July 26, 2019
Yesterday morning I got up early and thought I saw Lita, our cat, as usual, in the window giving me her daily look that says, “Where the hell is my breakfast?” I stopped for a second because our 17-year-old cat had died two days before. I once heard Patti Smith say something like, “The dead live on in the memories of those who loved them.” There was some comfort that Lita is still on our porch is some form, waiting for breakfast.
I got Lita in the summer of 2002 when she was a tiny kitten. I responded to a Craigslist ad for a free kitten and collected her from a young Mexican couple who had their hands full with a new litter. She was born in the City of Roses, so I named her Rosalita, which just became Lita. She was a spritely demon who would tear through the house like she was possessed, putting cat claw scratches on my wood floor.
A few weeks later I had a brain hemorrhage and a stroke. After a month in the hospital, Lita was waiting for me when I got home. As I would work on my physical therapy, she would attack me like the hyper-maniac that she was. It was actually very helpful as I could tell where the feeling was returning to my right side by whether or not the gashes she put in my body hurt or not. One day she left off my right shoulder and I could definitely feel it. Thanks, kitty.
A few years later, Lita, who loved to go outside, got hit by a car and lost her tail. She disappeared for over a week and came back looking like hell, dragging her smashed tail. Amputation was the only option. She also lost control of her bowels and permanently became an outdoor cat. (I used to joke I would rent her out to anybody who had an enemy and wanted their house to smell like cat pee – No takers.) She became known as the cat with no tail and would greet everyone who passed by our house and not even pee on them.
Over her 17 years, this cat saw a lot, including outlasting a few long term relationships. (Each came with a dog which Lita was not thrilled about). When Andrea arrived into my life, Lita gave her a nod of approval and crawled into her lap as we planned our life together. When Andrea was pregnant with Cozy, Lita seemed to accept there would be another small creature in the house, and started to clean up her bad ass act. By that point she had become used to the neighborhood raccoons and opossums stealing the food and the occasional brigade of coyotes patrolling the street. (Coyotes had made off with her brother, Leon the Cat, one night, so she had reason to take them seriously.) She just laid back and became the watcher of the house.
Coming home from work or a long trip out of the country, Lita was always there to welcome us home. As Cozy got bigger, she loved to carry Lita around the front yard (and never got peed on). Our letter carrier, Anthony, would regularly take time to pick her up and pet her. Every winter I’d build a winter chalet for her to take refuge in and every spring I’d marvel that she made it through another series of snowstorms. That darn cat!
Seventeen is old for a cat. I knew what was coming. Last week she started disappearing and when she showed up she was all skin and bones. We brought her inside to make her comfortable and tried to get her to drink some water with an eye-dropper. She found her way to the bathroom floor where she liked to sleep when she was a kitten. Around midnight on Tuesday, as Andrea and I petted her, Lita gasped her last gasp and the ghost left her body to go look for her tail.
Of course, the larger question became, how would Lita’s death impact Cozy? Cozy is cat crazy and loved Lita in a way that was endlessly endearing. So we sat her down and didn’t sugar coat it. Lita didn’t go away, or go live on a farm, or go off to join the cast of CATS. She died. Cozy paused, and in her pre-school thinking responded with the perfect question. “So are we going to get a new cat now?” Then a little tear came out of her eye and she wanted to know why. “Lita was really old, Cozy. She was at the end of her life.” We read Elisha Cooper’s book, Big Cat, Little Cat, together and she seemed to understand.
We busied ourselves with funeral plans. Cozy really wanted a “ceremony” to say goodbye to our dear pet. We went to the flower shop and she picked purple roses. At the garden store, she picked out a rock with “Forever” engraved in it. She even selected the spot to bury her, next to her favorite spot on the porch, where Lita would recline in the afternoon sun. Through it, she wanted to see Lita’s body, which was wrapped in one of Cozy’s baby blankets and laid inside a Doc Marten boot box. “I thought she would just be bones,” she said as she petted Lita just one more time.
Lita is now under the ground, buried with pictures her family, drawings by Cozy, and a little bit of cat food, just in case. The lesson is that nothing is forever. Appreciate those you love while they are here, even if they have leaky bladders. Cozy will tell you how much she misses Lita. We all do. But she will also tell you about the little cat that is coming to help the memory of the big cat live on. Thanks, Lita. Wherever you are, I hope you got back your tail and control of your bowels.