“That’s what ‘optimistic’ means, you know. It means ‘stupid’. An optimist is somebody who goes ‘Hey, maybe something nice will happen’. Why the FUCK would anything nice EVER happen? What are you, stupid?”—Louis CK
I know my writing is rusty, but the point of the story is this cat was awesome.
It took too long to realize what I had. It was almost too late.
We grew up together. As a child, I was young and abrasive, too selfish to respect him. Despite him being slightly younger than me, I saw him as a curmudgeonly old man, as that was the most common mood I elicited from him. At times I even found a certain satisfaction in irritating him, since I naively felt that his bitterness towards me was no fault of mine. In the beginning he maintained an eager persistence. But he matured much more quickly than I, and with this maturity his hope and patience quickly diminished until it was just a long, steady flicker.
We hadn’t been particularly close to begin with, but as we aged, my neglect pushed him away. I filled my life with others — young, fleeting, as impatient as I was — and he grew distant. I didn’t see much of him, but he stayed near and watchful, as if living a separate life on the outside of a one-way mirror. Sometimes in the neighborhood I’d pass him in the street and he’d watch me from the shade with wise eyes and a flimsy hope. Occasionally he would follow from a distance. I’d stop, turn, and he’d stop too, calling softly. When I was older, but not old enough to fully comprehend or regret my earlier disrespect, I would invite him to join me, and we’d walk together in silence. Our lives progressed as such, next to each other but rarely crossing, with a space up to me to close.
Finally my personality paced itself and I learned a semblance of patience. One day I passed by him and it struck me how old he looked. I studied his fading coat and deepening eyes as he watched me from his spot in the shade. His vibrancy had become a shadow. I approached him and invited him inside for the first time in years.
He went upstairs into my room and stayed there for the rest of his life, perhaps two more years. In barely any time at all we forged an iron-strong connection as if there’d always been one. He’d leap to my lap before I’d even finish sitting down, even as his hips started to creak. I slept with my face buried in him, even as he began to smell stale with age. He’d follow me as far as the stairs, then stop and sit on the second-to-top step until I returned. I would come back to him and he’d meow and stand, revealing a nest of shed hair around him exposing how long he’d waited. From my lap he would gaze up at me, only his deep golden eyes distinguishable from the rest of his murky blackness, a thunderous purr resonating from him. ”Cloud”, I’d sometimes called him as a child during the few times I made him purr. ”Because he’s dark and sounds like thunder.”
I made many mistakes during those few years, yet he didn’t mind. I had to leave him alone frequently for school or travels, but he stayed and waited, his affections never waning, even as the other cats grew indignant towards me. Eventually one of the other cats, once so irritating to him as a kitten, grew to spending much of his days cuddled around him on the bed, grooming him.
Inevitably, his life grew thin. Each leap onto my lap required a long gathering of effort and a guttural meow. His body receded to a mere frame and his kidneys began to fail. Through this his loyalty remained unconditional and dedicated, but his suffering had to end.
We planted a rose bush over his grave in the garden. I sat there and the other cats approached one by one. One of them of the same coat and color passed in my peripheral vision and gave my heart a start. I pretend that they understood.
I can’t describe what I felt upon his loss, because I can no longer fathom it. But now I smile at his memory. He taught me much about unconditional love, despite being “just a cat” perhaps incapable of such emotions. Since then I’ve learned to pay much closer attention to the things my favorite creature can teach me, to respect them as individuals as unique as human beings, to never underestimate their capabilities, and to be patient.