Wednesday, January 15, 2020

can you hear the drums ferdinando?

I met Ferdinand on my third or fourth date with AK. The plan was to meet at her house and in a move that was retroactively predictable, she was running late. A thin-hipped black cat soft-pawed toward me on the fence.

"You must be Ferdinand," I said, and we hung out there, outside the bungalow she shared with Alberto, and for the next fourteen years.

Yesterday we said goodbye to him. For months, he'd been doing that ailing-cat move where he drank water from any vessel he could find: glasses, the pots in Dash's play kitchen, a plastic souvenir Dodgers cap. But both OC and T-Mec had long, slow declines during which they mostly lived their lives, and even when he went from his usual slender build to truly bony, I thought we'd have a while.

Then all of a sudden we didn't.

Big eyes, big heart

Long ago, AK and I picked out careers for our cats, and Ferdinand's was DJ. He was always the coolest guy in the room. He came and went as he pleased; we assumed he was off to a gig. He was the reason I slowly and cautiously transitioned OC and T-Mec into becoming part-time outdoor cats. I knew the risks, but none of them was ever eaten by a coyote, and they killed more rats than songbirds. Back in his bungalow days, Ferd would escape the house mysteriously and meow to get back in. Finally we caught him on top a book shelf, nudging open a swinging window with his nose, and leaping to the ground.

When AK and I had problems, Ferdinand seemed even cooler and occasionally became my rival: the cat who could do no wrong when I could only do wrong. But meandering conversations on our cats' probable careers (OC: town crier; T-Mec: PhD student in neuroscience, doing her dissertation on Why Do Some Cats Talk So Much; Ollie is an adverb salesman) brought us together when adult life was too much.

Ferd was a nine-pound alpha, never hesitating to sink his teeth into OC's neck when he felt like it. But when it came to food, he was a delicate flower. "Oh, did you want that?" he'd say, quickly ceding the food area.

He won the hearts of human visitors. "I don't like cats, but I love Ferdinand" was a thing we heard a lot. He'd let you sling him over your shoulder. As a kitten, his hunting specialty was Palm Frond a la Nand, but he graduated to rats and once manhandled a squirrel.

The girls next door loved him and Ollie, though Ollie--ever the self-protective middle child--kept a low profile. Ferd would hang around a little longer when all three kids screeched "Gato!" and charged.

As he grew skinnier, Dash grew both gentler and bolder, frequently picking Ferd up by the middle and carrying him around. I should have stopped it more often, despite its sweetness. Ferd's skinny middle was full of cancer, and he had to have been in pain. He rarely protested.

I told Dash the news yesterday after school. I'm afraid he thinks cats just go to the vet to die. He's a privileged kid in plenty of ways, but I didn't lose a cat until college, and he's lost two. He said, "Now we have two cats in our hearts." He said, "What will Jasmine and Juanita say?" He said, "Is he in the fire?" because cremation is a fascinating and terrible concept to him, as it should be.

Ferdinand. Ferd. Mr. Nand. You're DJing the best party now, and we're missing you at this one.