It’s not supposed to go like this.
You tell yourself that there will always be time, that you will always have tomorrow, that there will be warnings or signals along the way. Then one day you’re way too busy and can’t handle “just one more thing” and you get some news, or a sign, that changes everything. That tells you you’re priorities were wrong, and now you will have to pay that price. It’s not supposed to go like this, but it always goes like this.
Maltese was Melissa’s favorite cat. Apologies to Hitch, Dana, Cub, and everyone else. It was Maltese. It wasn’t even a race, if ever there were two beings with the same wavelength, it was Maltese and Melissa.
Maltese came into our lives in October of 2003, back when we still lived in Tempe. We had two new neighbors move in, Debby and Troy. I’ve been blessed with good neighbors my whole life, but they are at the front. At the time Debby worked for a local no-kill shelter and was helping round up the neighborhood strays for a spay/neuter event. She had found most of the cats, including our famous Oreo. Maltese also made her first appear among that illustrious group.
Debby’s was from New Hampshire, and her parents were in town helping to move them in to the new (to them) house. Her father used to on their front porch to relax for the afternoon, and at some point Maltese figured out that his would be an excellent lap to sleep in. There were not a lot of sheltered areas or hiding places on that street, so she would hide and emerge from the storm drain at the end of our dead-end street; which unfortunately led to her first name, “sewer cat”. Every afternoon “sewer cat” would come out to see Debby’s Dad, and at some point Melly started putting out food for her.
Realizing that “sewer cat” was no name for any creature, let alone one so beautiful as Maltese, both Debby and Troy, and Melly and I set about to name her. Their name was fitting, “Turtle”, owing to her magnificent tortoise shell fur. Our name was more exotic, if not also a reference to her coat, albeit an incorrect one. Our friend PJ, who married Melly and I, saw another one of our cats, Slater, and exclaimed “Oh! What a beautiful Maltese!” Melly misinterpreted her as referring to “Turtle” and started calling her Maltese. It wasn’t until years later when we figured out that a maltese is just a gray or blue cat. At that point our “Maltese” was very much our Maltese Kitty!
Melissa’s enduring guilt is mine; that there is never enough time for the souls that you love. Maltese was a stray cat that lived for 16 years. That is incredible. That is also something that leaves me feeling conflicted, because it’s 16 years of a certain kind of distance. It’s 16 years with out a home in the sense that we think of one. I tried over her life to make her inside cat. She didn’t want any of it. The irony is that the thing that would have ended up saving her life, getting to live a comfortable and climate controlled life, would have ultimately meant dying for her. She was an outside cat, through and through, killing birds and mice until her final week. Living in my backyard enclosure, and not one to think about the world beyond the cinder block walls that bordered hers.
Three years ago I had six cats living in my backyard. They were all strays, like Maltese, offered a retirement home of sorts. A wild life, bounded by walls and fences, protected from the weather and predators, but not free to wander beyond their few thousand square feet of tunnels, bushes, gravel, grass, trees, and catwalks. Maltese was happy there, I think they all are.
She was an outdoor cat, but she was also a lap cat. As I’ve spread the word today of her passing, the universal response was how sweet she was, and how wonderful it always was to hold her in your lap while she purred and slept. I’ve spent many a cold night with her curled up inside my jacket on my lap while I watched Netflix on my phone. Those are the moments I will miss the most.
About a week ago I started to notice a change in her.
We had a morning routine. She would greet me at her water bowl and watch while I poured a fresh bowl for her. She would then watch the water swirl while she tried to drink it while the current moved in the big metal dish. In the summer I freeze about four inches of water in the bowls, to make big blocks that last most of the mornings. Whenever I would put one out she would get excited and run to watch the water shatter the ice blocks. You could almost see her joy whenever there would be a big “crack”. When she first started doing it, I thought it was a fluke, but she did it every summer morning for years.
And then last week she didn’t come over to watch the water. Instead she stayed in her back corner and sat pensively. I know now that was the start of a bad UTI, and a symptom of her renal failure. With as many cats as I’ve had, and have had to say goodbye to, it’s always hard. Cats hide so much, and so when one isn’t feeling right, it’s unnerving.
Around this same time my neighbor at the “new” house in Phoenix cut back her oleanders, allowing a massive new influx of sunshine into the cat enclosure. They all loved it, including Maltese. It also meant that if I added one more level of catwalk, everyone could see over my fence and into the neighborhood beyond. And so I put that level up.
Maltese was the only cat that didn’t freak out the first time they looked beyond the wall. You could literally see it blow Grendel’s mind. Grendel took one look and ran 50 yards in the other direction. Not Maltese. Maltese got up there, walked to the end of the catwalk, looked over that 9 foot wall, and whatever she saw put her at peace. She looked, and she knew that there was a world larger than that yard, and that it was time to go explore the great beyond.
Maltese, the cat from the storm drain that looked beyond the wall and saw the heavens, now belongs to them. I won’t ever forget her.