I’ve always grown up with pets. My parents had cats before I was born. Of course, the fact that I was born nine years after they got married and they got the cats shortly after they got married meant that those two cats really wanted nothing to do with me.
And really. My parents named them Charmin and Percy. I think Percy was because he was such a regal cat (who sadly got bladder cancer and died a very sad death when I was four). Charmin? Two guesses why my parents named her that. I have to admit that I didn’t get the point of the name until I ummm had graduated college. Then it dawned on me. Yes, she had run away (or so we’re told) when I was seven. It took another fifteen or more years before I figured it out. Sometimes, I’m a bit slow.
I, however, wanted a cat of my own. And what Mommy wants, Mommy gets — apparently. When I was two, my parents took me to a pet store. Of course, we’d never go to a pet store now that we know how they work and all about the wonderful world of shelters. In any case, they had six cats in a giant glass cage. I was told I could choose any one of them. I picked one out, and the man handed it to me. Perfect.
Except it was a boy. My mom made me put him back and choose another. Oddly, we went through the same routine with four of the other five cats. Finally, the only one left was the one sitting in the water bowl. I sighed and chose that tri-colored torti. Fortunately, she was a girl. I remember walking out of that store with the cat riding on my head. Like I said, we didn’t know much back then.
I named the cat Caesar because someone else I knew had a cat named Caesar, and I thought all cats were named Caesar. Hey, I was two; don’t question me. She was a great cat. I remember sitting on the floor of my house one day crying for who knows what reason. No one could comfort me, and I know my dad was getting worried about me. Caesar crawled into my lap and laid down. I immediately stopped crying and just pet her for awhile.
She was truly mine. Every night she would sleep with me. She wasn’t just on my bed, but she was my pillow. I fell asleep listening to her purr into my ear. I woke up the same way. Cats are supposed to be nocturnal, I know, but I swear that cat never left my room while I was sleeping.
She would come when I called. As soon as she heard my voice, her feet would pitter patter as fast as they could to my side, and then she’d follow me around. Plus, she was protective of me. We had a tomato swing (remember those?) in my basement, and one day I was twirling around on it singing the “I’m shrinking, melting, shriveling” from The Wizard of Oz. I got hugely melodramatic, and my mom was getting worried about me. Caesar knew how to fix it. She reached up and swatted a paw at me to tell me to knock it off. And I did.
Once, she got out of the house, and we thought she was gone forever. Again, back in the day, we didn’t know much and she was an indoor/outdoor cat (hello FIV, FeLV, racoons, coyotes, mean kids, cars, etc etc), but she always came home by my bedtime. Until she didn’t. She was gone for four days when we got a call from a neighbor saying she thought she had our cat. She’d tried to shoo it out with her broom, but it was hiding under a chair in her living room. We hightailed it over there, and Caesar was so grateful to see us!
A mere few weeks later, we realized that she was pregnant. Oops. Nice going, Mom and Dad. Yeah, they forgot to spay her. She had seven kitttens. One was the tiniest runt, and we did our best to save her. We fed her with a medicine dropped, but it was for naught and we ended up burying her in a tiny bracelet box in our backyard.
As for the rest of the kittens, my parents were done with three cats. My mom was determined to get rid of the six kittens. She had me put them in a picnic basket and walk around the neighborhood to give them to friends. The friends happily took them, and I came home with an empty basket. Unfortunately, my mom started getting calls a few minutes later from the parents of those friends about how the kitten their child now had needed to live at our house and the child could only come visit the kitten. I’m still not sure how my mom managed to stay in the good graces of the neighborhood after that.
Somehow, we got rid of all but one of the kittens. I don’t really remember how we did it, but one lonely kitten remained. My mom was getting desperate. Finally, I remember her sending me with the kitten into Monk’s Dairy Bar (I wonder if that place is still around!) with tears streaming down my face, sobbing that if they didn’t take the kitten that my mom was going to flush it down the toilet.
They took the kitten. I was convinced that my mom was going to flush him, obviously. Today, my mom tells a different story. She doesn’t recall anything about threatening to drown the kitten in the sewer system, but I have a very different memory burned into my brain. Caesar was spayed as soon as the kittens were weaned, and we didn’t have any more litters.
Shortly after that, Caesar made her second move, as we went from Connecticut to Belgium (I’d gotten her when we lived in Illinois). She was a great buddy, and she continued to be so as we went from Belgium to Illinois to Minnesota, where she lived out her golden years, still as my nightly pillow.
When I went to college, my mom told me how Caesar would sit in front of my door meowing at night. Eventually, she’d stop meowing and just lay down and sleep in my doorway, waiting for me to come home. During winter break, she fell into her old routine of following me around during the day when I was home and sleeping with me at night.
Spring break, we went on vacation in Florida instead of heading back home to Minnesota. A couple days into the trip, my mom told me to sit down on the bed because she had something to tell me. Caesar had died. I bawled. My friend since I was two was no longer there, and it was the closest person or thing to me that had died in my eighteen years. I’d had her since I was two and don’t really have any memories of not having her around me.
Eventually, I asked for the details. My mom told me that she’d done everything she could, that they’d taken her to the vet for many visits, they’d given her fluid and medications but it just hadn’t been enough.
That was when my brain started working again. My parents had done everything they could. Yet they were here with me in Florida. And this wasn’t the first day of the trip. When I asked the question, I found out that she had died three weeks prior. My mom hadn’t wanted to worry me while at school.
I believe I threw a Grade-A teenage tantrum at that point. How dare my parents deign to decide what I could and couldn’t know about my dear friend. In a way, I’m still bitter that they didn’t tell me when it happened. While I was upset, it was fully something that I was able to handle. I’ve always felt cheated that I wasn’t able to grieve when she died but that it was forcibly delayed.
I’ve had cats since then, and we have cats now. None of them have ever quite held the same placce in my heart that Caesar did, as wonderful as they were. I just hope that the wee ones develop that same kind of relationship with the cats we have now, Meow and Roar. And when I peek upstairs at night and see them cuddled up sleeping next to Mister Man, I know we’re well on the way.