Bobbie Girl wasn’t originally supposed to be mine. She belonged to an ex-girlfriend who had left her at my apartment while she was sorting things out at her new place. When she came back months later to claim her, it was too late. I had fallen in love with Bobbie Girl and wasn’t giving her up. This was 2000, she was only a few months old, and I was living in a one bedroom apartment off West End Ave. I already lived with a cat, one-year-old Jeter, and he wasn’t too keen on having her live with us. But they learned to tolerate each other. This eventually meant separate food and water bowls and litter boxes, but that was fine by me. It worked. Years later when she started gaining weight and he suffered from frequent urinary tract infections, I had to put them both on a different prescription diet, when meant standing over their bowls every time they ate and making sure they didn’t switch places. They could be sneaky about it, and usually Jeter was the instigator. This wasn’t always practical, what with making coffee and getting dressed and running out of the house in the morning, but it worked. I eventually gave up on keeping the food separate a gave them both a mix. That worked too, for a long time, until it didn’t anymore. A few weeks ago, Bobbie Girl started eating less and less, until last week when she couldn’t eat anymore. She had cancer and there was nothing we could do but make her comfortable. And then she was gone.
Bobbie Girl was different than Jeter. While he loves physical affection and cuddling and hugging, she was always a bit standoffish. She hated being picked up and suffered from petting-induced aggression. Or rather, I suffered from the aggression. This is an actual thing. You can look it up. Some cats don’t like being pet, or sit somewhere on the spectrum of not-liking-to-be-pet. She might be sitting with you, purring, enjoying your strokes, and all of sudden she’d snap and bite you on the hand or arm and run away. It was the craziest thing, and it went on for awhile until I asked my vet about it. From that point on, I learned the signs. When I pet her, I kept an eye on her ears to see if they were bending back, and her tail to see if it was starting to snap back and forth. If that was happening, I eased off. When she calmed down, I commenced petting. There was a lot of that with her. Getting to know her and how best to live with her. You can’t really mold cats into how you want them to be. You have to love them for who they are. When you do that, they love you back. I got to love her, and she me, for 15 years.
While she may have asked me for a separate litter box, or to pay attention to her warning signs so she wouldn’t be forced to bite me, or to excuse her for clawing at the couch and occasionally peeing on my suitcase when I returned from a trip, these were small things compared to what I asked of her. Besides, I could always put a cover on the couch or remember not to leave my suitcase on the floor. Loving her was adapting to her.
She did the same for me. In the 15 years we were together, much happened. I was married and divorced and remarried. In the three-year span before marrying my wife Keri, I moved Bobbie Girl and Jeter four times, from to house to house to apartment to house. Each time, they were frazzled and scared and annoyed. I could always pick Jeter up and hug him and tell him was going to be OK. But Bobbie Girl … for her, it was harder. I had to wait until she was ready and came to me. That was in some ways more painful.
It was in those years after my divorce, though, when it was just the three of us living together, that we learned the most about each other. I learned I was terribly allergic to cats (which explained my years of “allergy-induced” asthma) and they learned that the bedroom was suddenly a cat-free zone (except on nights prior to sheet washing, when I would declare cat amnesty and let them in). I started getting allergy shots. They waited until 6 a.m to claw at the bedroom door and wake me up. Again, we both adapted.
Mornings were special. They’d sit on the table with me, inside or out, and just hang out while I drank coffee and read whatever I was reading. I have lots of photos of this time, mostly because I found it impossibly sweet, the three of us enjoying the paper. Jeter was always close, getting in my way; Bobbie Girl always out of reach, rolling on her back to let me know how happy and comfortable she was being close enough (and not being touched too much).
She mellowed over the last couple of years, while growing even more beautiful. Her petting-induced aggression was almost non-existent. And she even let me pick her up. No hugging, mind you, but plenty of holding. Until that last day. She let me and my wife hug on her as much as we wanted. It was her final gift, I believe. One more act of her adapting for us.
Us adapting to life without her won’t be as easy.