I never expected to have any particular animal be part of my life for more than a decade. In all honesty, I was expecting to write this memorial during college at the very latest. I didn’t anticipate that my very first cat would be with me for nearly twenty years.
I’m twenty-seven years old.
Yesterday, I lost one of my dearest companions–a cat that has been by my side during all the triumphs and pitfalls of my youth. From trick-or-treating to prom, from long division to calculus, from my high school diploma to my masters degree, my cat Frisky was there to witness all but seven years of my life.
He was a cat that defied categorization. He took feline stereotypes and tore them to ribbons, purring all the while. He had enough personality for a whole litter of cats bundled into the furry body of one amazing animal.
From birth to death, he taught me the value of being unique and seeking to defy the expectations of everyone around you.
My parents had cats that I adored, but they weren’t the cuddly types. One was afraid of her own shadow, and the other–well–she could be pretty bitchy. So I decided at an early age that I wanted my own cat, and whenever I got that cat, I was going to name it Frisky, no matter whether that cat was a boy, girl, or something in between. I even named one of my toy cats Frisky in anticipation.
My parents gave in when I was in third grade. A friend of mine had a litter of kittens at home, and they let me adopt one. Initially, my heart was set on the white kitten. But when we came over to look at them, this white-and-gray runt climbed up the side of my pants leg, clung to my t-shirt and started mewing as though the world would end if I didn’t take him home.
He was scrappy. He was the squirt. He was never destined to be an alpha cat. But I didn’t care. His determination paid off. I took him home, fleas and all.
Our first hint that Frisky was unique was his obsession with a plastic Barbie tent. I forget whether it was our parents, or some other well-meaning relative, that had given us the camping playset, but my sister and I weren’t all that interested in Barbies. Frisky stepped in to make use of the tent. He slept in that thing even when he got too big for it and his butt was hanging out the back.
Even after we gave most of the Barbies away, the tent stayed. I swear we must have super-glued that thing back together a gazillion times. But eventually it was beyond repair, and we convinced Frisky to start sleeping in a basket instead.
The tent was one of many bizarre nap locations Frisky selected. Something about tight, enclosed spaces appealed to him. He would stuff himself into puzzle boxes, curl up in the bathroom sink, or squish himself into the tight space between the wall and my bedframe. One time my mother opened our medicine cabinet and found this.
Why he thought lying on top of our family supply of pills and cough drops to be comfortable, I’ll never comprehend.
This quirk got him in trouble when he got shut inside our dryer for a whole day. He also managed to get himself locked inside our neighbor’s shed. I imagine that neither experience was very pleasant, but he wouldn’t be discouraged from seeking out new spaces to squeeze himself into.
Even as he got older, he spent much of his napping time in his favorite basket–one that was just a touch too small for him.
The Eternal Friend
Frisky embodied mellowness. He had enough patience to watch grass grow, patience that came in handy considering how often I liked to pick him up and do terrible things like rubbing his tail the wrong way or flipping his ears inside-out.
Most cats would have relieved me of an eyeball.
Instead, he let me and my sister do all sorts of silly things to him, such as wedging a stuffed animal between his paws during a nap.
His friendly attitude extended to other cats as well. He got on very well with the kittens we brought home after my parents’ first two cats passed away. He was particularly attached to Smokey, the gray tabby my mother got from a pet store. They loved to sleep together. One of their favorite spots was the water heater in our basement.
I wish I could say that they were fast friends up until the day Frisky died, but Smokey went outside one day and never came back. Whether Frisky noticed his friend’s absence, I can’t quite remember, but I imagine that he did. Frisky went on to outlive all the other cats he lived with except for Rupert, my sister’s current cat.
He offered friendship to everyone, human or otherwise, without condition. If he had a metaphor for life, it was to live like a stream, gracefully flowing through any obstacles that came his way. He didn’t always succeed at keeping his cool.
But he was always much better at it than me.
The Curious, Yet Long-Lived
I’ve often pondered the secret to Frisky’s longevity. Aside from putting a child lock on the cabinet that contained our garbage can, we never discouraged him from exploring the world around him. He may have been an exceptional case, but I still don’t think too much of that old saying about cats and curiosity.
His diet wasn’t anything special. He ate canned cat food, supplemented by the occasional mouse or baby rabbit. He also had a taste for honeydew melon and styrofoam (thus the child lock). My mother fed him Pounce tartar control treats by the handful. Those things are the nutritional equivalent of hard candy, but they were his favorite food. He loved them more than catnip.
His teeth were really good. He never needed to have any pulled. I hesitate to attribute his long lifespan to the treats. Good genes and a low-stress lifestyle are more likely.
I was beginning to think that cat was coated in Teflon. No illness or injury stuck to him. No matter what scrapes he got into or incredibly dumb things he did (such as attempting to leap through a closed car window), he always came out with his tail held high.
Then my mother called me. He wasn’t eating. Except for sleeping with her at night, he was spending all his time hiding in a closet. He acted like this before and pulled through, so Mom took him to the vet. They gave him an appetite stimulant. Even though it made him eat, it also made him yowley and agitated. He was in pain.
Even Teflon wears away with age. It was clear he wasn’t going to bounce back. Mom made one of the bravest decisions in her life and took him to the vet one last time. And just like Smokey on that spring day years ago, Frisky didn’t come home.
I feel his death hit my mom the hardest. She is the one who had to return to an empty apartment. She is the one who was with him, who had to watch as the vet put in the needle and he drifted away. She is the one who can’t hold him and rub his fur anymore.
Still, he was never “my” cat or my mom’s cat so much as he was the family’s cat. And our family has always been better at communicating with our animals than with each other. There’s no doubt in my mind that Frisky took many of our private frustrations with him to the grave. His presence in our home made dealing with our individual shortcomings, as well as our collective shortcomings as a family, more bearable. I’m sure even my dad misses him more than he’ll ever admit.
Frisky was a cat who was both beautifully complex and incredibly simple. The impact of his life on me and my family cannot be defined. But at the same time, I think his role can be summed up in two words: treasured friend.
And even though I said good-bye to my friend when I saw him last year, this still sucks. Right now it feels like I will never again experience a friendship as long-lasting or as strong as the one we shared.
I’ll miss you big boy.
Frisky was my favorite photo subject whenever I had to finish a roll of film, so I’ve collected quite a few pictures over the years. I’ve posted them in an online album, mostly for my mom’s benefit. But if you’re willing to click through nearly twenty-years worth of cat pictures, you’re welcome to click here.