my cat, I’d appreciate it. He was a good cat, and his passing deserves to be noted, and he himself deserves to be remembered. I’ll miss him.