On our way home from the airport nine years ago, we drove by the Oregon Humane Society. “We’ll just go look,” Erin said. We had talked about adopting a cat as a companion for Erin’s previous adoptee, Caspian, but hadn’t yet decided to take the plunge. In my mind we were looking for a kitten, but all it took was a few headbutts and we were taking one-year-old “Missy” home.
We renamed her Tigerlily and for two weeks she lived in our upstairs bathroom recovering from the shelter croup. I couldn’t take the thought of her being scared and lonely and so I got my sleeping bag and slept in the bathroom, too. Her big eyes and constant chatter was irresistable. Thankfully she warmed up to Caspian quickly. He wasn’t so sure. But we’re pretty sure that they became best friends, evidenced by them occasionally cleaning each other and cuddling.
Caspian was always an independent soul (aka-a cat). Lily, on the other hand, loves to snuggle and have her head massaged; she starts purring when she gets within three feet of you. And she’s a talker. After nine years together, we’ve learned a bit of her “vocabulary” and can tell the difference between “I’m hungry” and “please, please, please can I go outside?”. My favorite is her short ascending pitch meow, “What?”, to which I say, “You have to wait for dinner.” Cue sad descending pitch, “Oh.”
She is content to sit in your lap for hours, quietly purring, asking only that you rub her chin or her ears every so often. She is that exception to the indifferent cat stereotype that proves the rule.
We knew when we decided to embark on our long-term adventure that giving up our cats would be the most difficult part. At 18, we suspected that saying goodbye to Caspian would be the hardest, not knowing whether it would be forever. When he died in December, we were devastated, but we were also grateful that we were able to be with him in his final hours, to say our proper goodbyes.
Here comes the sad part
Yesterday we dropped our cat of 9 years of at our friend Francisco’s house. He has generously offered to be Tigerlily’s tio, or uncle, for the next 13 months while we travel. I say dropped, but actually we took Lily over with all her stuff, got her situated, and had a sleepover at Francisco’s including sleeping on the floor in her “homebase” room to help her acclimate.
Lily was scared and wanted to hide. At one point, after Erin deconstructed the tent Lily was hiding in, she skulked into Erin’s lap and attempted to get into her sweater. As I’m writing this I expect to hear the wood floor creak as Lily makes her way up the stairs, rounding the corner to make eye contact before prancing down the hall to jump on the bed and shove her cheek into pages of my book. I would say “Come on, girl” in a fake exasperated voice and wonder if she ever thinks about getting paper cuts on her face. But there is no floor creaking, no annoyance, fake or real, and it’s lonely. Our cat Caspian died December 5th last year and it left a big hole. I think a lot of our love and attention got put into Lily. But now she’s gone too, and instead of being peaceful in the ground, she’s confused and hungry just across town. It’s been 13 years for me, 20 years for Erin, since we didn’t come home expecting to be greeted by a hungry meow or cute look of indignance. I left the door open today and didn’t worry about her running out. It’s freeing. But mostly I feel sad, guilty, frustrated, incomplete.
So here’s a story about doing something I’ve always wanted to do; go camping with my cat.
Erin and I are cat people. And as a cat person, I’ve always felt left out by the dog people who have their best animal friends with them on camping trips. I’ve also been annoyed a time or two by those same animal friends scaring wildlife and eating my food, but I digress (cat person!). So when three Saturday’s ago on a warm Portland spring night Lily squished her fat cat face against the mesh trying to get into our tent I was more than happy to let her in.
You see, Erin and I were camping in our backyard for the first time in 10 years. Our backyard is really big, basically the reason we bought our house. We had discussed camping back there for years, but our bed is so, so comfortable. But this weekend we booked our spare bedroom on Air B&B (this has to do with trip prep, maybe Erin will discuss this at some point) AND had Erin’s dad Tom and his wife Carol stay with us. They took our bed and our attempt at sleeping on an air mattress in the office down the hall was not the best, so we camped. On the first night I heard soft footsteps in the grass outside of the tent, I figured it was a racoon. I turned and there was Lily’s furry face squished an inch into the mesh of our tent staring at me like she was looking at a 5-pound baby mouse. I realized I better let her in the door.
I was now camping with my cat. And it was wonderful–ly horrible. Cats can see at night. I sleep at night. But when you have an animal standing on its hindlegs to watch the apparently non-stop nocturnal animal action all around it turns out I don’t sleep at night. I remember letting Lily out and back in three times. The last time in the morning Erin snapped this photo of her. We locked her in the house that night.
But I got to go camping with my cat. I love that girl.