The story of my second cat starts, of all places, at an all-night scrapbooking party in the fall of 2002. Me, my cousin, Hayley, and two friends, Piper and Mary, signed up for the girls night at a local hotel. The event offered dinner, all night access to a banquet room, and some free scrapbooking supplies. Our group also smuggled in some liquor. Except for Hayley, who was not only underage for drinking, but also hopped up on cold meds already.
We were having a good time, even though we weren’t the most popular table, but that’s another story. A few hours in, Hayley decided she needed to go to the 24 hr grocery store nearby for more cold medicine. Having drank enough to spell the word ‘lion’ wrong on one of my pages, I decided she shouldn’t go shopping alone in the middle of the night, so I went with her.
In the parking lot there was a cat that I had been seeing around for the past few weeks. I’d tried to approach him before but he was skiddish and took off each time. Tonight was cold and I was worried about the poor little thing being outside on his own. ‘If he’ll let me close to him, I’m going to take him home,’ I told Hayley.
It might have been the cold, or maybe he recognized me from my previous attempts, but this time he didn’t just let me close, he let me pick him up. So, drunk me, and my cousin with the head cold, wandered through the grocery store in the middle of the night carrying this cat. She got more meds, I picked up some cat supplies, and we made our way to my empty apartment that was convienently halfway between the store and the scrapbook hotel. I flipped on the lights and put my new furrbaby down. That’s when Hayley panicked.
“Oh my hell. I think you just brought home a bobcat.”
Drunk me scoffed at Hayley’s overreaction, but I would later decide there was probably some merrit to her concern. The cat – named Sensei by my son – was massive. Not fat or fluffy like Sebastian had been. Sensei was, honestly, baby bobcat huge. I measured his length for fun, and nose to tail was almost 2.5 feet. The top of his head came to my knee when standing. He was big and he was mean.
Sensei immediately made his ownership of the apartment known. He did what he wanted, where he wanted, when he wanted, and hitting me with surprise attacks quickly became his favorite past time. My son was afraid of him but protective. Any male adult that entered the apartment was a target of attacks that often resulted in blood loss. The attacked included my Grandpa Bob, and the life insurance salesman that came by with my uncle and left with a little less flesh on his arm.
Despite his size, Sensei was a true ninja. He easily vanished in our small apartment, making his presence known when he decided the time was right to attack. He would hide out on the top of my fridge and smack you in the head as you walked by. Other days he would push in the kickboards in my kitchen and get into the walls, my neighbors walls, and wait hours before grabbing my ankles while I tried to cook.
His favorite sneak attack technique was the sleep attack. I would go to bed and wake up, in the dark, with 20 pounds of furr and claws and teeth. After going to work with my second blackeye, I started sleeping with a spray bottle, and friends started referring to my cat as my abusive roommate.
He kept me on my toes, but not once went after my son. On some nights he’d get up on the couch and cuddle like he was a real house cat and not a wild beast. Other nights he’d spend the whole evening at the sliding glass door, growling at the dark, and attacking things I could never see through the glass.
The most terrifying night with Sensei was his most memorible show of dominance in our strange relationship before he left us. He’d been particularly hostile and had kept me corralled for most of the night on the couch. I turned off the TV and started the slow, guarded walk to my bedroom at the end of the hall, anticipating the chase.
His size did not hinder the normal cat-stealth abilities, so he had the complete element of surprise as he darted for me, ran UP THE WALL past me, and came to a stop in the doorway of the master bedroom. His tail was fluffed out and whipping side to side, and his tufted ears were back. His intention was clear as a bell. I walked backwards, slowly, and spent the night on the couch, leaving the master bedroom to my terrible roommate.
Not long after that moment Sensei vanished. We waited some time to see if he was going to come back, and then adopted the shelter kitten we still have. Below are the only pictures I have of Sensei, because our time together happened before the days of camera phones. I wish I could find one of his yellow eyes, and the tufted bobcat ears. Having had such a larger than life relationship with him made it clear he was perfect for a work of fiction. Sensei was renamed Freddy and now lives with the detective in my first novel.
When I was sixteen a ferrel cat that stalked around my grandparents neighborhood had a litter of kittens in their wood shed. Momma Cat was a grey short hair with bright yellow eyes, a broken tail that turned at an angle, and a hot temper.
I asked my parents if I could have one of the kittens when they got old enough. I was 16, working a part time job, and promised I would take care of all of the kitten’s s vet bills and needs. My dad, never a cat fan, said nine magic words and unknowingly set a challenge.
“If you can catch one, you can have one.”
There were three babies; an all black fluff ball, a grey and white fluff ball that was bigger than his siblings, and a tan and brown Siemese looking kitten who stayed closest to mom. The Siemese kitten, I’d started calling Hershey, was the one I wanted most.
I recruited two friends, Piper and Lori, and headed to my grandparents house one evening, fueled by teen-age determination, and about $5 in canned cat food from the nearest 7/11. The three of us had underestimated how hungry momma cat would be. She inhaled the cat food before her kittens even came out of hiding, leaving us with no distractions. Back to 7/11 we went.
The second round of food brought all three kittens out of hiding, and kept mom occupied. It became obvious my kitten wasn’t going to be decided necessarily by which one I wanted. Ferral cats are sketchy, kitten claws are deadly, and food bribes only went so far. I was going to have to go home with the one spending the least amount of time trying to claw through flesh.
The grey and white long-haired kitten was the only one who allowed us to touch him. Every attempt to grab the one I’d been calling Hersey resulted in hisses from kitten and momma, and a few attacks. Taking the hint, I picked up the willing kitten and we made a run for it.
We took off in my car and reality sank in. I had a cat. I had to take him home, where no one was expecting a kitten besides me. We took him to a grocery store to buy some supplies, and stretched the drive out for two hours while I worked up the nerve to go home.
I walked in the door and up the stairs, passed our Schnauzer/Yorkie mix frantically trying to figure out what I had in my hands. Bravely, I headed back to my parents bedroom ready to defend myself and the fluff ball it would take me three days to name.
“What do you have?” my dad asked, concerned and irritated.
“My cat,” I answered. “You said I just had to catch it.”
Last night was Book Club night. Part of our conversation was about the book we’d read, part of it was about other topics. One other topic was a recently adopted one-eyed cat. This conversation moved on to the three cats I’ve owned and the circumstances that brought each of them into my life.
I realized that each of my crazy cats has a story that deserves to be told, so I will be posting them here. Starting tomorrow you can come back and start with cat number one – Sebastian – a ferral grey Main Coon kitten who won my heart and has the distinction of being the first and only cat my dad ever liked. After Sebastian there was Sensei, arguably, possibly the offspring of a bobcat, and Sasha, the fiesty Tuxedo currently running our house.