On Nine Lives
In Memory of Hobbes, by his friend.
The first four drafts of my attempt to tell the story about how I suddenly found myself without my best friend began with an attempt at recounting the events of that morning in detail. I wanted to write them out so that I don’t forget or so that other people will know what I went through. But I already know I won’t forget because being jolted awake by my cat’s screams, finding him withered under two coyotes, and racing panicked and blood-soaked to the vet is not something you forget. I don’t know why I want to tell other people about this, because telling the story feels like grandstanding. This story is not about me, though it serves my ego to tell it. This story is about Hobbes, the Greatest Cat that Ever Lived. Sorry if you were under the impression that this title belongs to your cat.
Hobbes liked catnip, and tuna fish, and chasing a feather on a stick, and laying on my computer when I tried to use it. Hobbes would let you stroke his belly exactly one time before delivering a warning bite, would follow you from room to room even if you were just using the restroom for a moment, would act shocked each and every time you informed him that he was not permitted on the couch. I don’t know that he ever went longer than fifteen consecutive seconds without meowing at me, unless he was asleep. In these ways Hobbes was the ur-cat, a perfectly typical tabby cat adopted from the pound who did cat things and catted around in a catty manner.
Hobbes also liked to strum on my ukulele with one claw as his pick. He knew how to operate a dimmer switch and how to open a screen door to let himself in and out. Hobbes’ record against other cats, just in fights I’ve personally witnessed, was an impressive 9–1 (I’m not counting wins against Buster, who was in a much lighter weight class, or when, at five months, he went straight for the jugular of a very confused German Shephard). There was a period of several weeks where he brought home his own mouse dinner practically every other night, saving me money on food while also putting on a National Geographic Documentary on my bedroom floor. Hobbes had the amazing power to increase his weight seven-fold if I wanted to get up while he was on top of me. He’d bite if I passed gas while he was in my lap.
Hobbes was my first pet. We had others in the house growing up, but Hobbes was mine- though you’d never hear me describe him that way. Instead he was a friend, a roommate, a cat who lived with me. I never felt ownership over him on account of his outsized personality. I don’t know if it’s common to feel this way about your pet- in general I am more fond of animals than the average person. Hobbes specifically, I referred to as my ‘soulcat’. The connection and affection was so deep between us that it embarrassed me as frequently as it enlivened me- but more the latter, on balance.
Hobbes was my first pet. My ‘soulcat’.
That night interrupted four and a half years of daily laughter, comfort, and companionship. At the critical care unit, Hobbes was calm- or listless. He acknowledged I was there, but every ounce of liveliness was gone from him. All the mischievousness, the lusty appetite, the sinewy grace… all these had faded away to reveal just a sweet cat who was done with this world, but had held on for my sake. In hindsight, Hobbes was gone as soon as I found him. It just took me a couple of days to catch on.
In addition to being my first pet, Hobbes was also my first face-to-face encounter with a loved one transitioning from life to death. Thirty-one strikes me as late in life to have this experience, so I suppose that makes me lucky.
Hobbes heard about what a good cat he was on a daily basis. On his last day he heard it again, and again, and again. I told him about how his parts were forged inside of stars going supernova. How over billions of years the molecules that made him up now were countless other things first, that shifted and changed in time, until ultimately he was this fantastic, genre-defining Cat. That now he was going to be done with the cat portion of his existence and his parts would split up and go on to be many other wonderful and interesting things for billions more years until the heat death of the universe, which was a whole other story that he didn’t have to concern himself with right now. I don’t know how long I sat with him, talking to him and stroking him and feeling his energy. At some point he shifted in my lap and gave me an unequivocal look. I called in the veterinarian.
The transition from living to not was so seamless that it shook me deeply. Even after the vet announced that it was over, the body still felt alive. He was still warm, his fur was still soft. I couldn’t quite let go of him, until I turned his head and his eyes didn’t track. He was in front of me and yet not, and I still don’t understand this. The vet didn’t so much walk away with his body as my sight telescoped back deep inside of me. I would never see him again.
I was wrong, of course. I don’t mean the multiple hundreds of pictures stashed away in iPhoto, Instagram, and Facebook- Hobbes’ energy was so strong that it still charges the air in his favorite places. I still see him sitting on a ledge outside, behind a hedge at the front door, on his favorite Persian rug. His paw still bats under the bathroom door and he still needs to check up on me to make sure I didn’t die in the shower. My calves still twitch at dinnertime in expectation of the bite that means it’s time to feed him. Never mind carrying him in my heart- it seems apparent that my soulcat is now my spirit guide.
This will fade, of course. It hasn’t been a week since the attack; four days since I put him to sleep. I have been certain throughout the pain that it was worth it- I will love another animal again, surely, and soon. And I’m not angry at the coyotes- it seems obvious to feel compassion for a hungry native animal whose territory I encroached on. Sometimes there is an onslaught of emotion that threatens to derail me. Instead I just breathe it out, experience fully each wave of it coming at me, and cry if I need to.
Thank you, Hobbes, for being a constant and bringing me outside of myself during a period in my life that brought a tremendous amount of growth, growth that even enables me to survive this. I love you more than I understand and carrying you with me on the rest of my path will be a treasure.
Hobbes Maleki, January 31st 2010 — October 31st 2014. Rest in Peace, Little Buddy.