We lost a close and dear friend last Tuesday. She was a constant companion, a loyal confidant, cuddly, warm, and giving when she wasn’t being a bitch, a yeller especially in the middle of the night—”Where are you?” “I’m bored!”—, a film star, a water-lover, and a cat.
Her name was Squid. A cat so black she was almost impossible to photograph, she got her name at the end of an unproductive brainstorming session where we had decided just one thing, that the name “Inky” might make us throw up. Just at that moment, a friend called to ask if we had a recipe for an unusual pasta dish made with…ink from squid.
We moved into our current house (then a pile of bricks and old plaster) nineteen-and-a-half years ago. We had a cat—Agnes. She was sweet, quiet, unobtrusive, friendly. She would have been happy to have us to herself for the rest of time, but we fell prey to the propaganda: “Are you your cat’s only friend?” At the Anti-Cruelty Society, in the kitty room, Squid picked us to take her home but we didn’t know that until we had been enticed by her black beauty and charmed by her antics.
They say you should introduce the new cat to the old one slowly. Keep it locked in its own room for a while so they can get used to the smell of each other and come to understand that you (the territory) are going to be shared. They need to understand that they will exist on equal footing.
When we opened the door, Squid was the highly deferential second cat rolling on her back and showing the white spot on her shiny underbelly. That lasted about a day. Squid established her dominance specifically and severely. Quick claws, bared teeth, and a distinctive hiss informed Agnes that she was to sleep at the end of the bed if she got to be on the bed at all. Agnes was to lie touching Squid’s feet to keep them warm. Agnes was to wash Squid’s head and paws. Agnes could eat all the food she wanted, but only after she (Squid) was done. In other words, Squid was to be the glamour-puss and Agnes The Fat One.
Nearly everyone thought Squid was a boy with her Tom Cruise nose and tendency to stomp around and demand her due. How does a seven pound black cat stomp? She was a feet of nature.
Squid was nearly twenty years old when she finally kicked the kitty bucket.
After this long, privileged life and brief period of painless kidney failure, she died of a delicate but lethal injection as we watched her relax softly into gone-baby-gone. While the vet fetched a towel to wrap her in, we held her tiny, long, languid and still warm body cradled between us one last time.
As we walked to the bus headed for home, sharing the handle of a box that weighed almost as much as the body inside it, throats tight, tears streaming, Annie speculated that all losses are old losses. Maybe Squid is just a cat, but love is love and her death connects us to other loves and deaths we know—Annie’s mother, my dad—and to those we love but never faced like King and Lincoln, and even those we can anticipate. If deaths pile up, if bodies decompose but memories remain, then this death thing will just get harder as we age. It sure feels that way now.