“He’s the one, huh, Mom?”
Paul uttered those five words while picking out a kitten in Bridgeport, Connecticut, in the spring of 2008. A tiny Mackerel tabby, teetering on his back legs, was quite literally clawing his way to the top of his box. Pick me! Pick me! That was you, Keaton. I’m sure you remember that special day. When your emerald eyes met Mom’s, awash with tears, the love was immediate and everlasting, the pick inevitable.
You were a gift for me — literally and figuratively. Thanks to a suggestion from Mom, I named you Keaton, after the eldest son on my all-time favorite TV show. You didn’t share Alex P. Keaton’s love of money, but it would have made perfect sense if you had, because boy, did you enrich my life. For five-plus years you were one of the greatest gifts imaginable. Then, out of nowhere, feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) reared its ugly, fatal face. You were only 5 years old, dammit! FIP, a viral disease, snuffed your light much too soon, and today — and for many, many days to come — I’m heartbroken because of it. Your run lasted less time than your namesake’s sitcom. How is that fair? You died on Mom’s birthday, six years to the day that Prime, a cat I loved with all my heart — a cat you never had the fortune to meet — died on Mom’s birthday. HOW IS THAT EFFING FAIR?
Never again will you climb on Mom’s shoulders and chew her hair, which you did as a kitten. Never again will you entertain yourself with an empty 12-pack soda container, treating it as your own Chunnel. Never again — and, oh, how it hurts me to know this — will you lovingly accept my knuckle-rubs to your forehead and cheeks. Tummy rubs were off-limits, as the blood-drawing scratches up and down my arms proved on multiple occasions, but knuckle-rubs elicited prolonged purrs that made me know you were content. By extension, I was content.
Today, however, contentment breathes in theory only. Despite the calendar’s insistence that we’re in the dog days of summer, Aug. 2 is the opening day of the winter of my discontent. I miss you with the gravity and depth with which I loved you.
Keaton, you upheld some of the cat stereotypes: aloof, skittish, independent. Yet you always enjoyed my company, and I yours. You were my laid-back buddy, and you’ve left me too soon, and left me too raw.
In time, I’ll manage to focus on the good times, the funny times. The times you hopped up onto the handrail at the bottom of the stairs, standing so still I figured you were doing sentry duty or mimicking a gargoyle. The times you slept in the sink, contorting your body to match the scallop-shaped basin. The times you perched atop the refrigerator, looking down on us. You were king. You knew it. I knew it. Hell, the ancient Egyptians knew it. Talk about a wise civilization.
The ancient Egyptians would have loved you, Keaton, and not just because you had the softest, smoothest fur imaginable. (Ask anyone who had the fortune to pet you; they’ll confirm it.) Family ties (and empty boxes) were enough to make you happy. You were the young pup, so to speak, when Marsh and Khalid accepted you. You were the elder statesman when Willow and Dickens arrived … and yet you still refused to stand your ground at dinner time, when Dickens would nudge you away from your dish after wolfing down the contents in his. Then again, you didn’t eat out of a dish regularly. You enjoyed your dry food (especially the treats) and the occasional dairy offering, but we struggled to get you to eat canned food. Those struggles inspired Mom’s good-natured, insincere ditty:
Keaton’s … gonna get a beatin’ / ‘Cause he’s not eatin’ … wet food!
You were finicky, Keaton. You were nosy too, but not noisy … unless you were in the litter box. You dug and dug and dug (were you trying to get to China?), and when business was done, you exited like a madman, litter flying in every direction. I always thought, Relax and poop, Keaton. Relax and poop.
You relaxed, of course, but not in the litter box. You were at your most serene when you were on my chest, keeping me warm as I watched TV or slept during Connecticut’s biting winters, or when you were in the cat pen we built and attached to the back of the house. Your favorite times to be in the pen were early morning and late evening. It was quieter then, and taking after your introverted owner, you preferred stillness and solitude to bustle and crowds.
Nap time brought relaxation too, though often I was unsure if you were sleeping or doing a Playcat photo shoot. The provocative poses you struck, unwittingly, are burned into my memory banks. I’ll look on them with fondness someday. But not today. The hurt and sadness overwhelm me. You always had a serious facial expression, Keaton, as if you were contemplating the meaning of life, which is what I’m doing today. I’m questioning a lot of things. Love. Loss. Fairness. Faith.
It seems the only time I’m certain I have a beating heart is when it aches. No balms, bandages or splints can ease my pain or soothe my sorrow. What can? Time? I don’t want to wait for time. I want you, Keaton. I love you. I miss you. I hope beyond hope that you’re in a better place. This place, sans you, sucks.