I'll admit that I figured William Burroughs had flipped his wig when he published his cat book towards the end of his life. And not a week ago at work, I had much marathon hilarity with a coworker when I discovered the existence of condolence cards for pet owners.
That laugh died in my throat when I came home Thursday evening and my sweetie told me that our beloved cat Pablo had slipped away that afternoon. By Monday, I could just about speak his name without falling to pieces. I was supposed to work outside that day, pushing carts at the market, and I looked forward to spending some time on the move, sweating, away from people, my entire shift a gigantic sob.
Sometime this week, my sweetie and I will take a walk to visit Pablo's papi Don Rodolfo, the King of Catalonia (part of the elaborate legend we concocted for him, which also included his 17 sisters and his disgraced 18th sister Esmeralda Tiger Lily). I think we're both about ready now. I mean, what would people think if they saw two middle-aged people bawling their eyes out at the feet of a poured concrete-and-steel lion that sits on the sidewalk in front of a store?
Our sweet little boy came to us via Paws & Claws, an animal rescue organization that a coworker of hers has been active in for years. Around the time we moved into our home, Shadow, the elder of my two black cats (always two -- they're social creatures, but three is where the trouble starts), passed away. We buried him in the yard of the new house, near a stump where I could sit and talk to him. My sweetie's coworker Diana was sympathetic and promised she'd look for a suitable replacement, and a couple of months later, she called to let us know she'd found the one.
At first, Tia Diana offered to allow us a trial period to see if Midnight, the survivor (who was seven years old at the time), would accept the new cat. She talked about bringing the new guy over in a cage, maybe a few times, so Midi could sniff him out and get used to the idea of another cat. In the event, it proved to be unnecessary: the first time the little guy came spilling out of his carrier and began to scurry, and skitter, and scamper around the floor, it was clear that Diana's instincts had been sound. Pablo and Midi became fast friends almost immediately. In the fullness of time, they'd frequently get together and make The World's Largest Black Cat with Two Heads.
Because he was rescued near a rec center on the Northside, we named him Pablo de Leon del Norte -- a big handle for a little guy, but he soon grew into it: a robusto, deluxe creature with a wide, leonine nose (which early on earned him the nickname Magilla Gorilla), long whiskers, big paws with tufts of fur in between his pads, a lush, luxurious coat and magnificent tail. The combination of long hair and wide nostrils also made him our little sneezeling. He had a lot of work to take care of that coat, but he did a good job of it. He smelled like a plushy toy. We used to joke that he was every animal: a llama, an alpaca, a teddy bear in a cat suit (with big button eyes), a fu dog, a Chinese temple dragon. He was the funny car to the graceful and elegant Midnight's Mercedes. A Davy Crockett hat. A samurai helmet. And on and on.
Over the years, he was known by many names: Pablito, Pabmulo, Mamlo (based on the idea that cats couldn't make a hard "P" or "B" sound...um, if they could talk), Mamlito, Mamaluke, Mamalucious, Mamalicious, Mamaleek, Pabmucifer, the Pabmucatti (a papal nuncio who was "evil incar-r-rnate"). It takes a lot of names to cover all the ways we love the ones we love.
Pablo was extraordinarily sweet-natured and affectionate, rushing out to greet us on our arrival home, chirruping and presenting his back to be petted. My sweetie would scoop him up in her arms and he'd wrap his paws around her arm or her shoulder and cling to her. When she lay in bed, he'd come massage her scalp (the origin for the sobriquet Senor Pablo, the hairdresser). When he'd sleep on our bed, he was totally relaxed, sprawled out on his back with his feet in the air, his furry underbelly exposed. He always wanted to be wherever we were. He'd sit on the coffee table and watch movies with us. He'd leap up on the kitchen table (a.k.a. the petting platform), not to beg table scraps, but just to be near us (although he did display a fondness for gingersnaps and lemon yogurt). I was particularly delighted the first time he climbed into my lap while I was reading. (Before that, I fancied that he might consider me his rival in his capacity as Meezlady's black-lipped husband; now, of course, I realize that we were all "husbands.")
When he wasn't loving on us, his favorite activities included intently watching and reporting his observations on goings-on around the house. He was particularly intrigued by workmen and would serve as contractor cat on those occasions when we had plumbers, electricians, painters, tile men, AC technicians, and so on in the house. His vocalic repertoire was unusually wide-ranging, including chirps and squeaks as well as "normal" cat-sounds.
Not long after Pablo's arrival, we noted that someone was knocking objects on the floor, nibbling the leaves of our houseplants, and digging in the dirt in our big flowerpots. We attributed all this activity to Pablo's alter ego Chaos Cat. Pablo would show extreme dedication in digging items out of the pigeonholes on our desk; if thwarted, he would persist for minutes until he was able to remove the items and push them off the desktop. The picture at the top of this post shows him with his friend Bambu, who finally had to be moved from the kitchen table to the top of the refrigerator to prevent Pablo from eating his leaves (and then Pablo's mighty leap developed to the point where he could actually ascend to the fridge-top). Our large houseplants all have protective collars of chicken wire which my sweetie devised because she couldn't stand the thought of using hot peppers or other irritants to deter our sweet boy from digging, in the same way as she now can't stand the thought of removing them.
Pablo's other vice was drinking our water. Sure, there was always plenty of fresh water in the yellow bowl in the middle, but somehow it just always tasted better to him when he drank it from our cups (in his role as Subcommandante Mamlo of the Agua Liberation Front). He'd always massage with his paws while he drank, a habit we referred to as "the Pablo shuffle" (also reminiscent of the line in that Red Hot Chili Peppers song about "do a little dance, then drink a little water").
When he was little, Pablo's favorite toy was a stuffed bee which he would carry everywhere. Later, when she noticed that he liked to play with ribbon whenever she wrapped a package, my sweetie started Pablo's Ribbon Monster, a collection of scraps that hung from one of the drawer handles in our kitchen. We buried Mamaluke with his bee and Ribbon Monster, along with one of his toy balls, in Meezlady's big round sewing box that he used to like to curl up inside while she was mending things.
Like a lot of cats, Pablo was always fond of small spaces, and he particularly liked our bathroom, where he'd frequently spend all night in his role as our restroom attendant. ("Please enjoy our amenities, Senor. Gratuities are not required, but always appreciated.") Maybe that's part of the reason I didn't twig it when he got sick and started spending more time in his small spaces and the bathroom. I should have noticed that he wasn't using his stinky box out back as often as usual, either.
This week, Midnight's been sleeping on the chair in the living room where they used to sit together, and he'll prowl around the house raiiihhhrrring as though he's looking for his friend. "Come out, Mamlito, and we'll take turns chasing each other and thumping each other on the head again."
We grieve when animals die because they love us unconditionally, and by doing so, they give us permission to love them back unconditionally. Because Pablo's legend is something my sweetie and I crafted together over the brief time -- just over three years -- we had him in our lives, losing him provides a foretaste of what it would feel like to lose each other, which is not a pain either of us could probably endure. We're neither religious nor superstitious, but somehow, it still provides us comfort to imagine our whimsical little man somersaulting through the air on a cotton-candy cloud, surrounded by a rain of Skittles. If only we'd been able to teach him that "When you don't feel good, tell the humans and they'll take you to the vet so you can feel better." As it is, we'll definitely try to be more attentive to the signs the animals we share our home with show us.
Pablo liked to sit on the kitchen counter or the windowsill in our room and watch the birds and squirrels and Maggie the Dog outside on his Jumbotron. My sweetie put this picture in a glass frame on our desk, where Pablo used to like to lie and sleep while I was writing. With the lamp on behind it, you get a fair representation of the quality of light in our house in early afternoon that will evermore remind me of him.
ADDENDUM: We got a pet owner sympathy card in the mail today from one of my sweetie's coworkers. It was a real nice gesture.