MISS MOOX + time


Cats formed the shape and backdrop of most of my childhood life. The succession of felines who came and went were nearly as much a part of my emotional landscape as my siblings, and became my beloved, and often closest, friends. None of them, however, in terms of sheer influence, scope, and longevity, compared to Fluffy.

Fluffy showed up when I was five years old, a tiny morsel of black-and-white fur found as a stray and presented to my family by a friend. I clearly remember her arrival, the doorbell ringing and the man standing on our doorstep cupping the wee kitten in his hand. My excitement knew no bounds. Some time before, my cat Muffy and her son Tigger had disappeared when we left for vacation and I still mourned their loss. I was thrilled for a new cat to take their place.

At the beginning the baby was so small that my parents were afraid they'd lose her in our enormous house; so they confined her to a wire dog crate they'd borrowed from a friend. This was Fluffy's home for the first few days until my parents grew more confident that she'd be safe navigating the expanses of our home.

I recall kneeling in front of the crate and inspecting my new companion with adoring eyes. My mother asked me, "What do you want to name her?" and I promptly replied, "Fluffy." In my not-so-imaginative five-year-old mind, this was the perfect name for a cat.

When she was released from her cage, poor Fluffy became the object of my passionate and rambunctious love. She was subject from the beginning to being picked up and dragged around heedlessly by whatever portion of her anatomy was handy, at my whim and despite her vigorous struggles. My parents' friends tell of arriving one day to see me carrying Fluffy by the head, her entire body dangling. My mother attempted to teach me better cat-handling techniques, but to no avail. I loved Fluffy, and poor Fluffy was treated in much the same way as my stuffed animal collection.

My mother has pictures of me and Fluffy when we were both kittens. In one, I’m sitting on the couch, smiling triumphantly. Fluffy’s on my lap splayed out on her back, my hands clutching her chest. I’m looking supremely happy. Poor Fluffy was probably feeling anything but.

Fluffy survived, but sad to say, her personality underwent an unalterable warping as a result of my treatment and my father's abusive animal-handling techniques. She became unpredictably vicious, biting and scratching to defend herself from unwanted touch. You could sometimes, very carefully, pet her, but her tolerance would quickly turn and she’d snap. The top of her head was about the only place you could safely stroke her, and that only for a time.

Once when I was about five, I was carrying her bundled in my arms up the stairs; she decided she wanted out and bailed, leaving kick-scars from her back feet on my chest that remain to this day. Matching stitch-shaped scars on both my thumbs still remind me of her. She was doing only what she had to do to survive: learning coping techniques to defend herself from a child who wouldn’t learn anyway else.

Despite this, Fluffy was a valuable and much-loved member of our family. On warm summer evenings, we'd often take walks. Fluffy would follow us, trailing behind several feet and making side-excursions to sniff out interesting possibilities. Despite the fact that she took pains not to come too close, she always tailed us the entire route and home again.

Fluffy was a fierce and inveterate dog-hater, immediately routing any canine who dared to invade our yard. A force to be reckoned with and a no-nonsense defender of her territory, she intimidated even the biggest dogs.

Fluffy grew from a tiny kitten to a large and imposing cat. For most of her adult life, she was rather overweight. When she sat, her tummy spilled over her feet. She was strikingly black-and-white marked, with huge golden eyes; she had presence. When she simply sat in a room, you were aware. We were homeschooled, and Fluffy spent much of the schoolday tramping across or lying on our papers as we worked, biting if she was disturbed. Our childhood friends were rather in awe of her, as were we. She commanded respect.

She was a member of the family, pure and simple. My brothers could scarcely remember life before her; my sisters were born into a family where Fluffy occupied her stately and matriarchal place.

Over the years, Fluffy tolerated with varying degrees of hatred other cats that we introduced. The new cats, especially the male kittens, always tormented her, chasing her and batting at her tail as it hung temptingly off high surfaces. Many of these cats came and went; we didn’t have much luck with the additions, but Fluffy remained.

Fluffy had some rather odd habits; among them, a taste for earwax. She'd frantically and unceasingly lick your ears if you presented them to her, a scratchy and uncomfortable sensation. She also had a passion for green beans, spaghetti sauce, and most especially, Saltine crackers.

As she got older, Fluffy developed a strange quirk that I’ve never heard described anywhere else. She'd suddenly begin meowing frantically, a rapid-fire series of desperate cries that meant only one thing. She'd then rush up to the nearest person and flop on her side for a tummy rub. Normally to touch Fluffy's tummy was to invite death. But in these moods, the harder you massaged her stomach, the happier she was. She'd lie still as her body rocked back and forth and every once in a while utter contented little squeaks. My theory was that she was undergoing some sort of delayed maternal delusion, and the tummy-rubbing, to her, simulated suckling.

But my best memory of Fluffy comes in her most un-Fluffy-like moments. Normally she was a terror, difficult to touch and impossible to pick up. She bit, scratched and hissed when her autonomy or personal space was threatened. There was one exception.

When one of us children was crying, Fluffy invariably sensed it. She would rush to us and lie down beside us, peace restored for the moment. During those times, we could pet and snuggle her without fear. She seemed to understand emotional sorrow, and in her cat-wisdom, was trying to comfort her charges.

Fluffy developed stomach cancer when she was about fourteen. Normally a well-padded and imposing figure, she dwindled to a skinny frame with stick-legs and a sad flap of a stomach hanging down where there used to be a roll of fat. She became weaker and sicker, and the treatments our veterinary clinic offered had no effect. To this day my sister speaks with rage about it. She’s learned that clinic has a reputation for malpractice, and is convinced Fluffy's life could have been prolonged had we taken her somewhere else.

At the age of fourteen, when I was nineteen and just beginning my second semester at college, Fluffy had to be put to sleep.

My mother took her; such was her grief, she had to have her mother accompany her for emotional support. Fluffy was literally and truly a part of our family, and her physical and personal presence had carved out an enormous niche in our home and our hearts. Life without her was almost unthinkable.

I still wish, when I think about it, that I could have been there to say goodbye. At the time, I was building a new life and hardly thought about what went on at home. But perhaps it was easier that way. I don’t know how I could have handled being at the side of my longest-standing friend when she had to die.

When I went back home to visit, something was different. A tangible presence was gone. I kept expecting to see her black-and-white form cruising the carpets or sitting on the table, her favourite perch despite persistent efforts to train her out of it. I would have given anything to be able to pet her and have her snap at me, feeble and few as her efforts had become in her older years. It didn’t seem right; the house was emptier.

That feeling persists to this day. When I visit home, it’s not quite the same. I half-expect to see her, but she’s not there. It’s as if the passing of Fluffy, coinciding with my move away from home and into a different life, symbolized the passing of an era. My childhood life, my childhood home, are no longer. They’ve gone, and the ghosts of memory remain only. Largest among them, and most fondly remembered, is the ghost of a rather portly, rather grumpy, but oh-so-dearly-beloved black-and-white cat. Fluffy.

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