Our Trixie died this afternoon. She was a few weeks shy of five years old.
We had wanted a second cat and were bewildered by all the unusual conditions New England adoption centers had for taking on cats. Home size was important, as they recommended all cats be indoor cats for their own safety and a large home was necessary to keep them from feeling cooped up. We lived in an apartment, with a cat that was raised outdoors in the wilds of California, with kids, and were therefore considered less desirable.
We were discouraged about a number of things I recall, though not specifically what they were, until finally finding a litter of kittens that had been abandoned by their mother in the woods south of the city. A little black ball of fluff was available, and we met the rescuers at a train station and brought her home.
She was nervous to the point of shaking, quick to startle but just as quick to purr. On the final leg of our trip home I removed her from the carrier and carried her home tucked inside my coat where she burrowed deep, curled into a ball, and rumbled low and slow. I named her Trixie.
What we initially took to be skittishness over her new situation clearly revealed itself to be her normal personality. She would hide for hours at a time. She would run from room to room as if under pursuit. Any attempt to pet her was cause to run and hide. She didn’t like loud noises. She had a series of hidey-holes and wouldn’t come out while there were strangers in the house. It was months before some regular visitors ever caught a glimpse of our phantoma, although she willingly came out to be petted at the sound of some children’s voices.
Trixie was smallish, almost kitten-sized. She would saunter into a room with a wiggle-waggle walk and jump up for a frantic session of head rubbing and belly-flopping, but could sense the most minute shift in position and be out of the room before any attempt could be made to pick her up. Trixie would not be caught, not be held, but she was affectionate and friendly as long as the terms were hers.
She always seemed to need to be coerced to eat. She would show up to be fed with our other cat, she knew (or learned) enough to circle between my legs, and she’d follow me as I put her food bowl on the floor but then she’d look at the bowl as if she was confused about what to do. I thought it was her subservience to the alpha cat, but she behaved that way every day for five years, whether the boy cat was there or not. I would have to scoot her to the edge of the bowl and stroke her back and she would relax and eat. At the slightest noise she would dart away from the bowl, only to casually return to the kitchen hours later when she thought no one was around, to finish off whatever food was left behind by our boy cat.
Truth be told, she never seemed very bright.
But she had her moments. She loved catnip more than any cat I’ve ever known. She loved to tear her cardboard scratch pad to tiny shreds. She had a perverse fondness for nesting in unlit places or among dark clothes so that all of a sudden you would notice her green eyes staring you down. Occasionally she would bring small objects back to her hiding places like a thieving magpie. Some flip-flops she could not resist grappling with; some flips-flops she would walk by as if they did not exist.
Lately she had taken up residency on the back of a chair next to a window overlooking the street. From this perch she could watch the millions of bird that flock to the feeder our neighbor has in their front year. She could occasionally watch out boy cat on the prowl around the edges of the bushes. She would talk to the pigeons on the rain gutters – she never really learned how to meow properly – and otherwise would just nap.
Today she jumped off the back of the couch, ran in two tight circles, and then dropped right there in front of me. Though she rarely responded to her name I called it out twice before moving closer. I fully expected her to suddenly jump up and run off as if possessed, like she normally did when caught off guard. She had never exhibited any symptoms of seizures but the thought of narcolepsy sprang to mind. I want to pick her up and I was afraid to touch her at the same time. I lifted her tail to test for response, then a leg, and letting each drop into my free hand to test for weight, resistance, anything.
Once I was sure she was gone I carefully picked her up and placed her in a box curled into her favorite position: tail tucked under and along her belly, head tucked down with a paw over her eyes. She fit perfectly in the box and looked as natural as if she had simply crawled into it for a nap.
I called Zuska at work and told her. I thought I sounded together but she has since told me otherwise. She left work early so she could be home before we told the girls. Nobody believed it at first word. It seemed impossible that the member of the family forever called the baby cat could be gone from us.
In some ways I think I always knew she was living on borrowed time. As part of a littler abandoned by her mother there was always that thought in my mind that they had been abandoned for a reason, that her mother’s feline intuition knew something humans never could. In that light I like to think that we gave Trixie five years she might not have had otherwise. She had her moments, odd and idiosyncratic and quirky, and I hope that up until the last she was able to find some peace among us in some of those moments.
bye bye, baby cat