When I went to the Humane Society in Eugene eleven years ago to pick out my first cat, I had a definite idea of what I wanted. Specifically, I wanted a male adult cat. I had previously cat-sat for a truly awesome, enormous male tabby named Bubba who was completely blind, and now I wanted a Bubba clone. My only other exposure to cats had been the grouchy female family cat when I was a child, so I had the vague idea that a male cat would be friendlier. And I was certain an adult cat would be less wild than a kitten.
As with most things in life, my expectations were quickly altered by reality. I wandered through the cattery, considering various cats. All of them were sweet, but I didn’t feel that “zing,” that intuitive sense that, “This is my cat.”
Then I wandered into the kitten room. Just out of curiosity. Right. A darling calico kitten sat atop a cat tower. I reached up to pet her, and she scooted forward and started purring.
And that’s how my cat picked me.
When I got home, I sat on the kitchen floor with her and offered her food. She ate a little, then crawled into my lap and my heart.
Her name was Aurora at the shelter, but I shortened it to Rory. The sassier nickname fit her. She was sleek and soft and fast, crazy in the lovable way that kittens are. With the wave of a feather toy, she could be convinced to leap into the air, doing feline gymnastics and executing ninja kicks. One time she crawled sideways along the end of my mattress and box springs, an act that made me think of her as Spider Kitty. When she chased toys, her pupils would become enormous with excitement as she contemplated her killing blow. At my parents’ house, she would crawl up the small silk tree in the corner, apparently believing she’d made it into the wilds.
For such a large cat, Rory had a small voice. She would trill at me in a high pitched melodic voice when she was happy or when she wanted something. She would purr when she was scared but she also purred plenty when she was happy. She would tread her paws on soft blankets, nearly going into a trance as she furiously kneaded the fabric. She loved to nap on me, and my mother, and to sprawl out in front of the fireplace.
Rory’s fondest wish in life was to murder something in cold blood. She used to catch and eat spiders in my apartment; I started trapping them for her so my little feline exterminator could deal with them for me. Once, when I had her outside in my parents’ yard on her harness and leash, she crouched low in the grass and stalked silently toward a bird she’d spotted. I let her slink, since she was on her leash. To my surprise, she suddenly leaped toward the bird, who narrowly escaped her grasp. Rory would literally chirp at birds when she spotted them, and enjoyed stalking the elusive garter snake that frequented a pile of leaves in my parents’ yard.
I liked to think that my cat and I were similar. We both had delicate stomachs. We both had green eyes and reddish hair, although Rory’s coat was always more stylish than my highlights, with her orange-splotched face that looked paint-splattered, her white-tipped paws, and her striking white, black and orange mottled fur. We even both had a slight bump in the bridges of our noses. As a kitten, Rory often slept by my head, sharing my pillow. Once, I woke up to see her stretched out on her back like a person with her head on my pillow. Another time, we both heard a noise, sat up in bed, and looked at each other at the exact same time. When I was upset, Rory would leap up and snuggle with me. She was more than a cat; she was a friend.
Rory and I were similar in another way too: we hated to be confined. Rory detested being crated, and as soon as she spotted me hauling out her crate to take her to the vet, she would run and hide. I had to resort to trapping her in the bathroom where she couldn’t dart under a bed, then stuffing her in her crate, which doubtless made the experience all the more traumatic for her. She often wet herself out of sheer terror. Once she attempted to hide in the spare room at my parents’ house by wedging herself underneath a rolled up carpet that was sitting at an angle against a shelf. By then Rory was a big cat, large framed and long and approaching 17 pounds. She still tried to appear small by hunching over.
I was terrified of confinement too, but of a different sort. After some heartbreak at the end of college, I became scared of love, even as I desperately wanted to find it. One characteristic of most of my relationships, then, was that I fell in love with the wrong guys, but the second a nice normal guy came along, I would want to – and usually did – run screaming the other direction. Genuine interest, absent dysfunction, terrified me. It wasn’t that I didn’t want a relationship – far from it. What I feared was being trapped in a crate that might fall apart again. I didn’t want to get hurt by falling in love with someone who would love me back. The guys who were wrong for me were safe, familiar. I got Rory when I was 24, and she saw me through many ups and downs in my romantic life.
When I brought home a tiny black bundle of fur named Mollie, Rory was unhappy with the addition to our little family, and let me know it by hiding under the bed for three days. Eventually, though, Rory and Mollie came to an understanding. The understanding was that if Mollie got too playful, Rory would pin her down and pummel her for a bit. I often had to break up wrestling matches with yells and claps, and periodically I’d find clumps of Mollie’s black fur on the floor. Sometimes when she leaped on Mollie, Rory would sit on her head. Mollie, not really the brightest bulb, always came back for more. She loved Rory and would groom her religiously, as well as constantly snuggle up against her on the couch.
Mollie wasn’t the only one. Everyone loved Rory. She was a sweet cat. The most she ever did was hiss at someone; she never scratched anyone on purpose. She liked people and, except for her terror of crates, was an easy cat to take care of.
When I started dating Brad three years ago, he fell in love with Rory too. Eight months into our relationship I moved in with him, bringing my two chubby kitties. Rory loved Brad’s condo and the enormous porch, but at first was shy around Brad. Eventually, though, she became very attached to him. I have pictures of Rory sleeping on Brad. In fact, sometimes she seemed to prefer his lap to mine. It’s little wonder she became enamored with his tender touch; like Rory, no one could meet Brad and not fall completely in love with him. He became a devoted kitty dad, helping with feedings and vet trips and, eventually, insulin injections when Rory became diabetic. My cats became our cats. As for me, my fear of confinement completely disappeared around Brad as I fell madly in love with him and he, for some fortunate reason, fell in love with me too.
Shortly after Brad and I got married, I went to give Rory her insulin injection one morning and discovered that she’d thrown up. This wasn’t entirely unusual for Rory, who used to hork up her breakfast on a semi regular basis, but when I offered her food, she wasn’t interested. Her diabetes had made her ravenous, so I knew something was wrong.
We took her to the emergency vet, and instead of getting better, over the next three days, she got worse. On day four, we visited her in the ICU and she had a feeding tube up her nose. She looked at me with miserable eyes, pupils dilated. It didn’t take long for Brad and me to decide to let her go. We rejected the option of taking home paw prints or fur clippings with us, choosing instead to cremate her and scatter her ashes in the woods behind my parents’ house – the woods she’d loved to explore. We didn’t want to remember her lifeless body, but rather remember her as she was – trilling, purring, galloping through the house at top speed like a horse.
I learned from talking to the emergency vets and from reading on the subject that cats are adept at hiding pain. Rory’s systems may have been compensating for awhile, suggested our vet, and they were just finally breaking down. It occurred to me, even though I know animals don’t actually align to our life plans, that she waited until after the wedding, until she knew I was happy and taken care of. Logically I know the timing was just coincidence, but it’s the kind of thing Rory would have done.
Losing this cat who had seen me through so many ups and downs, who’d moved to Corvallis and Seattle and Portland with me, was heartbreaking. She was absolutely a member of our little family, and I still can’t fully process her loss or what it will mean in the days to come.
I don’t know why Rory picked me 11 years ago instead of someone else. I do know that it was an honor to be her mom. I’m thankful her painful days were few, and her good days were many. I’m grateful she lived most of her life sleeping, eating, and dreaming of killing small animals. Most of all I’m grateful she saw me through the ups and downs of my twenties and early thirties. The truth is that Rory did far more for me than I could ever do for her. My home and heart are emptier without her. I don’t think I’ll ever stop missing her. But I’m so grateful we found each other.
The truth will set you free – that’s the saying. But I believe that it is love that sets you free. So now, Rory and I are both free. My husband’s love is freeing to me; and we set Rory free from her pain because we loved her too much to keep her tethered to it.
I don’t believe in kitty heaven, but Rory is still running free in my mind, doing ninja kicks and chirping at birds, stretched out in front of the fire and purring on my lap, a sleek miniature jungle cat with a lion’s heart.