a sad week

I called him Mister Linnet

He and his brother Morgan (who is still hale and healthy, thank all the gods) came home with me in a paper grocery sack when they were six weeks old, in September, 1993. They were small enough to stand one each in the palms of my hands. Small enough that my brother-in-law nicknamed Linnet Lint when he clawed his way up Bob’s leg. Small enough to completely disappear into the vertical blinds of my first apartment in Tacoma when he crashed headlong into his brother in pursuit of a fur mouse.

Ann and Bob and I laughed till we cried as they both jumped back, tails fuzzed and backs arched.

But he knew what was what – when I came home a few weeks later from Thanksgiving dinner at my friend Loralee’s smelling like the ferrets we’d played with at her house, he arched that back and fuzzed that tail again and wouldn’t have a thing to do with me till I not only changed clothes, but took a shower.

A few months later, when the three of us moved together for the first time into a duplex with a back yard, he staked it out for his very own. He became my mighty hunter, my little lion, bringing back mice and shrews and snakes and lizards. Morgan would watch and cheer him on – and then take every kill away from him the moment it landed on the back step. Linnet would look at him as if he expected it. Neither ever ate Linnet’s prey. And only once did anything live ever make it into the house.

That was always the way it was. Linnet was my smart, brave, aloof cat. I used to say Morgan wasn’t the brightest bulb in the chandelier (I have since learned better – there’s smart and then there’s sensible), and he always hogged the food. In seventeen years if I didn’t watch like a hawk, Linnet would have never gotten enough to eat.

Morgan is my dishrag cat (as in limp as a), with no dignity to speak of. Linnet was nothing if not dignified. I’m sure he would have been horribly embarrassed at his name had he known (I’d been told he was female by the woman who gave them to me, and did not find out he wasn’t until his first vet visit, but by then the name had stuck). He didn’t just walk, he stalked and strode. He could glare anyone down at thirty paces.

Morgan is my girl baby. My mother, with her vast experience of babies (four children, six grandchildren, seven great-grandchildren) always said that girl babies cuddle up to you, and boy babies stand on you. Linnet was my boy baby.

It’s hard to talk of one cat without the other. I don’t think they ever spent more than a few hours apart Linnet’s whole life, except when one was ill enough to spend time at the vet’s. I can’t count the number of times I found them sleeping together, wound up so closely that if it weren’t for the color I wouldn’t be able to tell where one cat stopped and the other started. Morgan misses Linnet as much as I do. The sun also rises in the east.

About ten years ago, Linnet got sick for the first time. He dropped from a sturdy twelve pounds (people always used to exclaim how big my cats were, even though I’ve known cats who weighed much more) to a scrawny eight in a matter of a few weeks. The vet ran tests, oh, did she run tests, until I finally put my foot down when she said the next step was exploratory surgery. We tried some medication aimed at reducing a possible overgrowth of bacteria in his stomach, which was the most likely suspect. It also came with a “prescription” for Pepto Bismol, to protect his stomach from the medication.

I don’t know anyone else who’s Pepto’d a cat. Linnet never was sensible about medication to begin with. I had to back him into a corner, stick his front paws between my heavily-jeaned knees, pull his head back, and aim the syringe. Then hold him until I was sure he’d swallowed. He would stalk away with the Look of Death (mine, not his) on his face, his mouth rimmed in pink. I still regret that I never managed to get a picture of that, but he’d probably never have forgiven me. When we left that residence several years later, I was still finding pink dots in obscure places in the laundry room.

But he recovered. After a fashion. He was never my mighty hunter or my chunky-style cat again. He still went out – insisted on it, as a matter of fact – but he never brought home big game or challenged the neighborhood cats for the backyard bragging rights again (although I did once catch him exchanging curious stares with a horse). And he never did get completely back up to twelve pounds.

We battled Linnet’s stomach troubles twice more after that. Each time it left him a bit more decrepit, and the last time the vet said the treatment would probably do him more harm than good if it happened again. The last few years, the nickname I used most often for him was “my old man.”

But it hadn’t come back for several years. He’d had some work done on his teeth a while back, and I’d hoped that had done the trick (the two problems can be connected). But I knew what it was the moment he started dropping weight and looking at his food like he was hungry but walking away after only a couple of mouthfuls. It went fast this time. It was like the weight just vanished. I took him to the vet on Wednesday, and she wanted to start running diagnostics on him again. Why? I thought. I knew what it was, she knew what it was, and he’d have been lucky to make it through the medication regime again, let alone all the unnecessary diagnostics she wanted to put him through first. I just wanted my cat back, and, failing that, to make him comfortable.

Then I came home Thursday afternoon, and he was so much worse. So fast. I called the vet’s office and took him in again.

And he’s gone.

Linnet was the cat who used to keep me company while I got dressed in the morning and put his front paws on my knee while I put my shoes and socks on. The cat who loved to stand on my “front porch” and butt his head on my ear and purr loud enough to deafen me. When I had shoulder surgery five years ago, I couldn’t let him do that for about six months. When I finally was able to pick him up and hold him across my chest again, he went nuts. I’ve never seen such a happy cat in all my life. I was back and he was back, and all was right with our world.

I miss him.

I know he was just a cat, but he was my cat and I miss him.