Her name was Pudders. Why, I don’t know. It is a terrible name to inflict upon a self-respecting cat, but we got her as a rescue cat when she was about five and she’d already been named. It wasn’t in our hearts to make her learn a new one.
Her name wasn’t the only bad thing her prior hosts did. When they left her at the shelter, they gave a long list of complaints about this and that as their reasons for doing so. The worst thing they could say was that she tended to bite whenever their grandchildren pulled her tail. The irony of this explanation was lost on them. The rest was all fluff and nonsense, expressed in the way of someone who never should have had a cat come to live with them in the first place. We came to suspect that they had disciplined her severely for every single feline thing she ever did.
It took us years to overcome their treatment of her and to earn her trust so that she didn’t cower whenever we petted her. But we overcame it all – all except the name. She slowly grew into a proud cat, complete with a long bushy tail held happily erect and an extremely loud purr that even Peter could hear despite having to wear hearing aids. She came to seek and adore attention, in contrast to hiding from us as she did during the entirety of the first two days after she joined our family. She even learned that she was welcome on our bed with our other cats – but only after years of flattening her ears, jumping down, and running away whenever I placed her there in hope she would learn it wasn’t taboo in our household.
Pudders was part Maine Coon – everything but the legs. She had the personality, ears, tail and body of a Maine Coon, but her legs were ridiculously short for such a large animal. They didn’t take away from her beauty in any material way. She was black and tan with a richly patterned coat, the first and only thing strangers ever noticed. Somewhere amid their admiration for her beautiful coat, they always overlooked the legs. Or, perhaps, it was the strangeness of a name needing to be repeated upon first introduction to ensure correct pronunciation that made them fail to notice.
But what’s in a name, especially if you’re a cat? T. S. Eliot would have said that she had her own secret name in any event. If she did, we never learned that secret; she took it to the grave last night when she finally left us after seven years of close companionship. Her passage was a reprieve from the inoperable cancer diagnosed two months ago; a cancer that slowly ground her to a halt over the past few weeks. But she died here in the place that had come to be as much her home as ours.
Friendship is one of the great mysteries, as much so as death. Interspecies friendship is even stranger, but it exists notwithstanding the naysaying of the skeptics who see only a symbiotic dependency instead. The skeptics seem to forget that we humans are animals too, and that our interest in a relationship with other animals is not due to a desire to be fed but for companionship. Pudders sought the same thing, coming, as she did, from a background of neglect and erratically applied discipline.
Pudders and I were close friends. She was a friend to Helen as well, but, as seems to be the case with all cats, she had a preference. She hung around with me whenever we were in the same part of the house, and when she got lost outside a month ago, it was me she came to when she recognized my voice as I called to her from across a wide wooden deck. She greeted me every morning as I was getting ready for the day by jumping onto the counter and interrupting as much of my morning routine as she possibly could. In fact, her persistent curious interference with my routine became a welcome, shared part of it. She made me laugh. Our mutual morning ritual often ended in head bumps and nose touches that were every bit as meaningful to the two of us as the perfect fist bump or a victorious high-five would be to younger human pairings.
We kept our friendship to the last. She purred yesterday afternoon when I last petted her, the sound almost lost in the profound silence of impending death.
I miss her already. Mornings will never be quite the same.