The day I dreaded for the past couple of years finally arrived last month when my feline companion for 16 years, Smitty, had to be put to sleep. Her kidneys had failed and I think she knew it was time. I’m still amazed at how a furball that could be so damn aggravating could also be so loved.
My roommate Joel and I had had a 2 minute conversation in December 1992. “Wouldn’t be nice to have a cat?” he said. I forgot all about it until I came back after New Year’s to find we had a cat. From then on her birthday was celebrated on New Year’s.
I remember the first time I bonded with her. She was a young kitten probably 6 to 8 months old, just as feisty as she’d always been, and very much standoffish most of the time. Soon after Joel brought her home, I awakened one night to find her kneading my chest, purring contentedly. Yeah, she could really raise my blood pressure but its hard to not love something that treats you like you’re a god. Even if its only occasionally.
She didn’t have a name for the longest time. Joel first named her Barkley, after Charles Barkley, but that didn’t fit. For a while she had no name at all. Then Suzie, my then-future sister-in-law, dubbed her Smitty and she’s been Smitty ever since.
The first time my parents visited me when I came to N.C. State, they sat down on the couch and we just started to chat chat when the next thing I know, Smitty leaps on top of my mother’s head! It was the only time I’d seen her do that. Stunts like that don’t endear cats to my mom. Or my dad, for that matter.
A few weeks later I returned to a dark apartment. The lights and TV wouldn’t work and there was no sign of Smitty. After investigation I discovered a wet power strip behind the TV: she had peed on it and tripped a breaker.
Yet another time, I came home from class to find Smitty limping around and my windowsill flowerpot shattered on the floor. She had leaped to the window, missed, and dragged the flowerpot down on her leg, breaking it. She spent weeks hobbling around in a cast, that thump-thump-thump cadence still etched in my memory.
She did some truly dumb things, too. I was reading a book when she sat down next to my lamp and began purring contentedly. As I watched in disbelief, she casually turned to the hot bulb next to her and gave it a lick! Wow, you should’ve seen her jump! I doubled over with laughter (and fortunately her pride took the brunt of the injury).
Smitty was my only company the night Hurricane Fran drove a tree through the bedroom wall above my head. She was more frightened than I was and spent the night nervously moving from around from window to window. It took her a long time to get over storms.
I’ve picked up a lot of cat-isms from her, many of which are still present. My roommates mocked my saying “git down! git down!” to Smitty when she’d jump on the table. I eventually learned to read her moods, learning what she liked and disliked. I became familiar with “frenzy-ing” and the “meat-loaf position.” I called her my “portable towel” as she hover around me after a shower.
I also still find myself leaving bedroom doors open at night so she won’t scratch at the carpet. I close closet doors to keep her from entering them. I cringe when I find food left out in the kitchen, thinking she’ll eat it. And every now and then, I’ll see a toy on the floor and mistake it for her.
She bit me more times than I could count, a habit I attribute to abuse from her prior owner. In her old age, though, she mellowed considerably, even making herself home in my lap while I worked or wrote blog posts. She was great with the kids, too, taking far more abuse than she had a right to, without flinching.
Yes, I miss Smitty and the kids do, too. She was feisty and not too smart. Amazing what love can overcome, isn’t it?