Late last evening, my partner, Walt, and I returned from San Francisco. We left early Sunday morning to join several friends and family for the wedding of our nephew—and surrogate son—to his partner. Our cat, Felix, as always, groused as he watched us pack and followed us to the door for one final “Hrumph” conveying his displeasure at being left behind. “Be good, kitten,” we said, our standard benediction for any trip.
The wedding was wonderful. The ceremony was touching, dignified, and we stood by proudly in the rotunda of San Francisco’s City Hall, misty-eyed as we watched two young people commit their lives and future to love, respect, and trust. But, typical for us, we were eager to get back home, and a big reason for that was Fee. Before boarding the plane, I got a text message from our close friend and neighbor, Sean, who was looking after Felix while we were gone. “Felix seems sad and misses you guys, but is OK,” he wrote.
For the past year, Felix suffered from a hyperactive thyroid that kept his metabolism spinning constantly. He’d have mostly good days, and then he’d hit a trough of sorts that would leave him exhausted. Even then, however, Fee was constantly engaged. He’d sleep for a while and then wander out of his carrier, which sits right here beside my desk, blinking and mewling as he sallied forth to see what we were up to. Our vet recommended surgery and chemo as possible alternatives, but after careful discussion, Walt and I decided either alternative was too invasive and frightening for a cat nearing 15 years old. So we kept him on his meds and prayed that he’d live as fully as possible until it was time…
That moment came between Sean’s visit and our return. Felix wasn’t at the door tonight, to greet us when we came home. Normally, it would be impossible to drop our bags before he went into a long soliloquy about what we missed while he was here alone. There was no indignant speech this time. When he didn’t stumble out into the hall after we called him—he always came when called, always—Walt went into the den. He screamed. I rushed in.
There was no sign of any seizure, struggle, pain, or panic… just Fee, relaxed, laying on his side, half out of his “house” (as we called his carrier) his front paws politely crossed, and staring straight ahead, his mind rifling through his last inscrutable thoughts—looking as he so often did, as if he were thinking quietly to himself, waiting until I tore myself away from the keyboard long enough to head into the kitchen for a fresh cup of coffee. Because I work at home, Felix filled his days trailing behind me. When I moved, he moved. If I took a call and sauntered into the living room, he shadowed me. If I found a late-afternoon pause in my work that permitted a quick nap, he curled up beside me. As Walt and I sunk to the floor, holding one another and sobbing uncontrollably, I couldn’t help expecting him to rouse himself and come console us.
That was Felix in a nutshell. He loved us and cared about our happiness. In my profile, I wrote, “He runs the house,” which he did. He intuitively knew what was best for all of us and he’d fuss up a storm if we didn’t take his word for it. So, for instance, when I worked well past my bedtime—which has been fairly routine since starting Straight-Friendly—he’d plant himself beside my chair and launch a barrage of protests until he wore me down. I’d climb into bed, Walt would stir in his sleep, spooning up next to me, and Fee would jump in on the other side, purring and gently stroking my cheek until I dozed off.
He never missed a beat. When the house filled with people, he hosted our guests as much as we. When we settled down for our regular Saturday night Scrabble games, here Fee would come, dropping a small pile of tinsel-covered balls at our feet; while we played word games, he played fetch. When we turned on music, he pulled out a cat-dancer we bought for him ages ago and sang along as he dragged it around the house. He was forever fearless, alert, incorrigible, often demanding, but never so self-absorbed that he couldn’t stop what he wanted to do and join whatever we were doing.
He loved us supremely. Our pleasure gave him lasting joy. And that was why we loved him supremely and found constant joy in his happiness.
Fee was a birthday present Walt gave me 14 years ago—the greatest gift he’ll ever give me. Walt was a “dog person,” and his decision to bring a cat into the house testified to the size of his heart. But how he found Fee was in itself a testament of this amazing cat’s character. Walt went to the local shelter, not knowing the least thing about choosing a cat. Because he only wanted one, the shelter wouldn’t allow him to adopt a kitten younger than six months old. (Younger kittens were placed in pairs.) Fee had recently been dropped on their doorstep and was just ending the required quarantine period before joining dozens of other cats that freely roamed the premises. When Walt asked about him (the shelter staff had dubbed him “Seinfeld”), they opened his cage. Fee extended his paw and lightly patted Walt on the nose. The search was over.
Tonight, in the middle of our grief, Walt reminded me, “Fee chose me.” From the first, the decision to love and care for us was his. He never failed to live up to his decision, either. He came every time we called him. He anchored himself beside us when we were sick, exhausted, or depressed. He was reliable to a fault, yet always full of surprises and fresh ideas. Oh, how we will miss him and, right now, our sorrow feels impossible to imagine ever overcoming. But we’ll manage it, I’m sure. What will never leave us, though, is our gratitude for having experienced such unconditional, consistent care from a creature who lavished it on us because he chose us and chose to love us without hesitation or expectation.
For the time being, I think I’ll leave Felix in my profile. Even though he’s physically departed, our house will always run on the tender spirit and lessons he provided it. And, although I pledged not to allow Straight-Friendly to get sidetracked with excessive personal information and disclosures, I do it now because there’s not been one post that Fee didn’t somehow involve himself in. Sometimes, he sat patiently in my lap as I wrestled with the words and ideas I wanted to express. Sometimes, he pestered me to pull myself free long enough to rejoin him and Walt—to be part of the family instead of the workaholic in the den. And sometimes, he nuzzled my leg for a moment to make sure I knew he was settling into his house beside the desk.
I apologize for testing your indulgence (if you’re still reading). But in the past three months, God has given me a wonderful new family through Straight-Friendly. And it seemed somehow appropriate that I include you in this oddly beautiful, irrevocably heartbreaking moment in our lives. On Friday, I’ll pick up where I left off, with the previously scheduled “Garden Party” post. But for the next little bit, I hope you’ll forgive my asking for some time to reflect and absorb this loss. And finally, if this seems slightly over-the-top and crazy to you, I pray you’ll understand.
Some see God’s character and power in nature, when they look at sweeping vistas or spectacular storms. For nearly 15 years, we saw His love, patience, and generosity, morning, noon, and night, in a four-pound marmalade tabby named Felix.