Stories Told

Sophie

2007 was a year of major transitions for me. I was trying to glue together the pieces of my life after my divorce was final. I bought my house. I started this blog. And Sophie passed through my life.

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Frightened to death on her first day with me, April 2007

My older son, then just 10 years old, was just sure I was lonely now that I didn’t live with the rest of the family anymore. So he conspired to make sure I always had a companion at home, and with his mother’s help, he found me a kitten. When I picked up my sons at their mother’s house one mid-April afternoon, my son surprised me with a box full of Sophie.

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Drawing her out, first day

Sophie was teeny tiny, fitting in the palm of my hand. And she was petrified. When we got back to my church’s parsonage, where I was living, she dove out of the box and under the coffee table, shivering in fright. I spent much of the evening coaxing her out. Food and water failed, but play worked. As I dragged a stray bit of cord across the carpet, her natural chase-and-pounce instincts kicked in.

Meanwhile, I was angry. I didn’t want to break my son’s empathetic heart, which was enormous in what he tried to do for me, so I kept my feelings to myself. But I didn’t want any pets. The divorce was the most crushingly stressful time of my life and I was just barely able to hold it together taking care of myself and my sons. I didn’t want any more responsibility. And I couldn’t believe my son’s mother would go in for giving a kitten as a surprise gift. I thought she should know better, and I told her so later that evening in no uncertain terms, well out of my son’s earshot.

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So tiny!

It took about a week for Sophie to relax and feel at home in the parsonage. She began to bond to me, following me around the house and finding ways to be in physical contact with me. I’ve never had a cat bond to me so hard, not even my old buddy Max. Sometimes Sophie insisted on being in my lap, and other times she hunkered down nearby. She was always my shadow.

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Fuzzy cat butt, late April

She became intensely drawn to the outside, and any time I opened a window, she was in it. Shortly she began trying to skirt by me when I opened the door to leave. She became very determined, but I always stopped her from getting out. I don’t believe in letting cats outside where they can get into fights with other cats, be harmed by larger animals, or be crushed under a car’s wheels. Sophie had to be content looking out the window.

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By mid-August, she had grown up and filled out

I routinely left windows open for Sophie when I went to work so she could enjoy the breezes and the outside smells. She loved this window in particular because she could stretch out in it. But I guess fleas jumped in and onto her through the screens, and soon I had the worst flea infestation I’d ever seen. They got into the carpets; as I walked through the house I could see and feel them jumping up and bouncing off my legs. I had to spray flea killer through the entire house three times, each time sequestering poor Sophie to a crate in the garage all day. I never opened a window again, and never saw another flea.

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Late October. She loved to lie under this rug.

As summer turned to fall, Sophie turned destructive. Early on, when I’d come home from work she’d make a beeline for me and pester me terribly. Her meows were urgent and agitated. Clearly, she had been very lonely all day. Then one day I came home and found the laces of every pair of shoes I owned chewed clean through. And then she chewed holes in a woven blanket on my bed. Soon many woven items in my home had chew holes all through them. One day I came home and caught her at it. She was busily chewing holes in a crocheted throw an aunt had made for me – pressing into it with her feet and suckling on it like a kitten nursing with its mother. Sophie, who had been so tiny when she came to live with me, had been taken from her mother too soon.

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In my new house, early December.

I bought my house and moved in October, and thankfully Sophie transitioned easily and settled in quickly. One of her favorite perches was the top of my computer chair. Because I keep my computer in the middle of the house, from there Sophie could see almost everywhere within her new domain.

Sophie’s reign of destruction continued in my new home until I put away the woven and corded things she liked to chew through. When I forgot to put away a blanket or left a sweater on my bed, I’d come home from work to find it damaged. Then she turned to knocking houseplants and bric-a-brac off tables, overturning wastebaskets, and eating cardboard. Her cries when I came home from work became even more urgent and her manner became almost frenzied.

And I wasn’t handling it very well. I was still recovering emotionally and I was pretty fragile. Coming home to find one more thing damaged or destroyed could unhinge me. Sopie’s constant demands of my time and attention grew stifling.

It was clear: my poor cat was very unhappy, and I just wasn’t able to meet her needs. I needed to find her a better home.

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Early December. This was another of Sophie’s favorite places.

I reached out to my ex-wife, who loves cats. While we were married, we had as many as four at a time. When I offered her Sophie, she proposed a deal: she’d trade me for our dogs. She loved Gracie and Sugar, but they required more frequent care than her cats. Her long work days left the poor dogs home for very long stretches of time. I worked a more dog-friendly schedule, and so we made the trade. I was thrilled to have the dogs, and hopeful that Sophie would settle in well among my ex’s cats.

Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way. My sons tell me that Sophie tried to bully the other cats, so they rejected her. When I next saw Sophie, about a year later, she had been sent to live outside for the sake of harmony in the clowder. She came running from the garage to meet me, purring and meowing. Her fur had grown thicker and longer; she was astonishingly beautiful. My heart hurt for her, though. She still wasn’t getting what she needed: a home where she could have good companionship, which would finally provide her peace and security.

Last I heard, Sophie disappeared. I still feel a little anger over how things turned out for poor Sophie, who didn’t deserve the life she got.

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Stories Told

My buddy Max

I didn’t think I had any pictures of him, but there he was in a Christmas photo from almost ten years ago. He was my buddy Max.

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When I got married, two cats were part of the bargain. Simone, a blue-point Siamese, was my wife’s, and Sally, a brown tabby, was my stepson’s. Naturally, at least to my wife’s logic, I needed my own cat. Knowing I was a dog person, she decided that another Siamese was the right choice for their high sociability and how tightly they bond with people. “A Siamese is about as close to a dog as a cat gets,” she said. And so we got Max, a chocolate-point Siamese kitten.

Young Max was a pain in the neck. He slept all day, but then ran around the house all night while we tried to sleep. He made a loop from our bedroom, down the hall, through the living room, into the family room, and then back. Tromp, tromp, tromp, tromp, tromp, tromp – quieter, quieter, very quiet, louder, louder, louder, and then the whole bed shook when he landed on it. He spent many nights shut in the laundry room with his litter box so we could sleep.

He was also on a mission to annoy the tar out of poor Simone and Sally. He’d walk up to Sally and just bat her in the face. Sally, who brooked no nonsense, always clobbered Max right back. Simone, on the other hand, was a gentle old lady, and she really took a lot of abuse from Max. But there was one situation where Simone always drew the line. She liked to sleep on my butt. I’m a stomach sleeper, you see. Max, covetous of this prized perch, would try to bodily shove her off, and Simone would hiss and growl and bat at him with her clawless paws. What a way to be awakened in the middle of the night! That, too, would earn Max a night in the laundry room.

Kittenhood’s exuberance eventually waned, and Max grew fat. He also developed a perpetual sinus condition. It was worst in the wintertime, and he’d spend hours hanging off a table in the family room, enjoying the heat radiating from the baseboard heater below. His meow always came out as mehfffff, the last of it through his stuffy nose.

Adult Max was quite dear. He’d come running to greet me when I came home from work at night. He loved to crawl up into my lap when I worked at my computer, and when I sat in the La-Z-Boy to watch TV he’d recline right next to me with his belly exposed and his hind legs splayed. He looked ridiculous when he did that! But he would sit there with me for hours, purring.

And then the company I worked for couldn’t afford to pay me anymore. I spent four months looking for work. They say job hunting should be a full-time job, but despite diligently working my network and applying for every job in my field for which I was even remotely qualified, I still had a lot of time on my hands. So I was home a lot. Max was thrilled to have me there, always underfoot, mehffing and purring and rubbing against me seeking my attention. I spent my free time reading Carl Sandburg’s biographies of Abraham Lincoln, and Max spent every moment of it either in my lap or reclined next to me. He really lifted my spirits at a time when I felt pretty down.

When my wife and I separated, I had to leave Max behind. He died before I could take him back. I still miss my little buddy.

And then I got the dogs in the divorce. Sugar passed away in 2008; I still have Gracie.

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