This list is as personal as it gets: two weeks ago, my wife and I had to put our beloved cat Cricket to sleep, after her brief battle with cancer. She was thirteen years old. Needless to say, we've been devastated by the loss. I know some people think a cat is just a cat, and many more don't even like cats. But, as I hope you will understand after reading this list, Cricket was unique. She was gorgeous, intelligent, hilarious, chatty, self-aware, and affectionate. Even my cat-owning friends acknowledged that she had a little something extra going on. Such as...
- She smelled like camping. Call us bad pet parents, but we never once bathed Cricket. And why should we, when she spent hours every day bathing herself? And because she was an indoor/outdoor cat, her fur took on this pleasant odor that I can best describe as the smell of an old flannel sleeping bag I had as a kid. It was the scent of the woods and of campfires. A wonderful smell. Her breath, on the other hand, was awful. For ten years, the stench of her yawn could make you faint. Finally, we had her teeth cleaned – yes, bad pet parents, etc. – and it turned out she had a loose fang. After it was extracted, her breath smelled fine. What doesn't jibe is how a tooth can stay firm and functional for ten whole years, while supposedly rotting away at the same time.
- She loved to hold hands. We called the little jelly bean-like pads on the bottom of Cricket's paws her "gorilla pads", as they were as black as her fur. A lot of cats don't like to be touched there, but Cricket loved to put her paws on my fingertips and keep them there. She also liked receiving paw massages. Even at the very end, when the vets came to our house to put her to sleep, she died holding my hand.
- She could leap four feet into the air to catch a rubber ball. Cricket was active throughout her life, but like most cats she slowed down as she grew older. We won't forget her amazingly athletic youth, where she would leap into the air, often using the very walls as her springboard, to catch the little sponge rubber golf balls that I tossed at her. I even have a video of it.
- She liked to walk up the stairs with me. Literally thousands of times, often several times a day, Cricket would join me at my heel as I walked up the stairs of our humble cottage to the room where I am now writing this list. She did this until her final week.
- She once killed a squirrel. Feral for her first six months of life, Cricket learned how to kill on the mean streets of the San Fernando Valley. (We adopted her at nine months.) You couldn't train that killer instinct out of her, and so she had to be an inside-outside kitty or we would have never gotten any sleep. Along with murdering countless birds, rats, mice, and bugs, one Sunday morning she went out for about five minutes, then came in dragging a squirrel at least half her size. She must have scared it to death. After depositing it in my wife's walk-in closet, she refused to have anything more to do with it. I left the dead squirrel there for an hour, fearing that the moment I'd try to pick it up, it would suddenly leap back to life and bite me on the genitals.
- In fact she was the Hannibal Lecter of cats. People would always tell me, "Oh, those dead animals are gifts for you!" I'd respond, "They aren't gifts, they're warnings." In truth, sometimes Cricket would bring a small corpse to me. But mostly she kept them for herself. Some she devoured. Some she nibbled on. And some she... Well, the standouts were the dove wings and feet, carefully positioned in place, but with no dove body to be found; the succession of rodents whose heads were bitten off, then left a couple of inches from their bodies, staring at you; and finally the rat that she ate the top half of, then vomited its own blood all over its bottom half. That was her pièce de résistance.
- She would consistently jump onto my lap with just 5-10 minutes left in a movie or TV show. Cricket had very eerie timing. For years and years, it would not matter what I was watching on my TV, or how long it was. She would walk into the room from wherever she was (downstairs or even outside) and snuggle up with me, with just 5-10 minutes left in the program. From half-hour sitcoms to three-hour epics, it didn't matter. 5-10 minutes, every time. I still don't know how she sensed this. But of course she would be indignant when I'd have to get up and throw her off a few minutes later.
- She loved to play peekaboo with my wife. In many ways, Cricket reminded me a lot of the cat I had during my teenage years, who was also black and petite. (Her name was officially Mayday, but we just called her Kitty.) For instance, both loved playing peekaboo. In Cricket's case, she would hang out in the living room while my wife and I had dinner in the kitchen. I'd be facing the cat from my seat; my wife would have her back to her, behind a dividing wall. Whenever my wife would turn around so that Cricket could see her, Cricket would do that "barking" thing that cats do. Over and over and over again. You had to be there, I guess, but it was charming.
- She actually used all the cat things we got for her. I could go on, crazy cat guy that I am. But I'll end with the simplest and most surprising thing: unlike so many cats who turn their noses up at the cute things you buy for them, preferring instead a cardboard box or a milk carton tear tab, Cricket really did go for everything that we or friends got for her. New cat bed? Yes, please! Cat toys? Sure! Catnip? Love it! (My old cat hated it.) Scratching box? Yep, used every day, instead of furniture. Anyway, I loved that cat, and I will miss her forever. But I comfort myself with the promise of new cats and new stories to come in 2019.