House Cats and Sister-Wives

Earlier this week, our cat of fifteen years, Jules, died. My husband wrote a beautiful Facebook post expressing his personal sentiments about the loss. I haven’t been ready to talk about it, until now.

Last fall, I attended a writer’s conference. During one of the sessions, we viewed a series of photos and were then asked to write a single word for each one – whatever leapt to mind. One of the photos showed little girls playing with a black and white kitten. I jotted the name “Jules,” the name of my senior cat, for it. Later in the session, we were instructed to choose one of the words about which to write a narrative. I chose “Jules.” The exercise only lasted a few minutes, and it really wasn’t intended to generate a complete piece. This is what I wrote:

“Isn’t she cute?” Sarah squealed as she ran up to the open driver’s side window of my car when I arrived to pick her up from her friend Kylie’s house. Her hands were cupped around a tiny black & white, green-eyed kitten. “Can we keep her? Can we, pleeeese?” Sarah pleaded. I looked at the pathetic little thing. I knew it had probably spent the entirety of its short life, up to that point, in the clutter and filth that Kylie’s family called their yard and home, with at least a dozen other cats and half a dozen dogs. I felt sorry for it, and it was pretty cute. It’d been a long time since we’d had a pet. It had been since the house on Avondale, before my divorce from the girls’ father. Three years had passed since we had to sell the house and give the girls’ pet cat, Butterscotch, to my aunt. They’d lost their home, lost having their dad around full-time, and even lost their cat. How could I say no? Besides, I kinda wanted another cat too, and, now that we had a house again, we could. “Okay,” I sighed, to Sarah’s delight. Now all we had to do was get Mike on board.

There really wasn’t much to “getting Mike on board.” He came home to find me holding what looked like a drowned rat. Jules had been completely riddled with fleas, so I immediately had to give her a flea bath and then tediously pick through her fur to make sure they were all gone. When I was done, I tucked her into the bib of my overalls. She curled up and fell asleep, purring contentedly. What else could Mike have done when confronted with such an adorable sight? Yes, he was “on board” right from the get-go. He even suggested a name for her. He said we should name her Jules after Jools Holland, my favorite BBC music show host. I decided, however, to spell it J-U-L-E-S after Jules Vern, instead. J-O-O-L-S just looked too much like “fools” to me.

That little green-eyed kitten grew into an enormous, albeit beloved, family pet. I swear, you could easily have mistaken that animal for a large beaver or a possum! She patiently put up with the hijinks of three little girls. She tolerated the intrusion of us bringing an ill-behaved, hundred-pound Labrador into her house – one that had a nasty habit of slobbering around in her litter box. Mind you, it took us a forever to figure out that that was why she kept shitting on the floor. Once we did, though, and once we’d installed enough baby-gates (barring the dog’s access to litter box snacking) to make it look like our house was a daycare, she finally stopped (until very recently). Thank God!

Jules resisted her natural instincts, in spite of the parade of guinea pigs, rats, and fish we brought to live with us, never so much as batting a paw in their general direction. She even, eventually, adjusted to the presence of another cat, Peanut. I guess all that was a lot to deal with, so I can’t really fault her for ending up becoming such a crotchety bitch over time.

The circumstances surrounding Peanut joining our family were unique. Losing Sarah in a horrendous car accident just a few months after she’d adopted her, somehow made me feel particularly close to Peanut. Peanut was also unusually affectionate and vocal, too. These traits made her a source of comfort to me during that incredibly painful time. So, I guess you might say that Jules had been displaced, to a degree, in my heart. As a result, Mike became the focus of Jules’ attention and affection. As cute as it might sound, this could be incredibly irritating. She often insisted on sleeping between the two of us, cuddled against his tummy or chest, with her feet jabbing into my back or side. It got progressively intrusive this past year. There were nights when I would rouse, roll over, and then, bleary-eyed, find myself staring directly into those piercing green eyes. That’s right! Bitch had her head on my man’s pillow! Yes, many were the mornings that I left my bed, with Mike still in it, and came back to the bedroom to dress, only to find Jules sleeping in my spot! I often joked that Jules considered herself my “sister-wife”.

Truly, there were times that Jules irritated the shit out me, but I loved her. A part of me will always see her as that little green-eyed kitten cupped in the hands of my Sarah. Jules’ had a place in my heart that was her own. Would you believe she loved coffee with cream? Yup, whenever I’d pour a cup, she’d appear. She’d sniff the air and try to get as close as possible to my cup. If, God forbid, I ever left a cup unattended, I would inevitably come back to find her dipping her paw into it and enjoying. She also loved my freshly lotioned hands and feet, as well as freshly washed hair. “Stop it! Knock it off, Jules!” I would shout as she tried, nonchalantly, to lick my hands, feet, or hair. Bleck! Today, as I was pouring my coffee, I looked up, expecting to see her come lumbering around the corner at the scent. I realized, in that moment, how much I would miss her.

When we went to bed Wednesday night, Jules didn’t make her typical appearance for wet food. I realized that I hadn’t seen her all day, and Peanut had been acting strange – unusually clingy and even more vocal. We looked, but had no luck finding her. It wasn’t unusual, though. Jules had always done as she pleases. We went to bed anyway, thinking that she’d eventually come out to eat. But I couldn’t sleep. I sensed something was wrong. I got up and looked for Jules again. This time, I found her. She had crawled into a closet in the basement. It looked as though she’d just wanted to rest on the coolness of the concrete. I said her name and reached out to touch her. She was cold and stiff. I went to tell Mike. He was still in bed, half-asleep. “Jules is dead,” I told him. “What? What do you mean?” Needless to say, he was stunned. “What do we do?” I asked, “Should I just cover her up and leave her until the morning? Do you think she’d be okay out in the shed until the morning? What should we do?” “I’m gonna go dig a hole back in the woods,” he replied. “Now?” I questioned. “Yes!” he said. Mike has a well-established phobia of handling dead animals of any kind, even our pets. I knew that it was up to me to get Jules out to the woods. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I gently pulled the trash bag over her lifeless body, tied it, and pulled the bag up off the floor. I walked out into the yard and toward the glow of light in the woods. I found Mike sweaty and out of breath, with a blank expression. He dug and dug and dug, as a cloud of bugs swarmed around us in the light of the lantern. “Surely our neighbors are gonna think we’re getting rid of some kind of ‘evidence’,” I thought. Nah, they already know we’re a couple of weirdoes. Once the hole was deep enough to keep the coyotes from getting at her, Mike motioned for me to place Jules in her final resting place. He then sank to his knees, exhausted. “She was a good cat,” I said, placing my hand on his shoulder. Then we walked back to the house. As we stepped onto the deck, Mike sat down and, in the moonlight, began to weep. “You said she was immortal,” he told me, with his head in his hands. I had. But, of course, I’d been joking. There were times when it did, indeed, seem she’d live forever. She had outlasted every pet so far.

Jules lived a good, long life – fifteen years. The quality and length of her life made it a little easier for me to accept her passing. Mike, however, has had a much harder time. When an animal chooses you as his/her preferred human, your connection is more than that of pet and owner. It is friendship. It is companionship. It is love. And love is love. When we love, anyone or anything, its loss is significant. In the words of St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of animals, “A cat purring on your lap is more healing than any drug in the world, as the vibrations you are receiving are of pure love and contentment.” Thank you, Jules, for helping to heal our human hearts. Rest in peace, sister-wife.

 

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