Once there was a cat named Josie.
And I'd be lying if I said she was the sweetest, nicest, most loving cat there ever was. In fact, for a majority of her years she was anything but. She was standoffish, ornery, anti-social, unaffectionate, and mean. She had minimal tolerance for human contact, letting you know when she had reached her limit by means of a hiss, a smack, or a bite (or all three, if she felt the need to be emphatic about it). She never let Precocious Daughter touch her at all - ever. Basically, she was the original Grumpy Cat, except if we'd ever tried to put her in adorable poses for a photo shoot, someone would have lost an eye.
My spouse and I got her as an eight-week-old kitten in early 1999. I was feeling bummed because we'd decided to start a family, and I didn't get pregnant immediately. I don't mean we'd been trying unsuccessfully for months; I mean it didn't happen the very first month after I stopped taking the pill, and I felt like a failure. Because I was a bit of a jerk with an apparently loose grasp of how biology works.
Anyway, we decided to take a kitten from a friend whose mom's cat had just had a litter. Maybe I thought we could simply raise it like a human baby, I don't remember. Josie was a merry little kitten. She was playful and frisky and bounced everywhere, the way kittens do. She had such pretty tuxedo-cat markings and beautiful green eyes. All the indications were that she was going to be a happy addition to our household.
Things were great for the first few weeks. Then she was traumatized by our dog. The dog wasn't being mean or aggressive; but she had a longstanding relationship with our older cat, and it was pretty rough-and-tumble. I'm sure she assumed the new kitten would want to play the same games. Except Josie didn't, and in a flash she went from happy and friendly to guarded and introverted. Forever.
It didn't help matters that I got pregnant soon after. My "fertility crisis" lasted two whole months - I was a tool, OK? When PDaughter was born, we set up a bassinet in our bedroom so she could sleep close to us for a while (did you know that newborns cry, like, all night? somehow we didn't). One day we found Josie sleeping in the bassinet, and although it was very cute, we over-reacted as only new parents can and shooed her aggressively away...then lay the baby down in the very spot Josie had just claimed as her own. Their relationship never recovered.
So for years we had a cat who was unfriendly and basically acted as if she could barely stand to be around the people who owned her. As for anyone else who came around, Josie wouldn't even deign to make an appearance. My sister used to insist that we had made up the whole idea of having a tuxedo cat, because no one else ever saw her. She literally hid in a closet if she heard unfamiliar voices in the house.
But she could be pleasant, as long as it was on her own terms. She would take petting exactly when and in precisely what amount she desired. Her fur was wonderfully soft and thick, her purr exceptionally deep and rumbly. It didn't happen often, it never lasted long, but Josie could and did show us her sweet side. It always felt like a treat.
And as she got older, she inevitably mellowed. She actually began to show affection, especially to my spouse. Josie was always "his" cat, and they grew very close. They shared ice cream. She joined him in bed for long petting sessions. She still didn't like anyone else, including PDaughter. But it was nice to feel her velvety fur more than just once in a while.
Last year, along with opening up emotionally, Josie started to slow down physically. She was a pretty whopping big cat in her prime, but she started to lose weight - first a little, then a lot. She didn't always eat much, and when she did she didn't always keep it down very well. She developed a wheeze that my spouse patiently treated with regular steroid shots. We watched her closely, noting that her coat was still shiny, her eyes still bright. We spent more time showing her affection; she did the same. I think she understood what was happening as much as we did.
Last month she turned 16. Almost as if on a pre-arranged schedule, Josie started to fade. Her breathing grew more labored. Her bones began to stick out. Her beautiful tuxedo coat stood up in odd places, because there just wasn't enough of her for all that fur to lay on. Her big green eyes seemed even larger as the rest of her dwindled away.
Last night we decided her suffering had grown too great. She had stopped eating and drinking. Her steps were slow. And she had gone into PDaughter's bedroom - for the first time ever - and allowed herself to be petted. After 15 years, she'd made her peace with our "other" baby. That's when I knew the time had come.
Josie knew, too. All night she made tiny mewing noises. It sounded exactly as if she were saying "Why? Why?" This morning, as we set her on a towel to make the final trip to the vet, she was crying. I don't mean making cat-noises. She was crying tears. So were we.
Our vet is a very short drive from our house. I drove, and my spouse held Josie on his lap, telling her he loved her and she was going to feel better very soon. I pulled into the parking lot and turned off the engine. Josie's eyes grew wide. She sputtered a few times and batted her paws at the air, as if she were resisting being picked up one last time. Then she died. Right there, in the car, on her daddy's lap, on her own terms.
We carried her inside and gave her body to the vet. We made arrangements to receive her ashes in a little cedar box. We cried. A lot.
And now Josie's story is over. The little stocking with her name on it is still hanging by the fireplace. She was too sick yesterday to open her last Christmas present. I'll give it to the Siamese Kitten, who will also get extra hugs and pets for a while, until my heart stops hurting. Same for the Darling Dog and the Pigu.
I hope she's already arrived in Heaven and found our old dog. She'll probably smack the crap out of her. That's the kind of cat she was.