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Personal essay: A little boy and the death of his cat

She looked sweet and harmless, yet Tigra could take a roomful of grown adults down as needed.

She looked sweet and harmless, yet Tigra could take a roomful of grown adults down as needed.

Tigra — a.k.a., Fleabag, a.k.a T-Bone — entered our lives through a dormant access panel in the laundry room. That’s what happens when you’re a Florida feline by trade who’s been deported to the north due to life’s circumstances.

T-Bone came to us as part of Mom’s posthumous dowry. The cat first appeared a decade ago in the bushes adjacent Mom’s Orlando pool. The ruckus the feline created, most likely caused by attacking a gecko for lunch, caused the retired homeowner to think she was a raccoon, not some 10-pound kitty scratching and clawing for a meal of survival.

A bowl of food flushed her out in the coming days. Soon, Mom was off to the vet to spay the cat, which sealed the deal. The retired elementary school teacher and divorcee had been conscripted into pet ownership.

Some years later, after Mom heeded her higher calling, our family collectively decided this orphaned cat should join our clan.

It wasn’t pretty early on.

Mom’s physical demise corresponded with inattentiveness to all things cat. T-Bone spent her nights roaming the Orlando suburban subdivision. She brought back a colony of fleas.

Quelling the infestation was succeeded with another trip to the vet for sedatives for the plane ride to her new home. Three adults attempted to force one pill down the cat’s throat. Bleeding forearms from razor claws and wounds from pick-like incisors proved the victory belonged to the cat.

She’d fly without pharmacological interference.

Back on the ground in a new zip code, we let T-Bone out of the airplane carry-on bag, unzipping and unleashing her into a world of WTF. Our 90-pound lab mutt welcomed her with a curious charge into her personal space. She responded with a clawed swipe, then boogied for safer real estate that was the access panel behind the washer and dryer.

That’s what happens when you’re a cat in a foreign land and some goofy dog wants to stick his nose in your coolio as a first impression.

T-Bone hid for four days, only emerging nocturnally to eat, drink, and defile the litter box. Her orb of comfort slowly expanded in the coming weeks. First into the family room. Then the kitchen and into the entirety of the two-story house.

She kept the dog at tail’s length with the threat of a lightning paw. Soon enough that too ceded to time. The animals established their own working relationship, which would include sitting side-by-side on the kitchen tile in the darkness of the morning waiting for chow. 

Another relationship bloomed. T-Bone took to our elementary-aged son as her adopted father. She lay beside him on the couch when he read, his free hand rubbing her ears and stroking. Her audible purring told him everything. Through these moments boy and cat discovered safety and trust in different species.

She would become his first love. He’d introduce adult visitors to his cat, identifying himself proudly as her father. When he discovered poetry at school, he wrote sonnets about her warm body, soft fur, and reassuring purring.

That’s not to say their relationship was not without hiccups. His boyish affection sometimes teetered on rough petting. She infrequently let him know when he crossed the line with a swipe. He’d emerge crying, only to concede when questioned that, yes, he probably did scratch just a little too hard for her liking.

Still, she sought him after dinnertime. He’d tap the cushion chair where he sat as he labored through homework and she obediently jumped to assume the position beside him.

His bed was her bed. We’d deposit her next to him beneath the covers every night. The lights went out with his warm furry ball of love purring, letting him know all in the world was good.

So it went for the better part of three years. But last month, T-Bone’s autumn arrived. It was if she’d become a 95-year-old kitty lady at the snap of a finger.

She barely ate and no longer meowed at the door, demanding to be let outside to bask in the early springtime sunshine. She almost never left his bed, sleeping 23 hours a day. When awake, she stared at the wall like Alzheimer’s had taken control.

This morning we asked our son if he noticed the changes in his girl. His watery eyes gave the answer before he had the chance to speak. He cried in his mother’s lap, understanding that love now required helping her along in the journey.

She’s next to him in his bed right now as Puss N’ Boots provides a little cinematic therapy and some escapism for what’s to come when a vet knocks on the front door.

The sun’s trying to come out, but it’s failing. The quietness inside this house marks our son’s first encounter with a broken heart.