Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Goodbye, Beloved Friend

Cthulhu the cat died today.

He was, strange as it may seem to anyone who isn't a "cat person," one of my best friends.

Of all living things, none were less deserving of his ordeal than Cthulhu. He was truly incapable of malice, never depressed except when he was dying, and always there to spread love and cheer. For eight years I relied on him to help cheer me up when nothing else could, and to shower me with affection even when I was being a moody jerk that didn't necessarily deserve it.

I've had a number of cats in my life, and I've loved them all. But Cthulhu was special. He was my familiar, my shadow. Before he got sick, every time I walked in the door he would come running to me. He would follow me, craning his neck to look up at me with his saucer eyes and an expectant look. Cynics insisted that he just wanted to be fed, until they saw him ignore food in favor of a visit to my lap -- or my shoulder. And not for a momentary visit before rushing off to eat, either. Cthulhu would sometimes spend over an hour on my lap before eating, and would often return immediately afterwards.

When I would walk around the house, he'd often follow me. If he was particularly in the mood for affection, he'd hug my legs with his paws (and try to climb me like a tree). His head-butts of love were extremely enthusiastic, as were his licks. He kneaded me like bread and purred so loud and low that people occasionally mistook him for some sort of distant machinery. My beard was for chewing, and occasionally so was my nose. Cthulhu really was a love cat.

And you never realize quite just how much something means to you until it's gone. I feel guilty for every time I did anything other than spend time petting Cthulhu and basking in his affection, because now I never again can do that. Waking up and not finding him running alongside me down the hallway, looking up at me lovingly in anticipation of cuddles, was already hard enough when he was sick. Now that he's gone, it's even harder.

His unconditional love was unlike anything I've ever known or ever will. We humans with our big brains all love conditionally -- we can't help it, we're made to be judgmental and demanding. The love of a great pet isn't superior to that of a human friend or loved-one, but it is qualitatively different in that it really comes with no strings attached. It's just about togetherness and nothing else. Cats don't care about anything you have or haven't done wrong, they don't want favors, and they have no expectations of you beyond the basics: food, shelter, and affection.

We are about to have a baby, and people say of course this will make it clear that the love of a cat isn't as important as that of your child. Of course it isn't.

But I say of course because as a human I'm wired to be a speciesist, favoring my own kind over all others reflexively, and especially ones that have substantial proportions of genes in common with me.

If I look at it more objectively, what is so inferior about the love of a cat? We're all animals. Cats are small, but so are children, for a while. Cats can't talk, but we love our children before they can talk. Cats and children are both small and mostly helpless against the many large dangers of the world, yet more resilient and clever than we often give them credit for. Cats don't live as long as we do, but we still love people who die young. In fact, we love them more because we long for that extra time together we never got to have. I long for more time with Cthulhu that I can never have.

So of course one doesn't love a cat as much -- at least not in the same way -- as one loves a child, or any other family member. But I am not ashamed to call it a close second.

Cthulhu was an integral part of our lives for eight years. Without Cthulhu here, things are jarringly different, and not in a good way. He's always been in this house with us, we got married when we already had him, his presence was always felt in our lives and now that it's gone the absence is markedly palpable.

My morning coffee ritual, and my evening coming home and dinner rituals, were all centered around Cthulhu. As I walk down the hallway to the kitchen, he is no longer running along side me, craning his little neck to look up at me expectantly all the way. Nobody now sits patiently at my feet waiting for me to finish eating -- only to jump on my lap the instant I'm done. No longer is each meal capped by aggressive snuggling, head-butts punctuated by loud purrs, a kitty head shoved into my underarm, and a mad scramble onto my shoulders to nuzzle my cheeks and lick my ears. These daily routines now seem hollow and pedestrian, which they actually are without an outpouring of kitty love to liven them up.

I still subconsciously look around, expecting to see him running over to share the love, or taking a nap somewhere comfortable.

I wish he had lived long enough to meet the baby, so that she'd have known this most wonderful cat, this living personification of unconditional love.

The other cats are wonderful in their own ways, but only Sim is a lap cat. And none of them have that outgoing, loving personality that always brightened our days. Our household cuddling and happiness quotients just dropped markedly. It will be some time before they go back up at all, and they'll never reach the same soaring heights they did when Cthulhu was still alive.

Even when he was suffering, he could be coaxed into purring and licking and being happy to see us -- until the end, when he just couldn't take it anymore. No creature, and especially not one so wonderful, should have to go through that. Those that believe in some divinity should ask their God why such an innocent creature, absent of malice of any kind, bringing nothing but love and joy to all who encountered him, deserved to suffer so greatly and die so young. But I can tell you the answer already -- there is no reason for it. It is just wrong.

Born feral, blinded by deformed corneas, and mostly toothless his whole life, Cthulhu was unlikely to survive more than a few weeks had the Beckers not found him. We were extremely lucky that such a wonderful creature then found his way to us when they could not keep him. Despite his lifelong physical difficulties, Cthulhu shrugged off the adversity and didn't hold it against the world. He could have been ornery and mean and nobody would have begrudged him that, but instead he was the most affectionate creature I've ever met.

I keep getting up to go check on him and give him reassurance and petting, only to realize he's not there anymore and never will be again. Eventually the sheer momentum of the trying to be there for him as much as possible, to try to do something that would save him, will wear off -- but the cat-shaped void left by his death will always remain.

They were eight great years with Cthulhu around, but eight was not enough. Maybe I'll eventually stop crying whenever I think about him. I certainly hope so, because there are so many joyous memories of him to be cherished.

I wish he could have lived forever. He was supposed to eat the universe, not the other way around. That's why we named him Cthulhu, God damn it.


Anuradha said...

Losing Cthulhu is the worst kind of bad because there's no one to blame except stupid cancer. Even Elder Gods can be felled by that fucker.

I am glad that he died knowing how much he was loved. Life will never be the same.

Nishant K said...

It's a rare family that gets to experience such love. Each kind of love is unique and powerful, as I'm finding out now. Cherish the memories.

Judi said...

I'm just now reading this, over a month later. I'm deeply sorry for your loss. He sounds like such an awesome cat. Feline old souls are so incredible to have in your life, though they're very difficult to come by. I've always viewed them as divine gifts.

He looks very much like the cat we lost five years ago this past Feb 1. Sara was only two months shy of 20 years when feline kidney disease eventually wore her poor little body out. Even dropping from 12 to 4 pounds in her last year, she'd still cuddle up to us on the couch, purring softly, no matter how miserable her treatments made her. And when the weekly infusions became daily infusions, she never stopped being affectionate.

I hope our other cat, just two months shy of 17 and recently diagnosed with kidney disease, will remain as loving and affectionate when he begins infusions later on. As much as I love him for his own quirky personality, he just doesn't have that wonderful old soul that Sara had. That special kind of fur kid stays with you forever.

Take care.