I feel like saying “my cat died this week” doesn’t capture it.
It’s an accurate description, but it seems so sterile and matter-of-fact. A cat I had adored for many happy years was taken from me by lymphoma this week.
Seriously, fuck you, cancer. Gladys was old, but she wasn’t that old–exactly 13 1/2, to the day, when she died, and lots of cats live years past that. It’s so unfair that she couldn’t.
But I loved her so much that the rest of my life wouldn’t have felt like long enough to have her near me.
I’d resumed the ritual of “Friday cat blogging” recently (using photos from before she got sick), even though I’m not an especially prolific blogger, because I was acutely aware she might not be around much longer, and I wanted to shout to the world about what a wonderful kitty she was, and how much I loved her, while she was here.
Of course, she had no idea. She had a tiny little kitty brain. “A tiny little spaceship head,” Nikki would say.
I knew Gladys from when she was a kitten, but her original owner was my sister Jere Ann, who got her from a shelter nine days before 9/11.
Jere Ann used to cheat at the board game “Life,” but not to win. She cheated so she’d land on every possible space where you got a kid. She’d end up with so many little pink and blue pegs representing kids, she needed a second car. Basically, having children was always her ambition in life.
And now she has a bunch of them, but in 2001 she didn’t yet, hadn’t even met her eventual husband yet. So she got a cat, because that maternal energy had to go somewhere. That was how she consciously described it.
She picked this tiny little ball of fluff and called it Gladys.
I remember seeing Gladys when I visited Jere Ann. Or, more often, I would see her when my parents were cat-sitting her at their house. I did get to know her a little during those years–I learned that she had an adorable little meow. I learned that she was passionate about being inside things, like boxes and bags and cabinets. I learned that if she was on her back and you rubbed her belly, you’d volunteered for a game of “wrestle the hand.”
I nicknamed her “Glad Bag” during that time. I called her that her whole life.
Fast forward just a few years. Jere Ann had had her first kid, and was living in a small condo, and she no longer felt baby and cat were compatible. Also, she didn’t need an animal to give her maternal love to anymore.
I did, though. I’d been talking about getting a cat. So Jere Ann emailed me, and asked if I’d like to have Gladys. She had a sales pitch to go with that–“Gladys will sit in your lap while you draw, she’ll play with you, she’s a great cat”–but she had me at “would you like to have Gladys.”
The first day Gladys came to live with us, Jere Ann brought her over, and let her out of the cat carrier, and she hid under the bed. We had expected this. We thought it would be that way for a while. But an hour later, she was out again, exploring and introducing herself to us.
That was something else about Gladys. She loved people. She loved meeting people, and getting attention from people. If you spent one night in our apartment, usually she’d let you pick her up after that. Even before that she’d want your attention. She wanted attention from the guy who set up our cable, the guy who fixed our dryer.
We were in love with her immediately and for the next…I was going to type “seven years,” but really we’ll love her forever. She was that wonderful a kitty.
One of the first things I did was change her middle name. Jere Ann had called her “Gladys Dingleberry Simpson.” I was not going to let her be stuck with such a gross middle name, however accurate, so I changed it to “Gladys Biting Simpson.” Because biting was her middle name. As Orv said, “I’ve never known a cat who led with her mouth so much.” She was a play-biter, but she was a biter.
She had lightning reflexes, even by cat standards. The entire time we had her, up to as recently as last week, we played a game where I would flick cat treats across the kitchen floor and she’d race after them and pounce on them. She was really hard to get one past. She could have been a goalie in the Cat NHL if that were a thing.
And she loved to sit in laps, and she purred a lot. She was a very happy cat for as long as she lived with us. (And before that, I have no doubt.) She lived an enviably happy and trouble-free life.
She played with toys well into adulthood. The first few years we had her, even as she passed from the “adult cat” food to the “senior cat” food to the “really old cat” food, she still loved toys. Not all toys. She had favorites. Catnip helped. So did feathers. And she loved anything she could swat at and have it skitter off unpredictably.
She liked playing “chase.” She would come up to me, and go “rrt rrt,” then run away as soon as I looked at her. If I didn’t pursue her, she’d stop, and look back at me like “well?” These chases also often ended in the kitchen, where she could meow at me for treats.
And she spent a lot of time in my lap. Or Orv’s lap, or Nikki’s lap, or any available lap. She liked things that made warms. We always put it that way.
As beloved things do, she acquired nicknames. Not just “Glad Bag,” but “The Notorious Fluffy G” as well. “My fun-size lion.” Or just “The Beige.” “Gladys Boxliker,” which was an MST3K reference. Sometimes just “Stupid,” spoken with as much affection as you can put into that word, because we adored her.
I used to bop her on the head a lot, gently, with my palm. And she would reliably meow when I did. She had a sort of single note “maow” that was adorable, and you could bop her repeatedly, sometimes for several minutes, and get one nearly every time. We referred to it as “dispensing meows.” I have no idea what she thought we were doing, but she almost never walked away; she liked the attention.
I am told when I wasn’t around for long periods, she would look for me, walking around the apartment and making “I’m looking for you” meows. And she loved Orv, too; she learned to recognize the sound of his car in the parking lot, and would hop down from my lap or wherever she was to go greet him at the door.
She was my kitty through…everything. When I got her I was just beginning gender transition. Hormone therapy, legally changing my name, coming out to everyone I knew…Gladys was the kitty I came home to. She didn’t know or care about any of it. She just wanted the scritches. She was a source of strength in ways she could never have comprehended.
When I finally had my operation, I was gone for three weeks. I came back and Gladys did not want to let me out of her sight. She slept with me every night, and meowed at any door I closed on her, even just to use the bathroom. She followed me everywhere.
She was my kitty when I won Comic Strip Superstar; she was in my lap through the process of creating “Phoebe and Her Unicorn.” Some of Marigold’s body language comes from watching Gladys.
She was a part of our family–a part of me, even–during the years when I really became myself. And now that she’s gone I find I’m less sure who I am, in her absence.
I had Gladys–or she had me–through two genders, two legal names, four pairs of glasses, five hair colors, three different apartments.
Saying goodbye to her was the hardest thing I have ever had to do. And I have done some very hard things. But she passed away warm and safe, mercifully free of pain, lying across my lap, surrounded by her family and being gently stroked. I want to believe in her final moments, she was happy.
I know she was happy for the seven years she was my kitty. No kitty was ever more loved.
It’s been several days and I still can’t stop crying. You know you’re going to outlive a pet, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t soul-crushingly hard. It was sunny the day after she passed, and I was angry with the weather–don’t you know the best kitty in the world is gone?
So here’s to you, Glad Bag. Wherever you are, I hope there are things to swat and laps to sit in. My world is colder and darker without you. I will love you my whole life, and carry you with me forever.