Scenes with our cat, Coriander

Coriander. This photo makes her look much tougher than she actually was.

There was this kitten. My wife and her girlfriend Tish rescued her from a shelter. She’d been someone else’s cat, but they moved and couldn’t take her with them, so she went to the shelter. She was maybe a year old, white and tan and tiny for her age, barely large enough to hold in two hands.

She came home and was terrified. Of everything. She crawled under my wife’s bed and mewed softly when we tried to coax her out. I would lie on the floor and slowly reach out to stroke her. She didn’t pull away, but she didn’t lean into my hand, either.

I took her to have her spayed and her front claws removed. The travel box put her into a panic. Flashback to when she was taken to the shelter? “Please don’t make me go,” she seemed to say, “I will be good I will be good I will be so good please don’t make me go.” I put her in the box and she cried like she was about to die.

I took her to the vets, where they kept her overnight. We got a call; when they checked her out before the spaying, they found she was pregnant. Did we still want to have her spayed? Yeah. Go ahead.

We brought her home. She went under my wife’s bed again. I coaxed her to where I could hold her a little. Poor kid. Your only family dumped you, and you got raped in prison, and these new people took you to another place where you got violated again. No wonder life is shit for you.

She would come out from under the bed (a kitten’s got to eat) and wander tentatively. We had an earlier cat, Siamese, that my wife had named Nutmeg. In keeping with the spice theme, the new kitten got tagged as Coriander. Nutmeg had been the only cat in the family for her whole life, almost; she would curl up on my lap (not on daddy’s keyboard!) and get my (nearly) undivided attention.

Now Nutmeg had to share attention with Coriander. Who was smaller. And able to be terrorized. Nutmeg didn’t even have to get creative to send Coriander back under the bed.

Time passed. Coriander got bigger. More confident. She would curl up on my chest when I was lying down on my futon (I was sleeping in the guest room — another story) and massage my chest with her front paws, or suck on my ear. My online friends with cats told me this was not unusual for a cat that had been traumatized.

Coriander got bigger than Nutmeg. Nutmeg stopped trying to be the Alpha cat. Coriander didn’t exact revenge. Coriander didn’t understand revenge. Coriander was happy.

Some nights she slept with me. Most nights I think she slept with my ex and Mama Tish in their bed. Either way, one of us might wake up with an ear lobe being sucked.

I was shaving when Coriander jumped up on the sink. She was big enough to do that now. (And the kitchen counters, but we’d discussed that, and I didn’t have to use the squirt bottle nearly as much as I did with Nutmeg.) When I bent over the sink to splash water on my face, Coriander jumped on my shoulders. She settled in, and kind of draped herself across the back of my neck. I straightened up slowly, and she adjusted herself to stay on. I could walk around and Coriander would take it all in from her new height.

Most times after that, if I bent over and offered her a shoulder, Coriander would jump up and accept the ride. Sometimes she rubbed her head against mine and purred. Nutmeg thought she was nuts.

Coriander loved everybody. New people. Familiar people. Fuzzy, Siamese people who used to bully her. People who looked like folks who had abandoned her. People were good, in Coriander’s world, and they deserved loving and head butts and purrs.

Nutmeg would jump on the bookshelves and amble slowly… carefully… gracefully… a shadow with legs, slipping around the books and knicknacks. Coriander, bigger, would follow, picking her way—crap, didn’t mean to knock that over, my bad! I’ll ju—sorry, sorry, backing up—shit, sorry, not good with the tail, turning—hey, yes, better just put me on the floor, really sorry.

I was watching TV (I was home alone most days, unemployed and not having much luck on the job front) with both cats next to me on the couch. Nutmeg was dozing. Coriander was doing standard cat-bath maintenance, when she looked at Nutmeg and decided someone else needed a bath. She got in a few licks (as Nutmeg came wide awake with a WTF expression) before Nutmeg pulled away. “Sorry,” Nutmeg was saying, “I do not need a bath.” Coriander stopped. Nutmeg relaxed and closed her eyes. “Oh sure you do!” said Coriander, and resumed licking Nutmeg behind the ears. Nutmeg stood up, gave Coriander her best evil look, and raised one paw. “I. Will. End. You.” (Total bluff. Nutmeg had no more front claws that Coriander did.) Standoff. Two cats, staring at each other. (One human, wondering if he should get out of the way in case things got ugly.) Coriander shrugged. “Whatever.” Back to licking herself. Coriander didn’t do violence.

I got a job (finally!) and moved out. Nutmeg, being a good Siamese, acted like she had no idea who I was in the first place. Coriander took it in stride. My ex said Coriander would wander around sometimes, looking for Papa Jack. Not upset, just wondering where I was.

I would come back to visit. (Very civilized, our divorce, it was.) “Ah,” said Coriander, “there you are!” And would hop on my shoulder if offered.

I moved back east. Years passed. My ex and Tish broke up. Tish left without the cats.

More years. I get an email that Nutmeg died. “Coriander doesn’t seem to care,” wrote my ex, “I’m not sure she understands.” “That’s not how Coriander works,” I wrote back. “People and cats and things come and go in her world. Sometimes they come back. I came back, then I left again. So maybe Nutmeg will come back. Coriander takes it all in stride.”

More years. Another email. Coriander had been sick, getting sicker, and my ex took her to the vet for the last time. No freaking out this time. Quiet. Loving. Trusting. Coriander being Coriander until the end.

Coriander loved everybody. Sometimes they went away, but sometimes they came back. It was all good.