It’s not hard to know where to begin with Jeter. I know the exact date. October 26, 1999. It was game three of the World Series between the New York Yankees and the Atlanta Braves. That morning, a co-worker of mine came into the office and said she had found a kitten underneath a refrigerator box behind her house. She had put him in a carrier and took him with her to the office in case someone might be interested in him. I went down with her to the parking garage, and there in her minivan was this tiny, flea-infested grey kitten. “I’ll take him,” I said. After work, with him in my car, I stopped at a pet shop to get flea shampoo. I took him to my apartment on Belmont Blvd. in Nashville and gave him a flea bath in the kitchen sink. He was miserable, and after I dried him, he ran under the bed. But it wasn’t long before he came back out and let me sit him on my lap. Together we watched the game on a little 3” portable TV that I set up on a music stand in the entryway of the apartment, which doubled as the living room.
In honor of the Yankees victory, I decided to name my new buddy after the team’s star shortstop, Derek Jeter. He would be Jeter, a.k.a. Jeets and sometimes Jeter Mosquitor.
Like his namesake, Jeter had a long and storied career. He was only about 8-weeks old when I brought him home that day, and he lived until he was almost 19 ½, passing away on Friday, February 8. He lived a long and extraordinary life, one that was marred by upheaval and near-tragedy almost from the beginning. My girlfriend and I moved the next year from that apartment on Belmont Blvd into a guest house in Green Hills. The following Thanksgiving, while I was visiting family back in New Jersey, she called me, frantic. While she was moving some things around, a metal shelf had fallen on Jeter’s tail. She rushed him to the emergency room but the doctors weren’t sure they could save the tail. I drove back to Nashville immediately. By the time I arrived, rigor mortis was already setting in. He’d have to lose half his tail. And so he did, and he was fine, even if everyone who ever met him immediately asked what happened to his tail.
More change came. My girlfriend moved out and I lived in a couple more apartments. A feline sister named Bobbie Girl arrived, who was sweet in her own way and went on to live for 15 years. I got married and moved into a house in East Nashville, and then a house in Brentwood. It was in the latter that he honed his hunting skills as an indoor and outdoor cat. It will appall wildlife and bird enthusiasts, but he spent years carrying all kinds of animals into the house in his mouth: moles, mice, bunnies, snakes, frogs, birds. Often times, I could get him to drop the prey and set it free with minimal damage being done. Other times it would be too late and I’d come home to blood and various parts of an animal all over the house. When he wasn’t hunting and killing things, he was sweet; the classic lap cat. He could wrap his paws around your neck and hug you. He kissed your nose if you asked him. And he loved sucking on your ear lobes, which sounds weird, but I think was the result of him not properly being weaned as a kitten. It was hard not to give in and give him the opportunity, even for a few minutes, when you see it that way. It’s a habit he never lost, even in his last days. Another habit he never lost was trying to steal sips of my bedside water, and pawing at me at night until I pet him to sleep.
One time, I came home to the realization that my marriage of 10 years had fallen apart. It was back to me and Jeter and Bobbie Girl and a series of apartments for the next few years, thus ending his indoor/outdoor ways. In retrospect, that likely extended his life. Animals are resilient, yet sometimes I wonder how Jeter and Bobbie Girl managed to handle those tumultuous years after my divorce. But I guess they had me. I was the constant. Like I had them. As tough as those years were, they were oddly good for us. We probably spent more time hanging out with each other—without someone else being there—than ever before. I have a disproportionate amount of selfies of me and Jeter from that time. Bobbie Girl couldn’t sit still that long.
I met my wife Keri in 2013, and in 2014, we married and moved to Donelson. Jeter and Bobbie Girl would have to get used to someone else in their lives again (and a dog), but Keri immediately loved them and they her. The house got emptier when Bobbie Girl died suddenly from cancer in 2015. It would soon get bigger with the arrival in the summer of 2016 of our twin girls. In the spring of that year, Jeter developed a serious urinary tract infection that required surgery if he were going to survive. He was already almost 17 years-old, and even him surviving the surgery was risky. I remember sitting in the consultation room with the doctor at the emergency clinic when he described the procedure, which in addition to the risk, would cost thousands of dollars I didn’t have. I don’t know what exactly was going through my head. I know I was worried about the money. But that’s not what came out. What I said, through my chest heaving and tears streaming down my face, was that my wife was pregnant, and we were expecting twins, and “he has to meet them.” That was all. He has to meet them. Do whatever you have to do. It’s important to me that he meet them.
I think we had been through so much together, broken relationships, failed marriages, multiple apartments and houses, not to mention just about every other life event (the death of my father, my mother’s dementia), that he needed to join me for the most important thing to ever happen to me: becoming a father. He needed to see this thing through with me. He needed to meet my daughters.
And he did, and then some. He went on to live almost three years after that. He was there when they came home as 4 lb premature babies, and there during all those late night feedings, and the colic and the screaming. But then the laughter and the joy and soon the petting and the hugging. He was already getting old and couldn’t get around as well, but my daughters loved feeding him and petting him gently on his head. Sometimes they would sit next to him and say, “Jeter’s my buddy, Jeter’s my boy.”
And he was. My buddy became their buddy. It doesn’t get any better than that. And to think, I wanted him to meet them.