In my closet is a cardboard box I have yet to unpack since the move. Inside is a small green box in which I once kept jewelry I didn’t care about. I haven’t opened this box in a few years now, but I can tell you exactly what is in it if I close my eyes: a turquoise rubber brush, a few fur-covered mice, a small hemp bag licked clean of the catnip that once fattened it, and the last handful of gray and white fur I ever collected.
Technically, Linty was not my first pet. There had been the series of goldfish I’d had at various times, most notably the black goldfish with the bulbous eyes who, at age 9, I devotedly named Joey after my favorite Ramone. There had been the many family pets too: Joey Blue Eyes and Little Bear in Philadelphia; Fred, Two-Ton, Ed, Piddy, Charlie, Brittany, and The Pitten in Steamboat; and Little Charlie, Manny, and Caleb in Berkeley.
But Linty was the first, and then, I suppose, the only.
We were living in North Berkeley, my best friend and I, in a ramshackle house owned by a woman who had not worn a bra since burning hers some 30 years prior and who regaled us with tales of drug use with her creepy adult son who lurked about the property. She lived in a small apartment in the back that was connected to ours by the kitchen; the lease we signed gave her use of the kitchen, which she rarely used, but she did burst in unannounced from time to time to tell us a bit of news, pendulous breasts bobbing furiously beneath a saggy old t-shirt. Above us was a group of young hippies whose numbers ebbed and flowed as easily as their clichés about generous trees and uncool sterile corporate environments.
The woman who listed the kittens available for adoption was named Martha Kat. As her name suggested, she had a lot of cats, a house full of them that smelled of fur and litter and pee and cat food. Tucked in the back, in a tiny cage, were two abandoned kittens, barely six weeks old. We signed some crazy form, promising to never let them outside, and took them home. The larger black and white kitten was my best friend’s, the small gray and white was mine.
My kitten was so small she could curl up beneath my chin and wake me up in the morning by trying to suckle along my jawline. She was, it turned out, the runt of the litter, and would stay small as long as she was around her sister who dominated the food bowl. Food aside they got into trouble equally, once falling into the toilet together: from the living room we heard sploosh! sploosh! followed by a series of hysterical mews. Laughing, we ran to rescue them.
I don’t remember how I decided to name her Lint, only that once I gave it to her it was the most perfect name. She was a speck of a kitten, with the sweet fuzzy aura kittens have. As she grew, her gray deepened into a comforting blanket of light and dark combined, like something soft and warm you might clean from the clothes dryer. Her belly was a little pooch that hung down and swung when she ran, all white with pink bits that shone through. She trailed after me, followed me everywhere, from room to room, from west to east and back again, stuck like lint that I couldn’t shake and didn’t want to.
There is something about two barely formed creatures finding each other, creatures in need of love and companionship. I was barely 19 and very much at sea. She was a few weeks old and a helpless kitten. She fit perfectly into the part of me that was uncertain and needed comfort and reassurance. When I came home late and she blinked her sleepy hello at me from the middle of the bed, or when I put my face into her soft tummy and breathed through anxiety, or when she looked up at me with those eyes that were green like leaves in sunlight: It turned out the shape in my heart that wanted so desperately to be filled with love was Linty-shaped.
Linty went everywhere with me. Berkeley, San Francisco, New York, DC, Orange County, Berkeley again, and finally back to Orange County. She was my truest and most constant companion.
Only once did I consider giving her away, a traitorous act for which I never forgave myself. Then the boyfriend who was allergic to her dumped me in a cruel way, and she suddenly stopped wailing like a tiny lost soul at the foot of the stairs as soon as he was gone. I realized she had been trying to tell me the truth about him all along. I spent the next nine years doting on her more than ever, repaying her loyalty with every ounce of devotion I had.
Of all the cities we traveled to together, Linty loved best the locale that I loved least. We at least agreed upon the home itself, which was wonderful. In Orange County we lived in an airy condo with a small back deck. She spent her days sunning herself and nibbling on catnip, waiting for me to come home from campus, so she could yell at me for being away too long and then curl up in her donut next to my desk. Orange County was Linty’s paradise, and so it was only fitting that she spend her last, most golden years there.
One afternoon five years ago, July 31st to be exact, I sat at my desk writing. I looked toward the donut to the right, and Linty wasn’t there. She wasn’t in the big orange chair near the window either, and it occurred to me I hadn’t seen her for a few hours. It was unlike her to spend so many hours away from me. I walked back to the bedroom where I found her on the bed breathing shallowly and with great difficulty, her eyes unfocused, her wonderful gray and white fur separated into weird clumps. In a panic, I lifted her to the floor where I could hold her, and I called the vet.
Five hours later, I sat alone in the small exam room. The vet opened the door from her side and shut it softly, then turned to me.
“Her lower intestines, and in fact most of her abdomen — it’s a solid mass. I can’t be totally sure without doing a biopsy, but I’m fairly sure it’s a form of lymphoma.”
I sat there, trying to breathe.
“We can put her to sleep and do a biopsy. There are treatment options, and many cats live long and happy lives on treatment.”
“No. She’s lived a long and happy life already. She’s 15. What, she’d — let’s be real, I would get another two years? And she’d spend it with me having to torture her with medicines and god knows what? I can’t do that to her. After 15 years of loyalty, I can’t be that selfish.”
“We like to give people the option,” said the vet very quietly, “but I think you’re making the right choice.”
“She won’t know the difference between going to sleep for a biopsy and going to sleep for good. Only I will.”
The vet stepped back out and returned a few moments later, my groggy Linty in her arms, wrapped in an old pink, white, and green tea towel. I thought how it matched her, matched her sweet pink nose and pink toes, her white feet and belly, her impossibly green eyes. I held her and kissed her one last time, and then with a quick injection her head slumped to my knee. I sat there with her for one last minute, until the vet gently lifted her from my arms. She tried to be so careful, but even so, Linty’s body flopped briefly from the tea towel. And then I was alone again.
That’s when I felt it. The hole in my heart, shaped exactly like Linty, had returned.