Oreo never liked to be touched.
We cared for him for almost 17 years and I was able to pick him up only once. Today. I had always thought to myself that the one time I would finally be able to touch him would be the day that we would lose him. I always thought that, but rarely did I think that this day would ever come.
The evening came with two parts relief and one part melancholia. Relief that he was finally, once and again, fully free. Free to be the baddest cat on the block. Free to wander. Free to once again sow his wild oats. His spirit once again sitting on neighborhood roof tops yowling at peak volume to find a mate, or at least someone to spend the dark, cold night with. Sadness for the thought that the night is now a little colder without him.
Oreo was "our" cat only in the sense that he lived in my backyard. The truth is that he was nobody's pet. Nobody's cat but his own. The true definition of independence and tenacity. He sired at least two other cats currently in my brood, an likely countless more. Without him, I don't think we would have ended up where we are today. When I said goodbye to him today, he was a mere feather in my arms. I was shocked and amazed that someone so physically small could loom with such a large presence, for so long, in my life. His weight surprising me the way that you are surprised when you pick up something expecting it to be full, only to find it hollowed.
Oreo was tough in mythical ways. He spent most of his life just out of the reach of humans, but never apart from them. He lived on his own terms. He recognized the need for people in his life, mostly for food, but he didn't have much need for us. He tolerated us as a convenience.
He once disappeared for the better part of month, only to reappear with a massive abrasion on his hip, like he had been hit by a car. Try as we might to catch him to get him to a vet, he resisted. The tough bastard healed himself, with nary a scar or a limp, and went on to gnarl his way through 10 more years. Even today, he still managed land his claws in me, scratching me from elbow to wrist.
When we first met him he lived in the hulk of an old jeep with the tattered remnants of a New Hampshire license plate on the bumper. Only that state's famous slogan was legible. When you came across Oreo's home, you couldn't help but assign that slogan to his fierceness. Live free or die. He didn't care which as long as you weren't in his way.
I'm proud to say he was that way right through tonight.
Oreo first entered in our lives sixteen years ago, in the fall of 2001. He was maybe a year old and very feral. He had that wild cat stare, where he would freeze and hulk, staring at you to try to read your intentions if you got too close.
At that point Melly and I had only just started dating. We didn't live together yet, and she only had our German Shephard, Gypsy, in her life. She had lost her other dog, Sahja, to cancer only a few months before. The wound was still open and raw. Oreo appeared and Melly immediately took an interest in him. It would be another few months before I laid eyes on him. He would only appear late in the evenings, walking along the roof, near the gutter. He would get to the corner and jump halfway down onto the garbage cans with a soft thump. Then quietly to the ground where he would disappear as quickly as he appeared. He was a ninja, owner of the night.
Melly would talk about him and leave food out for him nightly. Never having seen him myself, I would tease her and say that he was a figment of her imagination, a ghost. She would call me on the phone late at night, back when people still talked on phones, to excitedly tell me about it whenever he would take some of the kibble she left out for him.
Oreo hung out with another cat at the end of our quiet little street in Tempe, a big shaggy beast we all called "Fluffer-nutter". The night that I finally saw the pair of them was Halloween. I was over at Melly's house to watch Game 4 of the World Series. With exception to the small pocket of Dbacks fans, the whole world was rooting for the Yankees. The events of September 11th were still fresh, crews still sifting through the ruins. New York needed the series, in a way few places have ever needed a distraction. The Diamondbacks were a team without a history, having only started playing in 1998. We were the Washington Generals to their Harlem Globetrotters. The team that was expected to lose so that the heroes could triumph.
Arizona won the first two games, but had lost the third in an emotional roller coaster of a game 3, the first played in NYC. Game 4 was a thriller that ended after midnight, early in the morning of November 1st, the first World Series game to ever be played in November, when Derek Jeter crushed a 3-2 count, 2-out pitch over the outfield fence to win the game and tie the series.
Now, I would like to say that I saw that homer, but I missed it. I missed it because I was instead in the parking lot of a McDonald's waiting for Melly to come back from using the restroom inside. For you see, the plumbing at the house in Tempe was unreliable at best, and downright gross on a good day. The toilet in our single bathroom had backed up earlier that evening, forcing us to head to the nearest gas station or fast food joint whenever we had to go.
As the 9th inning rolled around, Arizona was up 3-1. Melly announced that she had been very patient, but it was becoming an bit of an emergency, and could we please go Mickie D's.
Now I'm sure you are thinking. Why wouldn't she just go by herself and leave you to watch this pivotable game, being played in a time before DVRs, or even a VCR, you could pause or record for posterity? Well, for starters, at the time, our old neighborhood was not somewhere you wanted to walk around alone at night, there was no way I was going let her go by herself. For finishers, I was young and in love, and I saw an opportunity to prove to her that she was more important that some silly game (I mean, c'mon, we were up by two runs and had the best you closer in the game, BK Kim, coming in. The guy was lights out. No way we could lost this one. Right?).
So into my chariot, and off we rode on my chivalrous mission. Into the night in search of a public restroom.
Now, what, if anything, does this have to do with Oreo?
When we got back to the house I ran inside, only to find Jeter rounding the bases and the announcers openly stating how we would never see anything like that again. They were already christening him "Mr. November". I was crestfallen. My team had lost, and a part of me felt superstitious enough to think our trip to the bathroom had caused it.
In the midst of this, Oreo appeared at the door looking for his dinner. Melly was ecstatic and vindicated. The distraction of Oreo appearing, with Fluff in tow, healed my aggrieved heart.
To this day, every October when the World Series begins I think of two things. The first is being 13 years old and listening to baseball in our old truck on an AM radio, driving back to town after a day int he woods turkey hunting. The second is that small, wildly independent black and white cat appearing at our door, to remind me that it's just a game and the world needs to keep turning. There are cats to feed and toilets to fix.