Six was a lonely cat, imperfectly socialized and nervous. He flinched when you reached to pat his head, nipping your hand. I never saw Emily bend to pet him, nor did he rub against her ankles. Emily had lived in a succession of shared apartments and Six had been taken care of by friends or roommates. Now that Emily lived alone, there was no one to take pity on the cat. I offered to take care of him when Emily was gone, which was often, and she gave me a key.
Cats need to interact with humans to be completely tame, and Six seemed to have lost his connection to people. I worked to gain his trust. Cats bond through play. He didn’t have any toys, so I borrowed one of Emily’s shoelaces. We played first, then he ate. I brought him a variety of delicious cat food flavors, which he would eat only after his need for attention was satisfied. After a few weeks, his bones became less visible.
He wasn’t used to being held. I began picking him up for a few seconds at a time, holding him up to the window and letting him look out. Emily never allowed the blinds to be open for fear that someone would look into her room. The cat was willing to remain in my arms for a little while for a chance to look at the world outside the hellish apartment and sniff some outside air through an inch of open window.
Six seemed to enjoy my visits. He learned to recognize my step and greeted me at the door. He had this trick that he did -- you reached out to pet him and he stood on his hind legs pressed his head into your hand. He looked like he was jumping for joy. My heart melted all over the place.
One day, I got a call from a neighbor: Emily hadn’t paid the rent and was in a mental hospital; the landlord wanted to evict her. Six might be sent to the pound. So I took him home. Thus began a nightmare year of closed doors, unhappy cats, and a partner who was always in another part of the house because cats should not be left alone. My conversations with my husband that year went like this:
"Do you want to sit with Milagrito or Six?"
"Well, I want to watch the ball game, so I’ll go in the living room with Six."
"Ok. I’ll go online and sit with Milagrito."
I missed my husband, but Six couldn’t be left alone. Not again.
Six stayed with us for a year, in the middle of which we had the episode of the police. I was pretty successful in socializing him, despite that bite he gave me in the heat of battle. We played every day. He liked to be close to me. I paced the length of the house with him thrown over my shoulder, both of us falling into a meditation for half an hour at a time. Then, sated with closeness, he would eat.
I saw Emily a few more times. I had the good fortune to get my hooks into her car registration as loan collateral and Emily sold the car and settled with me for 30 cents on the dollar. We haggled for days.
She offered to pay me twelve hundred dollars, "...and I’ll throw in Six."
"I already have Six."
"I know, but he’s really mine."
"Tell you what, I’ll sue you for the money and you sue me for the cat."
"I consulted an attorney and he said it’s not a civil matter, it’s a criminal matter."
An attorney? Over a cat she couldn't be bothered to feed? That gave me a hint of how angry she was that she had lost control, of me and of Six. "Fine, call the D.A."
"Ok, fifteen hundred..."
I never saw Emily again after we sold the car and split the money. She promised to get in touch about the rest of the money. Neither of us expected her to.
That long, awful year, I despaired of finding Six a home. I would not let him go to strangers and he was not doing well in his adoption interviews. He bit two of my friends who had considered taking him, including one who had helped care for him at Emily’s. I don’t know what got into him, biting one of his favorite people. Now she refused to take him, saying he was "too much of a handful." After the police incident, he got a reputation as a dangerous cat. He seemed unadoptable and destined to live out his days in feline maximum security.
Then a miracle happened. My friend Frida came to visit, and I talked to her with Six on my shoulder, where he often was. I knew Frida would be out of town most of the next few months, so I didn’t try to convince her to take Six. Suddenly, she reached out, cupped his chin in her hand, looked into his eyes and said, "I like this cat. I would take him if I could." Six gazed back. He didn’t bite.
A few months later, he moved in with Frida. With no crazies and no other cats, he finally relaxed. The aloof, nippy Six who slinked through Emily’s garbage-strewn room became people-loving, kid-friendly Six at Frida's airy space. He charmed Frida's friends with a tilt of his little head. Her nieces and nephews loved to play with him. Her friends fussed over him. He never forgot me. I stayed with him when Frida was out of town and we walked around the house with him on my shoulder, just like we used to.
Six had a secure, comfortable life and all the love he wanted, but his life was short. When he got sick, friends called every day. Folks went over to see him one last time. He died of cancer on February 10 at nine years of age. I buried him in my backyard under a wild iris. Six is one of the great triumphs of my life. He was a frog I kissed and I came to love him more than I had ever loved Emily, because he gave something back. I don’t care that he was just a cat. I have no sense of proportion.