Brooklyn, Iowa City, Minnesota, Berkeley, and Portland—through the entire thread of my life in my twenties and early thirties I traveled with these weird funny cats Foot Foot and Seven. And in 2012 I nearly lost them both. An era in your life closes when the animals you got in your twenties start to die.
5. LOST AND FOUND
Seven went missing in early September. A friend who was watching her had taken her over to her mom's house, and Seven slipped out a torn screen door and disappeared. It had not rained for 80 days. There were false sightings at a high school, in a backyard, etc. Every night I watched the Multnomah County Animal Shelter's intake cam, which just makes you want to turn into this.
Two weeks went by. No rain. Hot sunny days. I thought of Seven, born in Brooklyn, street-tough, but pretty much a Real Housewife ever since her rescue, a sunbather and couch-sprawler, curvaceous and languid. For once, I thought, her rotund figure—her tag reads THE BASKETBALL WITH A HEART--might be her best hope.
When dark set in every night my gut would twist and my heart would start to pound. I'd lie in bed, unable to read or watch myself to sleep.
Fifteen days gone, and suddenly a photo popped up on my phone from Matilda: Is this her? Yes! I recognized her immediately. I began to weep with joy. Someone had seen a poster and recognized her. Seven had crossed busy Division Street (and survived!), and taken up residence in these people's backyard, for two weeks, under a statue of St. Francis of Assisi. (Exclamation points for miles.) It's almost enough to turn a person Catholic.
6. FOOT FOOT, 1998-2012
Three days after Seven had been found, a vet broke the sad news to me that my cat Foot Foot had developed a swift, sudden mouth cancer that wouldn't quit. She struggled to eat. I blew all my frequent flier miles on a flight to Portland, where she was staying with my irreplaceable friend Torrence, to get my last fix of Footy's singular, jubilant, maniacal snuggling, and put her to rest.
I was barely out of college when I adopted Foot Foot from an obsessive animal rescuer, or hoarder?, in a strange gated community at the tip of Coney Island. Two hundred-some cats lolled in cages stacked in every room of the house. I thought Seven wanted a companion. I wanted a Foot Foot.
I studied the caged cats. They were all fine. Any of them could come home with me, or none. Maybe all humans have this egoistic fantasy that our animals choose us—that it's more than whim or available inventory that brings them into our lives. But I wanted something better than "sure, okay." I wanted to know. I ended up back at the front door, ready to go home and think about it more.
But down in the corner, in a shadowy cage on the floor, I spied a scrawny adolescent calico tabby, a patch of brightness rising to her feet among her gray sisters. "Can I see that one?" I asked. When the rescue guy handed her to me, the cat flung herself into the crook of my neck, nuzzled in, and began to lick me like a puppy, purring. I knew: She was Foot Foot.
Foot Foot stayed scrawny and small, forever a kitten. Her back legs were messed up--a loose kneecap or something--leaving her both knock-kneed and duck-footed, and she had an ever-teary eye where a duct was blocked. Her fur was bunny-soft. But what defined her was her near-pathological affection.
Above all else, Foot Foot loved love, to a nearly oppressive degree. Peel her off of you and she would return, again and again. She would thrust her head against your hand, writhing and purring, and clamp her paws around your wrist so you couldn't stop petting her. While sitting forward on a chair, perhaps while playing Catan or Scrabble in my kitchen, you may have felt the odd sensation of two small paws on your upper back and turned to find Foot Foot standing upright behind you like a tiny masseuse, though really she was plotting her course over your shoulder and into your arms. If you ever took a bath in her presence, you would see Foot Foot traverse the rim of the tub, dab at the water, and set a paw upon your wet chest as she contemplated her impossible bind: there is the lap, but it is underwater.
When I got to her in Portland last September, she had shrunk to a ragged twig of a cat, and her breath smelled like a sewer pipe, like the evil thing trying to kill her, but her fur was still chinchilla-soft. She nestled immediately into my neck as if I'd never left her. My Portland friends, the ones whom distance has only solidified in my life, gathered around me at Torrence's. We ordered from Pizza-A-Go-Go. Aubree brought over a six-pack of hard cider and a bourbon-salt-caramel ice cream from Salt & Straw. My former housemate and longtime cat-uncle Rita snuggled Foot Foot and sobbed. I slept with her for the last time, nestled in my arms all night. I listened to "Coney Island Baby" by Tom Waits, a song whose chorus I liked to sing to her.
The next day, Foot Foot sprawled in a patch of sunlight on the floor and Torrence's roommate Gillian played us a song she had written about her on the guitar ("Foot Foot runs; Foot Foot walks; Foot Foot never stops.") The pain must have been excruciating. But she purred. She soaked up the sun. She still wrapped her paws around my wrist and held my hand on her.
Torrence and I brought her to the vet that afternoon. I nuzzled my face into her neck and whispered to her and held her tiny soft paw until she was still. I could not look at her there on the table, I did not want that image in my mind; I let my last experience of her be just the feeling of her soft fur and her warmth. The sky above the parking lot was the purest blue.