I adopted Haley when I was a senior in college. It was fall 1991, right around the first time I heard Nirvana.
She proved to be an odd cat almost immediately. When I got home from working at the college newspaper late at night, I tried to get her to come to bed with me. She would have none of it, instead crying in my bedroom doorway for me to come to her. She didn’t really like to play with me, except a game of poking my finger with her paw under the bathroom door, which she’d do endlessly.
I got my own apartment part way through senior year, the first time I ever lived alone. That was part of what prompted me to adopt Haley, since it felt lonely coming home to a completely empty apartment. In retrospect, bringing a kitten into my solo pad was probably part of what made her scared of everyone who isn’t me.
Not that she’s especially nice to me all the time. She hisses about as often as some cats meow. She apparently has never heard the expression “lap cat” as she’ll have none of that nonsense. She does come to see me when I come home from work, but then typically she wanders away quickly or gets irritated if I’ve dared to pet her too long.
I didn’t know much about kittens when I got her. We’d always had pets so it didn’t seem tough to look at some kittens and choose one who seemed friendly.
Apparently this is not a skill I have. Also, when they told me the kittens were old enough to be adopted out, I trusted them — and later when I saw pictures of six-week-old kittens, too young to leave their mother yet, it seemed to me that’s pretty much what Haley looked like when she came to live with me.
But that was then. Now Haley has been with me for 18 years, living with me in Mount Pleasant, Alpena, Novi, Milford, Ann Arbor (three places there) and now New York (our second apartment here). She’s been my roommate since before I was of legal drinking age, in every stage of my adult life.
Haley has been about the truest test of unconditional love I can imagine. She’s a pretty foul-tempered cat, not especially affectionate, and she’s tested us with things like getting into what John called “excrement wars” with our other cat in Ann Arbor. Our big fat Siamese, Guy, pooped on the floor under John’s drawing table to mark his territory, while Haley peed in various places, including on our comforter. Repeatedly.
Yet, yes, I do love the crabby old lady. Unlike a dog who might lick the face of any stranger who walks by, Haley makes you earn your way into her heart — as John eventually did after about five years of working on her.
When our new vet told me on Thursday that she had symptoms of heart failure and I might need to be prepared to “end it” on Friday, it took my breath away.
I know Haley is an old cat. Average life expectancy is about 15 years so she’s pretty much already on borrowed time.
Still, she’s been in surprisingly good shape so I’ve been able to delude myself into thinking she might be around for years more. Now it seems like it might be months, or weeks, or less.
I know plenty about mourning loss. I’ve been to the funerals of my mom, my mom’s dad, my stepmother, my stepmother’s dad, my high school boyfriend’s best friend, my freshman roommate’s crush … I could go on, but you get the point.
I’m trying to bring some of what I’ve learned about grief to preparing for the day when I won’t get to hear my four-legged companion growling for no good reason.
Many times I’ve wished Haley was a nicer cat. Usually when she’s bitten me or hissed at me, or when a vet has had to use oven mitts to examine her. But I am grateful to have shared my life with this nasty little cat who’s helped teach me about love and commitment. I didn’t adopt her with the condition that she had to adore me. She’s my responsibility for better, for worse.
Til death do us part.
Have you had a pet who changed your life? One who helped you learn a life lesson or become a better person?