Hannah came with a cat.
She and Isabelle had a lot in common. They were small and cute and awfully white, and both enjoyed a good nap. Hannah didn’t shed or bite as much, and Isabelle couldn’t cook, but other than that, they were as perfect a match of owner and cat as you were likely to find.
I’ve always been a dog guy, so at first, I was a little reluctant about having a cat. Hannah and I had been living together for a year or so before she finally brought Isabelle into the apartment. It wasn’t a test … but it was a test. I’d already met Isabelle on several occasions, but now it was different; we were sharing turf, two fuzzy beasts who liked to laze about and be fed. We circled each other cautiously for a few days.
Eventually, Isabelle decided I’d be allowed to stay. She made this clear by showing a marked tendency to lick my hair whenever I laid down, and to often sleep on my head at night. Once I tried to brush her away, a notion she quickly disabused me of with a few well-aimed swats from her thankfully de-clawed paw. I might have pulled back nothing but a stump otherwise.
Sundays and Wednesdays were especially interesting. Those were the days Isabelle got her special treat of wet food instead of her usual dry food. And she knew what those days meant. She’d leap onto the bed to make sure we were awake, and if we so much as glanced at the kitchen, she would dart into it, mewing a hopeful mew at the promise of whatever mixture of chicken or turkey was in the can that day. Then, unable to contain her excitement, she would practically inhale her feast, seemingly almost surprised when her nose reached the bottom of the can, proving you can’t have your Fancy Feast and eat it too.
So the two of us became a three of us, and I have to admit, I came to love that little ball of fur. Oh, she’d still hiss at me from time to time, bite my head for no good reason, get under my feet whenever I was carrying anything, and make a proud display of dragging various articles of clothing out of the bedroom into the middle of the living room. There were times I swore either Hannah or myself would end up out there one morning, with Isabelle sitting next to us looking enormously pleased with herself. But at her core, she was affectionate little diva of a cat, and the place was a little brighter for having her around.
When we got our second cat, Isabelle of course took it with all the grace and dignity and who am I kidding, she terrorized that poor thing. This was her apartment, with her nap spots and sun beams and hiding places, and who was this intruder to come waltzing in trying to share? Eleanor, the new girl, had one thing up her sleeve though, or more precisely, at the end of it: she wasn’t de-clawed. And so the two settled into an uneasy détente, with Isabelle full of righteous indignation, and Eleanor able to keep it at bay.
Neither cat had any way of understanding what was going on when things between Hannah and I started to end, but they could sense the tension. When Hannah moved out, she wasn’t able to take them with her where she was going, and I didn’t want — and wasn’t prepared to deal with — two living breathing reminders of something that was for all intents and purposes over. I know they can’t feel slighted or disappointed, at least not in the ways we can, but I couldn’t help but feel crushed when I thought about them living with Hannah’s mom. Did they think they did something wrong? Did they want to come home? It was an unexpected source of emotional anguish in a situation already rife with it.
And now we’ve come to find out that Isabelle isn’t doing so well. As in this might be the end. And I feel absolutely horrible, both for her and for Hannah. Bad for Isabelle because I still can’t help feeling a little guilty that I didn’t let her and Eleanor stick around, that maybe she’d have been happier and healthier in a familiar place. And bad for Hannah, for whom this is like losing a best friend, after having already lost so much in the last year. It just doesn’t seem fair.
Sometimes, on Sundays and Wednesdays, I swear I can hear a little hopeful mew from the kitchen. I occasionally think I catch a flash of white bounding out of the bedroom. I still remember the silly way she’d attack her own tail, and one of my favorite pictures ever remains the one of Hannah napping on the couch, tucked up in a blanket, with Isabelle sound asleep on top of her head. Isabelle may not have actually had nine lives, but it felt like she gave us nine lives’ worth of memories. And as sad as I am at the thought of her leaving us, it’s better than a continued existence of discomfort. She deserves that much.
One day, out of the blue, I sang a silly song about how happy Hannah and I were, and the refrain was, “But we got two bad cats!” I never meant a word of it. We had two great cats. I just wish the one could have stuck around a little longer. My hair could use a little grooming.