For this exercise, I’ll tell the stories behind five photos over the course of five days.
I adopted Cali in December 1996 from Morris Animal Refuge in Philly. Morris is a kill shelter, and a note on her cage indicated her time was running out. She was a 6-year-old morbidly obese calico, and she rubbed the side of her face on the bars of her cage when she saw me. I decided she was the one, and I signed the papers for her. She was the first cat I adopted on my own as an adult.
She was so heavy that I wasn’t able to take public transportation back home to West Philly, where I lived at the time, so I had to take a cab. The cab driver was worried that she’d pee, but I said she wouldn’t. Luckily, she didn’t.
Cali was affectionate and loved people. Everyone in my life loved her back. She was smart, too — she learned how to manipulate me as I’m sure she had done to others in the past. She had a loud, raspy meow and she was always, always hungry. I began to understand how she got to be so fat: She’d beg with that crazy, hoarse meow, standing on her back legs to get her face as close as possible to mine, until I fed her. Then she’d practically tremble with eagerness when I filled her dish, then dive into her food. When she was done, it would begin all over again. Eventually I had to put an end to this and although she never really lost much weight, she didn’t gain much either.
She lived with me at five different addresses in Philly, two addresses in Columbus, Ohio and one address in Las Vegas. Because she hated all other animals, I was never able to have other pets, and so she was the star of my life. I have so many photos of her and even VHS videos (not that I can watch them anymore). She had a lot of dog-like qualities — she’d run to greet me whenever I came home, she’d follow me around and she’d try to come with me whenever I left.
I was at my desk at the Las Vegas Sun one morning in April 2003 when my ex called to say Cali was dragging herself across the floor and appeared to have lost her ability to walk. He was rushing her to the vet. I was on deadline (it was an afternoon paper at the time) and I felt like I couldn’t leave, but one of the editors heard me crying at my desk and came over. I explained the situation she she told me to go.
The vet said she had a fatal blood clot and there was nothing he could do. She was 13 years old.
I didn’t feel like I could be there when she was euthanized. I feel horrible about this now. I understand why I made that choice back then, though — it seemed unfathomable to me to be there to see my special girl die. We petted her and cried and told her we loved her as she howled and meowed and looked at us with huge eyes and breathed through her mouth. She was taken into an exam room and I signed the papers. As I walked out into the parking lot, I could hear her raspy meow from all the way down the hall.
I went back to work and cried all day. I think my podmate must have thought I was crazy, but he didn’t understand. Losing a close friend is is profoundly devastating. She died on a Wednesday, and every Wednesday for the next two years I wore all black to work. And up until two years ago, I kept her urn in a place of honor in my home. Even now, a small framed photo of her is on a shelf to my left. I’d go on to love many more cats in my life, ones I adopted, fosters and ones I care for at the shelter where I volunteer. But Cali was the original cat who captured my heart and she’ll always be so special to me.
(A few months after Cali died, I adopted two new cats from the Nevada SPCA, Magilla and Callie. I’m sure it appeared odd that I chose a cat with the same name, but it wasn’t intentional. I grew to see it as a tribute to the original.)
That night at home, we both cried as we put away her cat dish (believe it or not, I still have it in my momento bin) and her other things. I didn’t have the heart to sweep up the stray pieces of cat food on the kitchen floor.
We looked through photos of her — this was back when photos were tangible. So many of the photos I have of her are close-up and blurry because she was always trying to get on my lap. Eventually we found the one I’m sharing. It was turned upside down, like it is here.
“It looks like she’s flying,” my ex said, and we both started laughing. “She’s flying to heaven!”
Despite my grief, it felt so good to laugh.
I didn’t really intend on this being a memorial to Cali, and I didn’t mean for it to be sad and I didn’t mean to go back to the “dead loved ones” theme that I seem to fall into in my blog. Once I started writing, though, that’s where it needed to go. I used the blog I kept back then to fill in the details.