Our cats have always been people cats, hanging around where we are and coming excitedly to greet us at the door when we get home. Unless, that is, they fell asleep in a box or on a pile of laundry. So last night when only James greeted us after we got back from dinner, it was strange, but not terribly concerning because sometimes it takes the cats a moment to wake up and stretch before checking in. It did get weird when we started calling for Charlie and he didn’t come, I don’t know if he knew his name, but he always came when called. And it was downright worrying when J shook the catnip container and still nothing.
We heard a noise in the bedroom a couple hours earlier, right before leaving for dinner, peeked in, but didn’t see him and assumed he had scrambled under the bed. I think that noise was Charlie saying goodbye to us before we left. Last night, Charlie passed away under a chair in our bedroom. He was about to turn 5 and he was a part of our family for four years and eight months. I know there are much bigger things going on in the world right now, but Charlie and James were a giant part of MY world and I’m simply crushed. I know there will be greater heartaches in my future, though just now, I can look at every single spot in my house and there’s something that reminds me of Charlie and breaks my heart fresh.
I called my brother because I had no idea what to do and he called Jon who called Angell Memorial Pet Hospital. They told us we could bring Charlie in and they’d take care of him, or ‘we could do it ourselves’. Seth went home to get a shovel because it seemed fitting to bury this unique cat (without asking anyone) in the gravel parking area – the only yard area we could think of, without taking him to the park across the way. I picked a corner of the lot that was actually an unused garden square. I had unsuccessfully tried to grow catnip there last year, but it was too shady. I wasn’t sure what was under the bed, but it became clear pretty quickly that the soil was too full of leveling rocks, bricks and concrete to dig a deep enough hole. And while I liked the idea of secreting him away in the back without the other condo owners knowing (it fits Charlie’s personality), I was terrified I wouldn’t be able to dig a deep enough hole. In order to have something of him to look out on, we buried a couple of saw dust mice and some catnip. We were going to also bury his favorite bell toy, but I needed to keep it with me for now. We decided to take him to Angell and Jon insisted on driving us over, which was good, because I can’t get around Jamaica Plain without getting desperately lost.
As most pets do, Charlie had several names that we used interchangeably. Because of his pink nose, we called him Strawberry until we settled on Charlie, and his first veterinarian still refers to him as such. We had always known James was going to be named James, and I had got it into my head that our second cat would be named Notjames. This was vetoed, though Notjames was one of his names. As were Charles, Chuck, Chucho, Chuchi, Portulaca, Little Guy, Guy, Little Boy, Cat, Peapod, Chili, Silly, Buddy, and ever since watching Deadwood, any number of the foulest curse words you can string together. We settled upon Charlie after hearing the name on an episode of West Wing because the name Charlie perfectly matched his character.
Leaving one last humorous (though morbid) memory for us, Charlie’s legs had stiffened while we were out and he couldn’t fit in the boot box that had been his bed. We took Charlie to Angell, wrapped awkwardly because of his legs, in a fleece blanket he and James had claimed as a favorite every winter. When I brought him out to the car there was another light moment when Jon and I tried to decide whether he should ride in the backseat or the trunk. Charlie kind of hated riding in the car, but we didn’t want his last ride to be in the trunk, so he rode up front with us. When we got to Angell, I carried Charlie in and they put us in Exam Room #4 so we could fill out the registration form. A general cremation at Angell costs $55 and if you’ve never been there, it’s $11 extra for registration, which seems odd considering. After finishing the registration we said goodbye again, one last time. (Over the course of the evening I count 7 goodbyes that I thought would be final: before calling my brother, before my brother came over, after my brother left to get a shovel, before trying to dig a hole, after trying to dig a hole, before wrapping Charlie in the blanket, and just before getting out of the car at Angell.) We unwrapped Charlie and folded the blanket to take home with us. It is James’ favorite, too, after all. We looked at the cats up for adoption, the cute black twins, the cat with the Hitler mustache, looked into Exam Room #4 to see Charlie seemingly asleep peacefully on the exam table, and left.
His last day was like any other. He got thrown out of the bedroom in the middle of the night for creating a ruckus, but then came back in the morning and visited us on the bed. He slept a little here and there. Charlie sat purring across J’s arms while she was at the computer, and he stretched out for a nap with me, resting his head on my arm, his body snuggled parallel to mine, me rubbing his stomach. This was my absolute favorite thing to do with him. James and Charlie sprinted around the condo, chasing each other before wrestling and licking each other until they got bored. While I was getting ready to leave, he jumped up on the toilet while I was brushing my teeth and I scratched his head one last time. If he had been there when we got home to watch TV, he undoubtedly would have sat with his chest resting on the arm of the easy chair, his legs off to either side like he was riding a horse.
Charlie was unique and charming, handsome and eminently photogenic, sweet, and hilarious, endearing and smart. Everyday he did something or struck a pose, lounging in a way that made us laugh, and everyday he came over and spent some quality time with each of us. He was a big cat, but not fat, and he was a Hemingway, which means he had an extra toe on each front foot. He had long hair, softer than any other cat, and J will tell you he was the best smelling cat she ever knew.
I’m crushed. I’m in shock and disbelief that I’ll never see him again and I’m angry that he passed away so young and so suddenly without any warning. I’m happy that he had a great last day, that I was part of it, and that we had almost 5 years together because he was wonderful. And I’m happy that he apparently didn’t suffer. I was lucky to have a cat as friendly and affectionate as Charlie, and I have a physical pain in my chest from missing him.
This has gone long and gets longer, but I’m not sorry. If I couldn’t use my blog to write an indulgent eulogy for Charlie, a document I’ll use to remember him always and to tell the world how amazing he was, it would all be a waste of time. I acknowledge it’s weird to write this much about a cat, but I couldn’t sleep and wrote most of it in my head before getting out of bed after 4 hours (plus, Charlie was awesome). Honestly, I don’t where all this emotion came from. I knew I loved the hell out of Charlie, and he knew I did, but I didn’t know it was this much. Finally, I support any pet owner’s right to grieve in this manner and should you put your memories on the internet, I will read them and likely get choked up. What follows is a long list of memories and quirks that stick out for me. I’d write down his entire life if I could. Feel free to skim.
When we first got Charlie, his name was Spaz and he was living with dogs that were licking him constantly. He smelled horrible and we decided to give him a couple baths, me sitting in the shower with him, washing him with watered down Strawberry scented shampoo. He didn’t like it, but he tolerated it, looked ridiculous when soaked, and lay basking in the blowing hairdryer. He wouldn’t let either of us pick him up at first, and wouldn’t sit with us either, until one day he started sitting on J’s lap in the bathroom – a weird initiation into what became a more normal appreciation of physical attention. Charlie was much stronger and athletic than James and was climbing the clothes rack and hanging by his opposable thumbs the week after we got him. He also could jump to my eye level chasing his feathered bell toy on a wand. He was acrobatic, jumping high in the air 5 or 6 times in a row going after this toy before collapsing in exhaustion on the floor and sprawling out. When we left the toy on the floor, he licked off all the feathers, until eventually he was literally chasing a plastic wand with a bell on it. When the bell piece started coming off, he would hide it in the couch or sit on it, but he’d always let us take it back without swiping at us.
We had a second story porch in Cranston that opened onto the roof and both cats loved sitting out there, though Charlie more than James. It could be freezing cold or raining and he would go out. When the weather was nice, he sat for hours on the corner of the roof watching birds in a nearby tree. We’d forget about him some afternoons. One of the hardest things about moving to Somerville was no outdoor space for Charlie and James. They took it in stride, hogging the windowsills that faced the nearby tree.
The first night we brought Charlie home, James came up to him to introduce himself. Charlie was hissing and growling until we gave them both some treats. They began sniffing each other, started wrestling, and I found them huddled together the next morning when I woke up. (They ended up doing this a lot on the coldest nights.) They’ve been happy brothers ever since, taking turns being the dominant cat, and I’m terribly upset thinking about how lonely James will be without Charlie. At night sometimes, James would run around cooing, asking for a game of chase, looking for Charlie who was usually watching from some height. Charlie would eventually jump down with a thud and grunt and they’d take off.
This is the gross paragraph of cute things Charlie did. For some reason, Charlie never learned to cover his poop in the litter box. He’d scratch all over the box, and the walls around it, but never kicked litter over his poop. This is a bad habit he taught James. He liked waiting for us to clean the litter box before relieving himself. The scratching and covering instinct extended to Charlie trying to cover food and James’ puke – James’ puke that Charlie hadn’t already eaten, by the way – scratching the imaginary bark off of a wall or cabinet to save or hide from sight any insult to decency. Charlie was such a good boy, you could tell he felt bad about scooting the couple times he got sick. Because of his extra toe, he had an extra claw which would sometimes get ingrown. He used to always squirm when getting his claws clipped, but he also always had amazing claw control, hardly ever getting his claws stuck in the furniture, screens, or clothes like James.
In Cranston, we had a large planter on the kitchen table that got plenty of sun. The ceramic planter would heat up and we’d find Charlie sitting in it, atop the Christmas cactus. If his sitting on it didn’t kill it, his gnawing on it certainly did. We grew a catnip plant one year that James would sniff and Charlie would eat.
Some places we found Charlie sleeping: in a drawer that was mostly closed, under the sheets on the bed, on top of the refrigerator that stuck out about 8 inches from the cabinets, on the trash can, on the toaster oven, in every piece of luggage we’ve owned, packed or otherwise, in multiple laundry baskets, clean and dirty, in paper and plastic bags and boxes, in closets behind clothes, in the fruit basket, and in a fastened tub of mittens and winter hats. On one occasion we found him lounging in the triangle portion of hung clothes hangers and on another, a house sitting guest woke up to find Charlie sleeping under her bent knees under the covers in August. Charlie liked going under the covers once in a while, but the best day of his life occurred weekly when we put fresh sheets on the bed. He would hop onto the bare mattress, then the bottom sheet, then he would attack the top sheet as we set it and get made into the bed, slinking out several minutes later.
Charlie looked good sitting. Part of his personality was appearing remarkably comfortable and cute in any position in any location. If our legs were stretched out on the coffee table, he’d climb out onto them, sometimes falling asleep precariously, sometimes lounging while straddling our legs. I’m going to miss seeing him lounge a lot.
He had luscious black fur and a white tuxedo chest that went up to his face giving him a masked look behind which were beautiful green eyes. His cute front paws had an extra toe on each and were white slippers on black legs, the back legs all white. Something about his ears made me want to put them in my mouth, but I only did this once in a while.
He was constantly getting into packed luggage. We liked to think it was because he didn’t want us going away again, but it was likely just the newness of the surface. Even if the rolling suitcase was standing up and zipped, he’d sneak in and chill out for a while. He used his face to open doors, which was funny to see if you were behind the closed door.
We tried out an auto-feeder/auto-watering system, but had to scrap it after one day because Charlie would eat everything we put in his bowl. More importantly, he figured out that splashing some water out of the bowl caused a big bubble and splashed ALL the water out onto the floor. While James eschewed people food, Charlie wanted to try most of it, his favorites being frozen peas or corn, pasta, turkey and chicken. Charlie would bat the corn and peas around for a second before eating them. We only realized recently that Charlie was a FIEND for corn bread, but he also liked a specific brand of rolls from Market Basket and would rip open the bag and eat whole chunks out of the roll. When I would make turkey sandwiches or separate a rotisserie chicken, he would do what I called ‘the turkey dance’ – rubbing back and forth across my legs, flopping onto the ground, rolling and bobbling his head until given a couple pieces.
Charlie and James both jump into the shower immediately after we finish and lick the walls, it’s disgusting. And both of them would happily sit in the wet tub. Charlie loved the plastic ring that comes on ice cream pints and he’d come running for it when he heard me opening one. He’d climb onto the stove to take bites or licks of ravioli or chicken sausage still in the pan and sat expectantly and patiently next to us during dinner. He liked rubber bands and would climb onto the counter go get them. He’d chew and shake them in his mouth.
Charlie treated J like another cat and would bat at her as she walked by to try to get her to play. If he was playing with a toy and James came over, Charlie would rest for a second, letting James play, either patiently or shyly, we never figured out. He liked roughhousing with James or me, and I have a deep scratch on my right hand that I hope doesn’t heal for a while. Sometimes during these roughhousing sessions, Charlie would hiss, but he apparently never learned how to escalate beyond that, never attacking more violently. He hated going to the vet, hissing and growling once in the office. The vet was scared of Charlie, at first, but when he held out his hand for Charlie to sniff, instead of attacking, he nosed it affectionately and then turned his head for an ear scratch, showing what a sweetheart he was.
Charlie was good with all strangers, sometimes needing to be coaxed out of the bedroom, but always willing to have his head scratched or tummy rubbed by anyone. More often than not, he’d sit on the new lap in the house when company was over. Invariably he slept with guests when we had overnighters.
He had this bobble head thing that he would do when he was tracking a toy or bird, and before jumping at a toy, he would chirp excitedly. He began chirping at night, too, jumping up on things and knocking stuff off of dressers and nightstands. This would get him banished for days from the bedroom because it woke J up. I mostly slept through it. He’d dip a paw in J’s water glass to drink, splashing her awake. Eventually, after days of sleeping out in the living room, we’d relent and let him back in for a couple days. And the pattern continued.
Charlie liked the bed. He’d jump up while we were on it and knead for a while before deciding to run off or take a nap. He didn’t like sleeping on top of the comforter, but would stay if the top cover was fleece or hotel blanket. Sometimes he’d wake up and just sit on the bed while we slept, sometimes attacking our feet as they moved under the covers. He thought they were mice. He also liked getting thrown onto the bed from the floor. I’d throw him onto the bed and he’d jump off and run over to me to get thrown onto the bed again. 15 times in a row. When we were moving, from Cranston, the mattresses were stacked against the wall and Charlie climbed to the top to survey the action.
We used to play with Charlie for hours when he was a kitten, and he’d eventually get so tired he’d pull himself across the carpet by his front paws. He still did this once in a while when I’d be stretching in the bedroom at night. Of course he was there watching me. I liked how he would run across the room and capture plastic bags or dish rags on the floor, pouncing on them, grabbing them with his front paws and kicking them with his back ones. Then he’d look up at us as if what he was doing was the most normal thing in the world. Though J describes the look as feeling guilty about acting silly. We got this look a lot. Charlie also liked hide and seek. We’d make eye contact with him and then hide behind a door and he’d come running only to take off in the other direction after he saw us. We got him a scratching post and he’d balance on top of the 3 inch diameter pole to scratch instead of scratching from the bottom. He never stopped scratching the carpet in the bedroom, though he did eventually lay off the corner of the mattress. Speaking of balance, he’d walk across the banister like a gymnast, scaring the crap out of us.
He never walked over to us, always hurried, tail and head up like a show dog, prancing, and then when he got to us, he’d throw his whole body into the petting he wanted. Pushing his head up to meet our hands. Once on the couch next to us, he’d sometimes throw himself down and turn his body to get his tummy rubbed. Sometimes, when I was lying on the couch, he’d snuggle himself into a ball on my shoulder, purring happily until he fell asleep. I loved this.
Charlie was very patient, sometimes disappearing for hours, only to be found locked in a closet. Upon discovery, he would happily walk out, never making a peep. James cries and scratches at the door immediately upon realizing he’s trapped.
I don’t think this is unique to Charlie, but he liked having his belly rubbed, his neck and ears scratched, and would always climb all over us if we were trying to read or work on the computer. He liked sitting across our arms while we typed, and if you had a book on the table, he’d sit on it. He liked being held like a baby, mostly by me and not J, but then he would wiggle like a fish to get down when he was done. This doggy style swim maneuver was so funny. He also liked being perched on shoulders. I liked putting him on his back sitting up, and once in a while he let me. One thing I think was unique to Charlie was him letting me kiss his forehead. Most cats shy away from letting someone’s head get so close to them, but Charlie must have known I loved doing this.
As a cat, he was obviously curious, unzipping bags with his nose and climbing in. Charlie loved watching the mouse move across the computer screen, sitting as close to it as he could, head blocking the screen, eyes darting around. It was 2 years before we got him to stop attacking the screen. When we got an HD TV, he’d sit on the stand watching whatever program we were watching. In order to see further, Charlie would sometimes stand on his hind feet like a gofer. It was awesome. He had a habit of poking and pushing things around, usually onto the floor, as if his paw was a hand and he never saw a pen on a table that he didn’t knock off and play with. This paw as hand act was cute as hell. He was always alert and active, and it seemed like he never really slept that much, though he took plenty of naps. I’d walk by him curled in a ball and see his open eyes tracking me.
I’m going to miss all of these traits and behaviors, and I’m going to keep remembering new things to miss that I left out. Charlie was such a phenomenal little cat (he was such a cat) and I know he was always in a good mood. He was generally well behaved for a cat and repaid our attention AND our inattention with affection. I couldn’t have asked for anything more out of him. I’m thankful I got to cuddle on the bed one more time with him, the memory of that will not fade for a long time. I loved kissing his head and I loved watching him sit.
I wish you were sitting across my arms right now. Rest in peace, little Charlie, I love you. I miss you.