My sophomore year in Annapolis, seven friends and I rented a duplex off campus. On our side, Scott, Amy, and I had the second floor. Nancy and her cat, Maggie, lived in the attic. Maggie had a litter, and the house was filled with kittens until they were old enough for Nancy to very, very reluctantly find homes for them. It was the first time I’d lived with cats. I thought I’d like to have one when I had a place of my own.
That summer, when I filled out the paperwork to transfer from Saint John’s to UMBC, I completed a questionnaire from the campus housing office asking what sort of living arrangement I wanted. I checked off the boxes indicating that I liked to get up early and would like a quiet dorm where I could study. When I arrived to move in, I saw three giant Greek letters on the side of my apartment building. At the end of a semester of wall-pounding, all-night music and stepping over passed out frat boys and the pool of vomit by the door on my way to breakfast, I found a room off campus. My parents and my friend and duet buddy Dave helped me move into the house on Edmondson Avenue. Sherry, who lived across the hall, wanted to get a cat, and we decided to adopt one together. She let me name it, and since she and I were both reading the Sherlock Holmes stories at the time, he became Watson. When I told Dave we wanted to get him some company, he took me to a friend of his who had a litter, and I picked a little grey kitten with white paws, a white belly, and a white chin they’d been calling “Face”. After a romp in the grass in front of Dave’s house, I brought her home. Since it was Sherry’s turn to name, she became Baby.
After the inevitable rocky start, Watson and Baby became buddies. We lived on the third floor, and we’d let them out on the balcony and hear them walking over the roof to look in at us through the windows on the other side. Sherry worked for the phone company, and when she was transferred, I took the cats with me to Bloomsbury Avenue (despite my eccentric Edmondson landlady’s attempt to offer them to a prospective tenant while I was out). They became indoor/outdoor cats there. One day, I found Watson by the basement steps. It looked like he’d been hit by a car and had crawled home to die. Baby mourned him, not eating or grooming herself for several days.
After that, it was her and me, year in and year out. After my recent trip back to Baltimore, I realized I’d visited five homes she shared with me there. She’s been both a friend and companion in her own right, but also a connective tissue running through two decades of my life. I’ve been through college, a career, two partners, and a million big and little changes, but only one cat.
In 2009, her vet found a heart murmur which was kept under control by adding pills to our breakfast routine. She slowed down over the last few years and started gradually losing weight, despite continuing to have a good appetite. At some point, it dawned on me that she’d become deaf. This year, she grew thinner and thinner, her ribs showing more every month. I noticed sometimes that her hind legs seem to be splaying, like she was having trouble holding herself up. Blood tests showed she was anemic and that her liver and kidneys were failing. She entered a triangular pattern of chair to food to litter box to chair, which she almost never broke. She stopped going upstairs. For the last few months, I lost the use of the chair in the sunroom, which became the permanent home for her ever-longer naps.
Wednesday morning, I found her laying on the floor, and she had difficulty getting up and going on her way. That afternoon, she tried to follow me to the kitchen for lunch, and her legs just buckled under her. She gradually made it out to eat and back to the front of the house, but couldn’t get in her chair. I took her to the vet, and he said she had lost most of her muscle mass, probably due to anemia stemming from kidney failure. He said they could run tests to see exactly what the problem was, but at her age, no matter what they did for her, it would probably be a couple of weeks or a couple of months at most before she lost the ability to walk. I didn’t want to risk going out of the house sometime and coming home to find her laying on the floor, unable to get to her food, and decided it was a good time to let them put her to sleep.
She would have been 22 this winter, a Methuselah of cats. She brought a lot of joy into a lot of lives, and I’m glad she didn’t suffer and could do what she wanted right up until her last day.
Good night, little sweetheart, thanks for everything. We’ll all miss you.