In July 2001, I was a single law student living alone in Chicago and thought it would be a nice idea to have a feline companion. After a series of roadblocks at various shelters (I was “too young,” “not employed full-time,” etc.) I ended up at a room at a local vet clinic that housed a few unwanted cats. On top of a high shelf I saw a beauty of an orange cat who winked at me. (It turned out to be an upper respiratory infection that caused the winking, rather than love at first sight, but let’s ignore that part).
I asked to hold him and I did, petting his long soft fur as he snuggled in my arms. Given that this cat hated to be held, the fact that he let me snuggle him so long just shows how badly he wanted out of that place. I took him home immediately in a taxi, him riding next to be in a cardboard carrier because I didn’t yet have one of my own.
When we arrived at my apartment, he immediately climbed onto the futon, the only soft thing in my tiny studio apartment, and laid on his back and sprawled out. He was home.
We would endure a lot together over the next nearly fifteen years: he let me pet him all day long as I watched television coverage of 9/11 and heard the scary sound of fighter jets patrolling outside my window; he would sit on my law school books or papers, as way of reminding me to take a break and pet him; he was there that dreadful summer where I was studying for the bar exam, probably wondering why I barely left the house; he was there as friends and family came to visit and stay, often keeping them up with his incessant meowing.
When I was especially stressed out during law school – which was a lot – he would indulge me by letting me pick him up, rest him up against me, and we would dance around the kitchen. It always made me feel better, although I am not sure if he was a fan, or just being a good kitty.
He was there the first time Erwyn came to my apartment and hopped up next to him to size him up and see if he was acceptable for his mom (he passed).
After Erwyn moved in, Simba was relegated to the foot of the bed, rather than next to me and eventually moved to sleep elsewhere. In 2006, we thought Simba needed a “friend,” because he would howl whenever we left the apartment, so we adopted Jiblets. I don’t think Simba ever forgave me for that. Because while he went on to love his two sisters – Eggy and thenPaducah – he never got along with Jiblets, not even for a minute.
And now that I think about it, although he no longer howled when we left the house, his meowing overall never really slowed. It was loud and long and it was genuinely like he was using a language to try to tell us something. Sometimes I could identify a reason: food was getting low in his bowl, his water wasn’t recently poured, but often I had no clue the hell he was meowing about.
Although he hadn’t really been super playful in years, when he was younger,he loved to jump in the air back and forth, trying to catch a feather on a string. The height at which he could jump was astounding. His other favorite toy was a long plastic tube with a feather on a long metal stick. He would play that for hours if I would indulge him by constantly moving the feather in and out of the tube.
Simba was great with every child he met: my nephews and niece, the kids of my friends, and of course Myla. While Myla will tell you her number one cat is Eggy, Simba loved her from the beginning, always curious about her, laying near her, but not too near.
In the last couple of years, since we got a king size bed, Simba had resumed his sleeping place next to my head, in between Erwyn and I.
Age had made it impossible for him to groom himself, so I would use his sleeping place as an opportunity to untangle the mats in his fur. He was never one for snuggles, but would love to be pet for a long time – until he was done being pet and would let you know with a paw swipe that he carefully ensured never actually landed on you. He also had the odd ability to poke you gently with just one claw to get you to notice the fact that he wanted to be pet.
A few days ago, it became suddenly clear that Simba was not himself.
Besides the noticeable symptom of not eating, the one thing that made it clear to me that Simba was seriously ill was that he stopped meowing almost entirely. The cat who had howled at me every day that we were together for nearly a decade and a half was unable to say anymore. And I knew with that silence he was telling me that it was time for him to go.
Yesterday we danced one last dance with him in my arms and said goodbye.
My house has never been so sadly quiet.