In June of 2012, a little over a week before Clio was diagnosed with leukemia, our cat, Ella, died.
Yeah. Depressing, right?
Alastair and I adopted Ella from a shelter way back in 1998, after we first moved in together. She was a sweet little cat, who could hunt like a mofo: she once got served by Iowa City animal control for stalking a neighbor’s bird feeder. Heh. Anyway, she was our surrogate child for many years, and then she was a part of the first five years of our actual children’s lives.
Ella was a good thirteen or fourteen years old when she died last year, and her health had been deteriorating for a while, to the point where she was quite gaunt, and beset with all kinds of digestive and urinary issues. She was regularly vomiting (sometimes in a projectile fashion), and peeing and pooping outside of her litter box. Not much fun for anyone.
We were out of town when she actually died; our pet sitter called us to say that she wasn’t eating or drinking much. The next day, she called again to say that she’d found Ella sitting on the kitchen floor surrounded by excrement, refusing to move, refusing to eat. It was time. We weren’t able to come back early—I had a reading, and Alastair had a gig—so we had a good friend take Ella to the vet, to be with her when she was put down. We had to come back to an empty house. The cat sitter had been thoughtful enough to clean out Ella’s water and food dishes, and tuck them away in a far corner of the kitchen counter.
Losing her was hard. But within a little over a week, we had far, far more difficult things to confront. And, honestly, we were relieved not to have to be dealing with the demands of a dying cat on top of everything else. In fact, silly though it sounds (and is), we wondered if somehow Ella knew there was trouble ahead for our family, and chose that moment to take her leave of us, as a gift.
Yes, that’s right. We were attributing psychic powers and a sense of noble self-sacrifice to a creature who once fell in the toilet while trying to drink out of it.
Still, there was something inevitable feeling about the fact that Ella’s life ended at the same time our pre-cancer life did. But I never did quite get used to not having her around. I was still surprised every time I opened a can of something in the kitchen and didn’t immediately hear the clink of her collar. (Something in a can? For me? Damn. Chick peas again.)
We always planned on getting another cat someday, and I’d actually been leaning toward doing it sooner (Christmas, maybe?) rather than later (after Clio’s treatment is completely done). But it seems that the great cat gods in the sky have deemed this the right moment for us to have a new cat in our life.
He wandered into our yard a week and a half ago while we were outdoors having dinner with friends, and immediately started angling for head-rubs and lap-sits (not to be confused with lap dances). He let himself right into our house and took a look around there, too, to the girls’ utter delight. He had no collar, but was too well-fed, healthy and downright friendly to be a stray. We figured he’d just wandered a bit too far from home, and would find his way back there, though we did sorta wish he wouldn’t.
Over the next week, though, we continued to see him from time to time and last weekend we finally learned that his name was JoJo, and that he belonged to a neighbor of ours, who had agreed to take him from friends who had to give him up for health reasons. But, oddly, JoJo didn’t seem to be spending a whole lot of time at the neighbor’s house.
Finally, the other day — after he’d spent an entire afternoon lounging on our couch — I brought him across the street and said: um, so, this is your cat, right…?
To which our neighbor replied: “You want him?”
Because it turns out she didn’t, particularly. In fact, she wasn’t letting him in the house; she was just putting his food outside, because she didn’t want him to come inside and ruin her furniture. (Not quite sure what she was planning for the winter, there….)
And so, to our surprise and growing delight, we have found ourselves with a new cat. Djokovic (as we’ve re-dubbed him, to commemorate the night of the US Open final, when he became semi-officially ours; still JoJo for short) is four or five years old. He’s long and lean and angular — rather like his namesake – and loves to sprawl himself out to cover the maximum amount of horizontal space. He likes being rubbed on the head, but not the back. He’s very different from Ella, but he’s got one of those tinkling collars, and I fully expect him to come running every time I open a can.
We’re a long, long way from where we were in June of 2012 when Ella died, and Clio was diagnosed. But even as recently as six or seven months ago, we felt very much in the thick of things with Clio’s treatment, and I’m not sure we would have been quite so eager to adopt a new cat. Then again, six months ago, the opportunity didn’t walk into our yard.
Life is a bit more normal now. Clio’s cancer is still very much a part of our daily reality, and we are still aware that at any time we could find ourselves dealing with an unexpected complication or crisis. But it does not take up as much psychological or logistical space as it did for the first year. We have a little more room.
So it feels very fitting and fortuitous that Djokovic has come into our lives at this juncture. We hope he’ll stick around for a good long while.