When my husband, then boyfriend, and I first moved in together, we wanted to get a pet because that’s what couples did to show they were committed. M Fox suggested that we foster, not adopt (how romantic). I thought, “Great! Let’s get a pregnant kitty and have five kittens to play with!” Well, apparently everyone else also had that idea so when we signed up with a local animal shelter, we were on a waiting list. For adult cats. Meh, I thought. Fine, whatever.
Weeks of visiting animal open houses at PetCos and feed stores went by and finally a shelter volunteer with big eyes turned to one of the older jaded workers and said, “What about Hershey?” They both smiled.
A week later I met the big-eyed girl in a PetCo parking lot and she handed me a bag with a cat in it. It was kind of how I imagined an artless drug deal to go down. I took the bag, said, “Thank you,” and then got in my car and drove home with our new charge.
I don’t remember when I found out about Hershey’s origin story. They told me he was a year old (which is pretty much what all shelters say about any non-kitten) and that he had a brother who was all white. They were bonded. Some old woman had wanted to replace her dead white cat, but didn’t want both Hershey and his brother. The shelter forced her to take both. A month later, she called the shelter and said that Hershey was attacking “her cat,” his bonded brother, and that she didn’t want him anymore. Get him out of her house. They found him, terrorized, under her bed. I don’t know who that old broad is, but I both hate her and am grateful she was such a raging bitch so that we could have him.
When I got Hershey home, I put him in our bedroom with his litter and his food and opened the bag. It was all black inside except for two large emerald eyes. I went into the living room to tell M Fox that I’d put the new cat in the bedroom. M Fox said, “That cat is just going to go under the bed.”
For two weeks, Hershey lived under our crappy, four-inches-off-the-floor IKEA bed. He would sneak out in the middle of the night to eat and use the bathroom, but if we ever stirred, he fled back underneath. Friends didn’t believe us when we said we were fostering a cat — there was barely any evidence.
Here’s the thing, though. If you stuck your hand between the wall and the side of the bed, he would squiggle toward you, rub against you, and purr. He wanted to love you.
Soon he would come out at night and sleep between us. Then he would stay out as long as no one opened the door. Then the apartment belonged to him. M Fox found a cat post on the side of the road (like you do) and we began teaching him tricks. He could nimbly jump to the top of the post and wait for treats.
Every time I came home from work, he would run out to greet me with his little meow. He was a regal cat, sleek and handsome. He had a little squeaky meow. That he used. A lot. My squeaky wheel. Squeak. He deserved a much more dignified name, but at least it was better than his shelter name. (Hershey? That doesn’t even make sense, he was black, not brown. Also, a brand name? Please.)
He became what was called a “failed foster.” We adopted him. He would sit at the window and wait for us to come home, in every apartment we lived. He knew the beep of our car locking in the parking lot. At one point, we had deck and if I went downstairs to hang out at the neighbors, he would sit on the deck and cry for me if he heard my voice. He went through three different companions: Stripe (who we ended up not adopting because HE KEPT PEEING ON ME. PEEING. ON. ME.), the baby, and the witch.
We’re shitty at naming animals, okay?
He loved them all, he took care of them, even Stripe, a territorial tom who didn’t like him very much. When one of them was hungry, he came to me on their behalf, squeaking. If the baby had knocked something over or locked himself in a drawer (sweet, but not bright, that one), Squeak would come and get me. If the litter was neglected, he squeaked, politely. Sometimes he just wanted me to sit down for ten minutes so he could sit next to me and purr. He never destroyed anything, he never hurt anyone, he was a gentleman.
He only peed and pooped outside the box once, and he felt really bad about it, even though it was entirely our fault.
We went away for the weekend and left the bedroom window open, which blew our door shut, trapping him in. But even then, he didn’t go on the carpet. He made a little poop nest in M Fox’s sleeping bag in the closet. It was kinda cute, actually. Very organized.
My special child. My perfect child. My favorite. My favoritism toward Squeak was a running joke, but it wasn’t a joke. I always said my children would never have to worry about vying for my favor because Squeak was my favorite and always would be. My daughters would say to their teachers, “My mom says her favorite is the cat!”
He used to sleep in between my legs at night. I swear he could hear me putting a blanket on my legs from across the house and he’d trot over and want in on it. He loved blanket tents. He loved sitting on M Fox’s lap while he tried to tie his shoes or take them off. He loved watching birds outside. He loved hunting flies in the house. He killed spiders and bees for me. He was a midnight face-walker. He loved hair ties, he would shoot them from a fang and a claw and chase after them. He liked to sit on my laptop and on my shoes, especially my flip flops. He licked plastic. He was a big fan of the If It Fits Philosophy.
He didn’t like people food, so he never begged — he politely declined tuna from the can, chicken from the bone, and even some nigiri. He loved to knead certain blankets in slow motion with his eyes half-slit in ecstasy, so you felt sort of inappropriate watching. He sneezed a lot. My windows still have Squeak snot on them. He ran when a stranger walked in the door, but would eventually come out and want a lap. He had a special affinity for people who were allergic to him. Of the ten guests in the living room, he wanted the one whose esophagus would close upon contact.
He was perfect.
We grew up with him. M Fox and I became engaged. We married. We moved to Seattle. We lost Alvin Bean. We miscarried. We got pregnant again. We found out we were having twins. My pregnancy was awful, I was in bed or hovering over the toilet. Squeak followed me around and sat with me, kept me company in my misery. He didn’t even seem hurt that I wouldn’t let him sleep on my stomach. Every night he’d try to sleep on my swollen aching carcass, as if me pushing him off the previous three hundred times was just an honest misunderstanding. After I brought the girls home, I thought about how they’d grow up with Squeak. How I would have to comfort them when he died of old age.
I could tell he was losing weight. I had heard of cats being stressed out when new babies were brought home and even though he loved hanging out in the nursery with everyone, he was still a sensitive cat. So I took him into the vet.
There was a mass in his abdomen. The options were expensive surgery that would maybe extend his life by anywhere between not at all to a year or. . .
Squeak, who feared the carrier and the outside, who ran at the sound of tin foil, who fled when I sneezed. Who I suspected never fully got over his origin story. Operating tables and doctor’s offices didn’t sound right. Not for something unfixable. M Fox and I were once again faced with the terrible privilege of choosing dignity.
The last week of Squeak’s life had me following him around the house with various plates of crappy cheap cat food to entice him. He was over the nice organic grain-free stuff that we’d been feeding him for years. I guess I can’t blame him. Eventually he stopped even wanting the “cookies” that he loved so much. Pie pans of water appeared around the house. My heart sank watching him sit near them, but not drink. I never begrudged him, even though I constantly stepped in it or kicked it over at 4am when I went to feed one of the girls. He was a gentleman until the end. He didn’t want to be a bother, he just wanted to be near. Until he was too tired to move. And then he just wanted a chair by the window to watch the birds in peace.
I didn’t believe that you could fall in love so thoroughly with an animal you didn’t raise from babyhood. My life is so enriched from having been proved wrong. I was his person. And he was my favorite.