I had a bunch of things I wanted to write about this week but I just don’t feel like it. I lost a family member last Thursday, my cat Morning. It has been a sad weekend knowing he is gone. If you are so inclined to read on, please do.
Twelve and a half years ago, in the fall of 1999, a little kitten showed up on my front door step. We had just moved into Grant Street about 6 months before. I had no idea where he had come from (or even that he was a he). He was so young he didn’t meow yet. Just a little, throaty croak to tell you that he was there.
At first, for a few weeks, I wouldn’t feed him or let him inside. After a few weeks, the weather started changing so I brought him some food. And a week or so after that he started coming in the house. Where did he come from? We soon thereafter found out that Morning was bought at a pet store by the strange neighbors in the rental house next door. The neighbors named him. They thought he was a girl and would make a fine lap cat. Boy, were they wrong on both accounts.
The relationship with Morning remained that way until the summer of 2000 when we found out the neighbors were moving. We were going to ask but the neighbors had already offered. Morning came to live with us full-time.
Live with us “full-time” is a funny thing to say about Morning, though. He never was much of an indoor cat, especially at night. Sure, he would come in when he wanted food or a cool place to sleep, but for the most part Morning preferred being outside. We would find him sleeping on the patio furniture, under the roof tucked up against the house in the bark dust, on the skylight (nothing weirder than seeing a cat staring down at you), under the Japanese maples in the front, and when it was cold on the heating ducts into the house (our furnace was outside). Even though we brushed him regularly, that long fur of his would get knotted together in the winter so badly we would practically have to shave him naked in the spring. And every morning he would drag an assortment of bark dust and slugs and worms and bugs into the house that had nestled in his fur at night to keep warm. (When I say every morning, by the way, I mean it. By 7am every day Morning was at the back door waiting to come in to get some breakfast.)
The rest of the time he disappeared into the neighborhood. I came to call him the Godfather because, for a while there, we would see him patrolling a three-house radius with other neighborhood cats coming up to talk to him, giving him the latest scoop, we imagined, on a rival gang. And like any good cat mafia member, he got in his share of scrapes.
We tried to keep him inside sometimes at night but there was no winning that fight. He would cry all night and if you didn’t react, he would mark his territory even though he was neutered. One time he peed in the heel of one of my flip flops so perfectly that he didn’t leave a single splash on the ground around it. He had a way of telling you when he wasn’t happy. Even when we would leave on vacation, Morning would be content outside with a big bowl of food and Greg across the street keeping an eye on him. He’d be perfectly fine for the week (although he would torture us endlessly when we got home, walking around the house crying for no reason, crying to go out, crying to come in).
In the evenings Morning would love to climb on my lap and get scratched behind the ears or under the chin. Sometimes, if he was really happy, he would drool up a storm. When he was young he loved to hide under the bed and attack your feet when you walked by. A few times he would climb on the bed when we were asleep, ever so gently, and touch his nose to yours. He only did that a couple of times, though, as he kept finding himself clear across the room after doing it.
He slowed as he got older, lost his Godfather street-cred, lost his ability to jump up on the couch, but he never lost his zeal for the outdoors. Even after he was hit by the car one and a half years ago, only making it with a surgery and a few weeks in the hospital. He was supposed to stay inside for two weeks. He made it three days. (Although afterward he was a lot more affectionate, clearly realizing we saved his life.)
We were worried about him and the move to the new house. The old neighborhood was his neighborhood for twelve years of his life. But he adjusted very quickly to the new circumstances. We tried to keep him in at night but again he rebelled so we let him out again. He really loved the new doggy door that let him come and go as he pleased. At first he didn’t wander as much, preferring to stay in the backyard or sit on the fence and watch out into the field behind the house. (He wasn’t much of a birder or mouser but he loved sitting under the bird feeder, making little kitty noises as he murmured at the birds overhead.) Eventually we would find him exploring the front yard and he kept coming home all banged up, a scratch here, a little blood there. He even had a couple of abscesses that just didn’t want to heal.
One night about three in the morning, shortly after we moved in, Grace our dog started going crazy in her kennel and Morning started moaning outside. I let Grace out and she charged toward the front fence. Morning went the other way, cowering under some plants and eventually getting over his fear enough to come inside for the rest of the night. There are coyotes, foxes and bobcats all over up here. There are even pumas in the more sparse areas. We are guessing one of those spooked him.
Maybe he should have remembered the fear some animal put in him that night, but it didn’t work. His nature was to wander and that’s what he did, definitely traveling north of our house, past the neighbor’s, closer to where coyotes and bobcats are known to live. It was probably inevitable that he would disappear eventually.
And three nights ago he did.
In the end he left as he came: mysteriously, one day. And after knowing him for all of his life and one-third of mine, I think that’s exactly how he would have wanted it.