My cat Rocky died unexpectedly, and too soon, at eight years old, last week. I have been absolutely devastated. This is my eulogy to him. If you are a cynical SOB, keep on moving. I deserve it, as I am the most sarcastic bastard living. You sow what you reap.
The first time that I met the cat who would become known to me as Rocket J. Squirrel, or Rocky, he was terrified of me. We were at the San Francisco Society for the Protection of Animals (SPCA) and he was hiding inside the cat shelter. I said "C'mon beautiful kitty, I'm not going to eat you: I think you're awesome. I want you and your brother to come live with me, I think..."
I had not come to the shelter to adopt a beige longhair Balinese cat, much less two of them. It was all so fucking weird. I had come to the shelter to get one black shorthaired cat. That was my intention, but it feels strange to think that the outcome of that day could have been anything other than it was. Rocky and Lucky were already there, waiting for me to come pick them up.
Rocky was really scared at the SPCA, more so than his brother. I could tell he relied on his brother to be the public face of the team. The SPCA required that Rocky be adopted along with his brother because they were littermates and deeply bonded. Actually, Rocky at the time was named Lucky and his brother was named Sasquatch, because of his extremely large paws. I hated the name Sasquatch. Obviously, their former owner was a stoner. But I got confused and thought Sasquatch was Lucky. That name was OK, but the other would have to be changed. So, Sasquatch became Lucky and Lucky became Rocky. Rocky it was.
I had to go through counseling at the SPCA because they thought that my cats were basically feral, and would probably never bond to me. I endured this with good humor, and we were out of there and in a cab right about closing time. I could tell they were just scared and unhappy to be in the shelter, and that if I could earn their trust, we would be OK. I just needed to get them home peacefully.
The cab ride home was uneventful, but as soon as we got to my house at Powell and Washington, right on the cable car line with heavy traffic, as I was struggling with the two cardboard temporary cat carriers to get them out of the cab, the top on one of the carriers came loose, and the cat I had named Rocky escaped right on the street.
I was fucking mortified and scared, cursing myself and the negligent staff at the SPCA for not securing the top of the carrier better. I knew I would have only one chance, so I made myself bigger and chased him through the outside gate into the contained space of the vestibule of my building.
The cat ran to the back of the vestibule and arched his back. I opened the outside gate, and we faced off. The cat was scared and angry. I knew there was only one thing to do, and I knew I was going to get hurt in the process, but I dived on the cat and pinned him to the floor. Any other action would risk him bolting around me onto the street and possibly getting run over on Powell Street. Rocky fought me like a wild animal, and he was a lot stronger than I expected. His claws left deep gouges in the insides of my forearms that would take months to heal, but I was able to pin him, subdue him, force him back into his cardboard cat carrier, and get him upstairs to my apartment. It was not an auspicious start to my relationship with my new cat.
Rocky hid from me for almost two weeks. He hid behind boxes in living room, he hid under the couch, and finally he settled in to hide behind a rack of Elfa drawers in my bedroom. He would not come out. When I would peek in at him, he looked so miserable, lost and alone. His brother Lucky was OK, if a little skittish. He definitely started to warm to me, and ask little meow questions. I knew if I was going to win Rocky's trust, I would have to come to him, partly because he was scared and shy, and partly because our introduction to each other had been so traumatic.
On the third or fourth night of having Rocky and Lucky at my house, I got my sleeping bag out of my front hall closet, and I made a bedroll in front of the rack of drawers. I turned the lights in my bedroom down low and went to bed. I put a bowl of food and one of water in front of the rack. All I could see of Rocky was the reflection of the lights in his eyes. I hoped this would work. It didn't.
I woke up in the morning and Rocky was gone. I don't know where he went. But every night, he came back to the clothes rack, and I slept on the floor. The second night of my sleeping on the floor, I felt a weight on my chest, and I didn't dare move. Finally, I felt the weight on my chest settle, curl up, and go to sleep. That was Lucky. I drifted off. I woke to feel a second weight walk across my stomach, and curl up into the weight on my chest. That had to be Rocky. Rocky had come to me, to us. I wanted to pet him, as I had had the opportunity to do a couple of times with his brother, but I didn't want to scare him off.
I think of that fractious introduction now with amazement and bittersweet pangs, because Rocky and Lucky and I, and my girlfriend Anne, have spent several years now curling up together on the bed on the weekends in one big ball. Anne comes over on the weekends, and Lucky sleeps wrapped around her head on Fridays, with Rocky at the foot of the bed, and then, on Saturday, Rocky sleeps on the pillow around her head, not quite as close, but he's there. I'm not sure how the brothers came to this arrangement, but they did.
I need to mention that Rocky was slightly overweight. That's probably what led to his early demise. But he also had the most wonderful furry stomach. Sometimes at night, I would pull him close and put my face in his fur. Rocky would curl around my face and go to sleep. He came to love me, and I to love him. I know he never liked to be molested in this way, but he indulged me.
Rocky smoked, though he couldn't hold a cigarette himself. He would wait until I had a cigarette, and then he would meow at me until I let him lick the nicotine-laced tar off my fingers. He also liked to lick my face. He brooked no objections.
The last few years are kind of a blur to me right now, just snapshots of memories. Rocky and Lucky slept together much of the time in an indistinguishable mass of beige fur. I still have pictures of them in which you can't tell where one cat ends and the other begins. It has been an amazing, tender five years.
Two weeks ago, Rocky stopped sleeping with us. The food bowl was not being emptied at its usual rate. I thought they had decided they no longer liked the fancy cat food I was feeding them. I got another bag, and when that didn't work, I switched another old standby food they liked.
I had a friend in town in recent weeks, and my girlfriend's new apartment to set up, so I wasn't home as much as I usually am, and I did not see Rocky's decline. Or I didn't want to know. I want to think that was a blessing, but guilt tears at me. If I think about it, it's like being stabbed. I know that a big part of this was denial. But if I had realized what was happening, I know there was little that I could have done. I could have taken him to the vet, maybe bought him a couple of more weeks, and spent a lot of money, but his liver was failing, and he would have died anyway.
Last Tuesday, Rocky slept with me in my bed and let me put my face in his stomach, after several days of hiding. I felt pleasure and relief that surged through my body like warm water and settled in my chest. On Wednesday, he slept with me for a while, but then he wanted to go off by himself. Thursday morning, I found him curled up in my shoe closet, buried deep behind the shoes, dead. His eyes were open, but I think he woke up just as he died. I believe he died just as he woke, that he wasn't in pain, and that the toxins building up from his failed liver took him gently. I need to believe this.
If you have a cat, I want you to find them, flip them over, and--against their protest-- bury your face in their stomach and kiss them. Do it for Rocky. Please.
You think you'll have them forever, but you won't.