eulogy for a good girl

I met Torte when I moved into my first job and apartment after college; August 2000. What’s the first thing my apartment needed? A cat, of course. I visited a shelter in hopes of finding a cat or two to foster. And there she was, clinging to the safety gate keeping her and her brothers in the bathroom. They were all eating, they were all boys and they were all orange. Torte was the only girl, the only tortoise-shell and the only one not interested in eating, rather in escaping. A trait she would carry her whole life.

I asked the shelter folks when she’d be ready to go home; 3 more weeks. I came back and picked her little body up. She fit into my two hands almost perfectly. A cute little short-haired tortoise-shell who the shelter called “The Tortie.” I named her Chocolate Peanut Butter Fudge Torte (Torte for short). By the time she was 6 weeks old she knew her name and would come running when you called her.

She was the perfect companion for my new adventure into full scale adulting.

My apartment had a lovely bathroom with a nicely sized bathtub. It became my normal routine to soak in a bath and listen to hockey on the radio. Torte was so curious about this whole bath concept. She would sit on the ledge and poke at the bathwater. I’m not sure she ever understood why someone would take a bath, but she was always there on the ledge. She’d even come sit there when I showered (in between the curtains); swatting at the water as it hit the shower curtain.

My job at the time meant that there were often people hanging out in my apartment. Torte loved this. She greeted everyone who came in. I used to think that it was because of growing up with all those people that she became a people lover, but I now realize that she was born to love people.

One day I came home from work and I saw a giant ball of fluff sitting on the couch. To rewind for a bit; when I first brought Torte home she was a short hair cat. She had the cute fuzz of any other cat. Then, all of the sudden, it’s like someone just yanked on all of her hair and she became a long hair cat. And within 10 minutes (and for the next 15 and a half years) everything I owned was covered in cat hair. And cat hairballs.

Torte loved to play fetch. I would throw balls of paper for her and she would chase after them across the apartment. Each time she brought one back to me I’d rub her head and say “good girl!” At some point she’d get tired and lose interest. But I’d wake up the next morning and all the balls would be at the bottom of the bed, waiting for me to throw them and give her a head rub.

Torte was quite the master knitter. She would open whatever drawer I had stashed my yarn balls in and pull one out. Then she would carefully wrap the yarn around all the legs of every piece of furniture in the house. It was a beautiful creation. Really. I don’t think anyone could have possibly created something more unique and useful. Knitting was a hobby Torte kept up with her whole life, no matter how well I tried to hide the yarn.

The first time I brought Vince over to my house Torte inspected him. We sat down on the couch to watch a movie and Torte jumped on his lap. I know what you’ll say, “You said she loved people!” She did. But as far as boy and girlfriends went, she was picky. She often warmed up to whomever I was dating at the time, but it took a while. I can remember one boyfriend in particular that she wouldn’t even be in the same room with. But Vince? 5 minutes. 5 minutes and she was curling up in his lap like she had known him forever. I tried not to be jealous, but it was tough. I was also happy to know that I had found a good man. When we started sharing a bed, she often curled up with him. Vince was more than happy to cuddle with her and share his side of the bed. Again, a bit jealous, but also very happy that I had found a good man.

Vince got into the habit of letting her lick his cereal bowl when he finished breakfast. And his ice cream bowl. She could hear the sound of a spoon clinking against a bowl from three rooms away, no matter what time of day it was.

A year after Vince and I got married we adopted two kittens. They were so very tiny and adorable. Kai and Lani were welcomed with love by all of us. Torte  gave them their first lessons in catting. Including escaping from rooms and throwing up in public places. Kai developed quite the Mrs. Robinson crush on Torte. He would follow her around, and as the years progressed he became more and more bold with his advances. He’d wait for her to fall asleep on the couch and then curl up next to her. He’d bury his nose deep in her fluffy stomach fur and fall asleep. He’d let her play with his tail, swatting and chewing. Anything to make her happy, even sharing his food.

One of Torte’s favorite treats was whipped cream. A small squirt on the counter is all it took. It got to the point where if we opened the fridge she would be right there waiting for the can. Or if we took something out of the fridge that might sound like a can of whipped cream, she was right there. She could be all the way upstairs sleeping in the closet and if she heard that can hit the counter, she’d be downstairs in about half a second.

She ruled the house as its Queen. Everyone who came to visit had to greet her and give some sort of gift. Treats were always enjoyed, but head scratches and back rubs were preferred. If there was a hierarchy in our house, Torte was the top. Kai, Lani, Millie and Vince were all littermates. I was the alpha, but I’m sure that all saw it as being the hand of the Queen; I had no real authority. If only they all knew where all the food and toys and litter actually came from.

Late in her life, when she expected to be napping quietly through the days and sleeping soundly through the nights, we brought a new cat home. Millie was a truly feral cat when she was rescued at 6 weeks old. She was raised in a house of dogs and her feral-ness was not discouraged. She was bitey and adorable and manic. And she really didn’t know how to cat. She wasn’t sure how the litterbox thing worked (as far as burying things). She had huge mats because she didn’t understand how to bathe herself. Torte took her under her paw and taught her how to cat; the essence of blocking pathways, how to be cute and beg for food and strategic placement of vomit. Torte dealt with Millie and her wild teenager-ness like any grandmother would; with love and patience, and a swift swat on the head from time to time.

There will not be another cat like my sweet Torte. I will miss her with all my heart.

My dear sweet cat of 16 years died this morning. We aren’t sure what was wrong, but we came home from a weekend trip and she was lethargic and not hungry. Not even for butter or whipped cream, her favorites.

We wrestled with taking her to the vet. I knew it would stress her out and I didn’t want that. We decided to wait and see. We carried her to various places in the house. She’s as stubborn as her mom and no matter where we put her, she’d pull herself up, stumble a few steps and lay down somewhere else. She would lay in front of the water we put out and drink little bits. She’d dip her paws into the water and make a big mess, just like she has since she was a kitten.

Her actual dying was quiet. She had one last big full body stretch and then her breathing slowed. And then it stopped. And then I cried. Really a lot.

I asked Vince to come home from work, even though he had just gotten there. I had some coffee. I cried some more. And then more. My housemate hugged me and rubbed my back and cried with me. Vince came home and we went upstairs to see Torte. We held her. We cried.

We tried to figure out what to do next. I was worried that if we buried her in the backyard we wouldn’t be able to get deep enough to stop another animal from digging her up. Plus, if we ever moved, I would want to take her with us. Cremation became our choice. And our amazing vets said they could handle all of it.

We’re sitting quietly at home now. It was weird to feed just three cats tonight. Kai, Lani and Millie know something is up. Milllie doesn’t know where to lay, or how to. Kai is hiding and wants nothing to do with anyone. Lani seems like she’s OK, but we think she might be trying to figure out how to take over the throne.

Everyone is stumbling around now. Trying to find our place in a house that suddenly seems so very empty, so very quiet.

Safe journeys my dear girl. I hope they have whipped cream in heaven.

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