My cat died yesterday. I no longer live with him but I can’t help feeling somewhat devastated at the loss of the interspecies family member. Leo may have been a spoilt, cantankerous asshole but he had a strength of personality that was impossible not to admire.
A bit of a difficult pet, Leo fancied himself as a gourmet and buying a new, untested brand of cat food was truly a humbling ordeal. With bated breath, I would watch him carefully inhale the air inside the bowl, as though at a wine tasting. If approved, he would devour it in under a minute. If disapproved, he would turn and “bury” it, scratching the floor with his hind legs as though covering the food with soil, like one of his foul-smelling shits. After the ceremonial burial, he would let out a hideous shriek, unbearably shrill and piercing, like a banshee being gang-raped. The shrieks would continue infinitely, without pause for breath, until a higher-quality product was offered.
He viewed my mother as his personal chef, my youngest brother as his best friend, and regarded the rest of us with varying degrees of suspicion. My relationship with him would teeter on a knife edge between friend and foe, due to my habit of chasing him around the house without warning. Undoubtedly he believed I was some sort of unhinged psychopath. He tolerated my presence only because I fed him occasionally. My elder sister, however, was not to be trusted.
Being a foul-tempered loner, Leo alone decreed who could touch him and when, yet my sister displayed an unshakeable dedication to the pursuit of his love. She would often bribe him with snacks from the dinner table or sit and comb him for hours on end, only to be rewarded with a vicious bite. He would keep a vigilant eye in her presence, ever prepared to be snatched into a non-consensual cuddle. Eventually, she learned to creep up on him when asleep and bundle him in her ams, barely conscious, stealing him away to her bedroom and locking the door.
An unapologetic hedonist, Leo was a big fan of catnip and was always deeply unsatisfied with the portion offered to him. Somehow, he would invariably manage to obtain the full bag and tear it open, spending the night rolling around for hours in hallucinogenic ecstasy. We’d find him lying there in the morning, comatose and coming down, presumably regretting his poor life choices. Once, I playfully stole a catnip toy from his mouth and received an alarmingly deep cut at lightning speed, that spurted blood down my wrist like a clumsy suicide attempt. I didn’t even see his paw move. In that moment I realized that he’d actually been holding back on every previous attack and left the encounter feeling grateful for his leniency.
Leo may have had little patience but he certainly didn’t lack empathy. When my mother became life-threateningly ill, Leo ensured he was a constant, purring presence by her bedside. Apparently, a cat’s purr consists of some kind of magical healing vibrations, a power Leo was perhaps aware of.
My youngest brother, Leo’s chosen favorite, was constantly assaulted with demands to be petted and cuddled. Their relationship was totally exclusive, and up until his dying day, adorable.
Like many cats, Leo was the true master of his household, looking down upon his loyal subjects with deep contempt and occasional sympathy. I’ll always regard his gluttony, his profoundly selfish approach to life as something of an inspiration in how to live honestly. Sometimes, we’re just not in the mood to be petted.