My Big, Fluffy Best Friend

Last month, I spent a lovely week of spirit-boosting from Mom’s kitties.  I can think of few things better for my soul than the love of cats.

I have had a few cats over the last couple of decades, but from  1985-2000 my buddy Cromwell was with me — he was by far the most significant partner in my life, moving with me to three different states, in about 12 different homes.  Cromwell began his life as a quasi-feral barn kitten, eating mice, moles, voles, and who knows what else.  He was terribly skittish for the first month or so — his favorite place to sit was under the woodstove, and I didn’t see him come out at all for the first week.  I could tell he ventured out — I refilled his food and water bowls daily.  Finally, after a long familiarization, Cromwell came out from under the stove and became very loving and friendly, liking nothing more than to sit in my lap and cuddle.  I still miss him, even after all of these years.

Cromwell was fearless.  He, and his two doggy brothers, got into a huge altercation one night.  They, and a family of coyotes, both laid claim to the remains of a slain steer, which by this  time was in the butcher’s freezer..  As the night went on, and none of the three of them showed up at home, I grew frantic.  Finally, after 9 PM, the three of them showed up at home.  Napoleon, our beagle, lost the use of one eye; Butter, our lab/German short-haired pointer, was severely bitten on his back legs and his butt.  (I always knew which of those dogs stood up to the coyotes, and which one turned tail and tried to get away.)

Cromwell was the last to come home, and as far as I could tell, he lost an eyeball.  Shades of Edgar Allen Poe filled my head — Cromwell was a black cat, like the one in Poe’s The Black Cat, and all at once, this wonderful member of our family turned into this horrifying image.  I couldn’t touch him, and that struck me so hard — I think I loved Cromwell more than any human in my life, and I knew I should comfort him.  I just couldn’t.

I called my mom, and wept and wept, and sobbed out the story.  I don’t remember any of the actual conversation, but I do remember nearing hysteria.  Mom calmed me down, as much as she could.  I felt guilty and sad and helpless.

I sat down in the living room, and Cromwell came over from the other side of the room.  I finally looked closely at his eye, and I saw that he hadn’t lost his eye — the nictating membrane was stuck over his eyeball.  While I gathered my composure, Cromwell pawed at his eye, and finally released the membrane, showing me his two pretty gold eyes.  I held him on my lap, weeping now with joy.

Recently, I came upon some photographs of Cromwell in a box under my couch.  If I had a scanner, I could show them to you.  Cromwell was a long-haired black cat with golden eyes.  I probably fed him way too much; he used to roll over and lay on his back so I could rub his tummy.  He was a fat cat, but healthy.  The only serious medical episode he experienced came after I fed him nothing but canned tuna for a couple of weeks.  He got those awful bladder crystals — J. and I drove a solid 40 minutes in the dark to get to a town with an emergency vet’s office.  Almost a month went by before he started acting like himself again, and no cat of mine since that awful night has eaten tuna.

I think I may have told this story before, but it is important.  When J. and I split, I left the cats with him, as I didn’t know what my living situation would be in North Carolina.  We didn’t speak for a long time, but after a few months, J. called to tell me that Cromwell developed diabetes, and J. gave him shots daily; nevertheless, Cromwell had died.  J. just wanted me to know that he’d buried Cromwell in the tulip bed, out back of the house, (Cromwell loved to lay out there among the flowers while we gardened, or barbecued, or just sat around.)  J. buried him there, with a piece of his favorite string, and a can of tuna, for which Cromwell never lost the yearning.  I was so very grateful for J.’s thoughtfulness.

I still miss Cromwell terribly.  Goodbye, sweet kitty.