Tuesday, June 17, 2014

It's taken me a long time to write this post, because one it was hard for me to write. And, because finishing it felt so permanent.

On May 9th, I said goodbye to my beloved Atticus.


Seventeen years ago, I walked into Pet Mania, a local independently owned pet store that also operated an animal rescue inside of it. During that visit, I saw a pair of four-month-old kittens up for adoption. They were entirely black except for white whispy tufts of hair that curled out of their ears like the character Grandpa on "The Addams Family." I'd never seen anything like it. Those tufts looked like they'd been styled with a curling iron.

I'd been considering a second cat since I felt that my female cat Scout, though she got plenty of spoiling, could use a companion. My life in Los Angeles had just started to take off, with a new set of friends and an awesome job. This meant many outings on the town, especially when I worked for an internet company (a new thing back then) with a pirate ship full of creative, connected, smart tech rebels.

For some reason, ignorance probably, I had decided that I didn't want a black, long-haired, or a male cat. Well, little did I know, the brother of the two kittens would be set on making me see the error of my ways.

At first, I was taken by the female. She was so sweet, with her stoic, yet inviting disposition. On my several trips to look at them, the brother would always nudge her out of the way to get my attention. I'd gently move him aside and pet his sister, but he insisted so I pet him too. They both were clearly friendly cats, and my goodness, those tufts! On a return visit, I saw the brother in there by himself. As soon as he saw me, he locked eyes on me and meowed loudly from across the room, as if he was saying, "Hey lady, I'm still here!"

Hollywood, 1998. Atticus. Unfortunately you can't see his tufts here.
Upon learning that his sister had been adopted, I put my prejudices aside and played with "this boy cat" a bit. Then, I figured it couldn't hurt to ask to hold him. Once in my arms, he molded himself to my body, completely limp as he purred to his heart's content. He even let me cradle him. But still, I resisted as I'd never had a boy cat before. During the couple of weeks, every  time I walked into the pet store he'd go up to the front of his cage and meow loudly. Well, it was on one of those return visits that I took home a black, long-haired, male cat, whom I'd eventually name Atticus. It was one of the best decisions I ever made in my life.

Scout, at first, would have begged to differ. She was my princess tortoise shell cat, whom I learned could give the best stink eye I'd ever seen. She'd glare at him, then look at me as if saying, "Why have you forsaken me?" However, with time, she adapted to the intruder. They made a good team, Scout and Atticus.

In my apartment in Baltimore. Atticus had no problem hanging loose.
I always felt each cat represented the two parts, or psyches of me. Scout-- independent, wise, fierce when she needed to be, adventurous, loyal, sweet, confident, yet cautious, represented my soul. Atticus-- fun, loving, silly, goofball, spontaneous, shameless, a show off, prone to letting fear win, yet not afraid to act-on-impulse, represented my heart.

A week after adopting him, I stopped by my step-brother Dan's apartment after taking him to get his first shots, and he let me know what he thought of that experience by going Gallagher on inside of his carrier with his own shit. I left the soiled carrier outside and took the soiled cat inside, who allowed me to hold him on his back with one hand as I ran warm water over him to wash him off. After I towel dried him, he zipped around Dan's apartment like black lightning, and eventually fell asleep sitting upright, wedged between two cushions on his couch.

"Look at this cat," I'd said to Dan, and we'd shake our heads in amusement. Then I'd say, "I think I did well in choosing him." But I knew what the truth was-- he'd chosen me. And, not only that, he'd  waited for me. I must add, major props to Dan for not freaking out over me bringing in a shit-covered cat into his pet-free apartment.

Atticus offering his services as a paper weight.
There aren't words for how much I loved this cat. This black, long-haired male cat that I'd resisted so much-- who refused to take no for an answer. Every day, he made me not just laugh, but crack up. He brought a light-hearted, Hakuna Matata spirit into my home and heart where it was greatly needed. Atticus loved being Atticus.

In Baltimore. He did this all by himself. Then, just sat there and inhaled 360-degree chicken-scented bliss.
He always found the most hilarious places to go or fit into. If it was new, it had to be explored. In my apartment in Baltimore, I'd erected a 12-foot ladder to reach the ceiling, and well, this happened:
Baltimore - Atticus did not possess a fear of heights.
And if I was doing something, he always let me know where he thought my attention should really be focused.
Nov., 2012. Along with shamelessly draping himself across my arms as I tried to write, he was kneading my tummy and purring loudly. I had to remove my other hand from underneath him to take this photo.
Wanting to be on my lap, Atticus gives me "The Look."
Atticus sails from the top of the hutch to my chair .

Along with Scout, we had many adventures, including driving across the country not one, but two times. One to move from Los Angeles to Baltimore, and then back. The second time, my dad joined us from Asheville and as with everything else, my dad had to be explored. He crawled on his lap, under the seat, between his feet and sniffed every inch of his suitcase. He was my little buddy. Always by my side with an honest to God smile on his face. And boy, could that boy jump.

More than one vet, upon seeing our interaction, commented on our special bond. Friends loved him. Later in life, he became more of a mama's boy, but he could be won over pretty easily, and on command would give a hello or goodbye meow to my guests. Yes, really. My current vet here in Burbank even said we were soul mates and called him, "One of the special ones."

And, he was.

When he was just about sixteen, he was diagnosed with the beginning stages of kidney failure, which is what gets most senior cats. I kept a good eye on him, monitoring his diet and watching his energy level. It was after a trip to Baltimore that his symptoms became alarming. While he was still unquestionably still Atticus, he'd become frighteningly lethargic. After being treated for a kidney infection and prescribed fluids, he bounced back, but it was a steady decline from there.

While I'm aware that I'm going through a mourning process, since he's been gone I look at the days differently and as I've described to friends when trying to put it into words, I feel like I've lost much of my joy and levity. My world feels less vibrant and laughing, even when done earnestly, feels forced.

When I come home, that Atticus meow doesn't greet me and my apartment feels empty. That little happy spirit, a constant smile and trot, that tail held high in the air with a curl at the end, the joy at discovering him in a new place, and his unequivocal love and friendship are no longer a part of my life. It's left me in a state of confusion on how to be. Or, in understanding what life is supposed to feel like now.

I wasn't prepared for the effect his passing would have on me and how deeply rooted that little cat was into who I was. I thought that knowing he was diagnosed with kidney failure, his gradual decline would make it easier for me to emotionally prepare. But, it didn't. You never know until you say goodbye and come home to that gaping absence. Especially after the first couple of days into your normal routine. Because, it's anything but normal. It's disrupted, broken and less than what it was.

For 17 years, he made my life so much fuller, more grounded and filled with love. I was Anne, with a hilarious cat named Atticus. Atticus, who waited for me to take him home.

And I'm so glad I did. Thank you Atticus, for giving me so much, and for being my heart.