I have lost a wonderful, loving friend.
His name was Jack and to call him a "cat" would be accurate but inadequate.
He was a big, macho Tom that was rescued from a Seattle shelter about seven years ago. Stacy brought him home and he was such a mess. He had apparently been hit by a car and the right side of his face was bloodied and the eye was so swollen that someone had sewn the eyelid shut, to keep the eyeball from popping out.
And he was thin and scrawny, showing that he had trouble living somewhere in the streets, was my guess. There was no way he would have been adopted, meaning he would have been killed. People don't want a half-blind cat that looked like him.
JACK GETS HIS NAME
We took him to the local vet who cleaned the wound, snipped the sutures that closed the eye and looked at it. Jack was surprisingly calm, as if he knew that he was now safe.
The eye is really bad, the Vet said. He'll be blind in that eye and it might have to be removed.
Isn't it better if it could be saved, we asked.
Definitely, he said, but we have to watch closely for infection. I'll give you some eye medicine and antibiotics.
That's when he got his name: Jack, as in One-Eyed Jacks.
We brought him back home and he ate a little. Then I stretched out on the couch and laid him on my chest. He stretched out, his head towards mine.
That was how he slept with me on the couch for the next two days. I got up for the bathroom and Stacy would bring me something to eat but for the rest of the time, Jack was stretched out on my chest as I stroked him and reassured him that he was safe now and everything would be okay and he started to purr. He was so exhausted that he didn't even complain about his medicine.
As the days passed, he let me gently touch his head as I grazed a fingertip around the wounded eye in the hope that the swelling would go down and it slowly did. In the years that followed, the area was always overly sensitive but we saved the eye, now a gray orb, giving him a most distinctive look.
And he also put on weight.
Maybe it was those first days on the couch but after that, Jack and I were a pair and his favorite place to curl up was always on my chest or in the crook of my arm and I would stroke him as I did then and he would purr.
Some months after he recovered, we began to notice small sticks -- all very similar in shape and size -- appearing on the front stoop. They were never longer than a few inches and about as thick as a pencil and always very smooth, showing that they had come up on the beach, about 200 feet away.
Beaches or coves on Puget Sound were a constant repository for trees or parts of trees, especially after a storm. Most were stripped of the bark, producing a drift wood that was often staggering beautiful. Most of what washed up were smaller pieces and that was what we were finding on the stoop: small, smooth sticks from the nearby beach.
One day we saw the source: Jack. We were sitting outside and Jack was sauntering from the beach with a small stick in his mouth, trying to meow in greeting, and then dropping the stick at the stoop. Well, of course he was warmly thanked but now that I had the source, I began to walk back along the route he took and found an occasional stick here and there that he must have dropped. It was Jack's Trail, his own path of thanks.
Years later, Jack and I were living in Cincinnati. There was no beach and no such sticks but one day while sitting on the porch, he came walking up with the best that he could find. It lacked the smoothness he preferred and it wasn't as long but it was a small stick. It still sits on the top of my computer as his gift to me.
ENTER THE WIDGE
When Jack arrived, we were running a cat rescue operation out of our West Seattle home and one day we got a call from a delicatessen down close to the Space Needle. Someone had brought in a very tiny kitten that they had found in a nearby park and so we were called because, for some reason, our phone number was on a refrigerator at the deli.
We dashed down with a small carrier and could not believe what we found. It appeared to be a kitten born prematurely as it had virtually no fur. Most of its tail had been snipped off, which led me to believe some predator -- possibly a bird -- had grabbed the kitten which then fell into the park grass. It seemed barely alive and the body temperature was cold to the touch.
We had them fill a plastic bag with hot water that we wrapped in a towel and then added the kitten, to give it some warmth and headed back.
We had experience with motherless kittens but nothing like this. We had a mother cat who had just given birth to a litter and we carefully placed the thin, scrawny kitten with the others who were easily twice the size and looked like kittens. We worried if the mother would accept the newcomer and, if so, it could fend for itself to get milk, due to the size of the others.
But it worked. Mama accepted the tiny creature and it had a tenacity, somehow able to go for a nipple along with the best of them.
We named her "Widget," as in a small, strange device, for it seemed to fit her.
Widget (or "The Widge") was so tenacious that she was the first out of the litter, the first to stumble out to see the world and she was the ugliest kitten anyone could imagine. Her head was too large for her body and her eyes were too large for her head, given a grotesque look. Her legs were still thin and spindly. And her fur was growing in too slowing. But she was clearly a fighter.
JACK & THE WIDGE
Jack with little Widget
Jack was always a loner. He never played or associated with the other cats and the ever-present kittens were always an irritant to him.
So imagine our surprised when, one day, we found -- like a big brother -- he had adopted The Widge, allowing Widget to curl up with him. It was as if Jack knew that, like him, Widget was a tough little survivor who needed more than motherly love.
That photo above is one of those precious moments, Widget curled up with Jack, who would generously give the Little Creature a bath before they settled in. You can get an idea what The Widge looked like (including the lack of fur) but, in reality, she was much uglier than that, especially when walking.
As it turned out, Widget was an example of the Ugly Duckling.
The Ugly Duckling Grows Up
When she finally grew up -- which was a lot longer than other kittens -- she was absolutely gorgeous, with the richest fur coat I had ever seen on any cat, as if to make up for her youth, and her head finally fit her body.
Here is The Widge, shortly before she found wonderful home. (That's Mufasa snoozing behind her.)
After Widget, Jack never again took to another cat.
JACK IS BACK
In 1999, after the divorce, I did some traveling and finally moved to Cincinnati, taking only Mac, a 90-pound Belgian Malinois that we had rescued. I really couldn't travel with more animals and Mac loved the road. But Stacy and I kept in touch.
One day she called to say that Jack had been giving her increasing trouble since I had left. He was disappearing for days and finally bit a neighbor who had tried to befriend him. Since I was no longer on the road and now had an apartment, I said I would drive out and get him.
So that was how we three came to live together and it was a good arrangement. Jack had his position as the only (Alpha by default) cat and Mac tolerated it. One of my favorite memories of that time was all three of us going for a walk.
There was a large, oversized parking lot at the apartment complex, with an empty field on the other side. Jack didn't have access to the outdoors the way he did on Vashon or in West Seattle so I began to invite him out with Mac and me. Jack strolled along as we crossed the parking lot and and moved into the field. When it came time, I would head back and give a call and the duo would come trotting back. I never took it as really unusual, until some people commented they had never seen a cat taken for a walk, especially with a dog, but that was because they had never met Jack.
In the summer of 1999, it came time to leave Cincinnati so I packed up the tiny Mazda, leaving room for Mac and Jack, and we headed to California.
Ever since I started traveling with Mac, Motel 6 or Red Roof Inns were our stay of choice because they accepted pets. I felt like a traveling parent. At each motel, I had to haul out the dishes, food and -- for Jack -- a sandbox. Jack didn't like the travel as much as Mac, but he came to like the motels. If we had an empty parking lot, the three of us took walks, as we had in Columbus.
After California, it was back to Cincinnati and my life with Caren started, a few months before my own diagnosis. Besides a young golden retriever (who feel in love with Mac), she had a cat. Jack didn't take to that too well and like an older brother, always found time to terrorize Flash, just to make sure that Flash knew who was the Alpha Male in the house.
WE GET THE NEWS
Jack wasn't much of an outdoor cat. He took his meals on the front porch and usually came back in. Sometimes he strolled off for a short spell, like a king who visited his kingdom. We didn't know who he visited for he was always back shortly, until Monday.
When he didn't return, I was concerned. It wasn't his routine. I made up leaflets with photos of him, offering a $300 reward, and distributed them to neighbors on our street and the homes that were behind us on the other street.
That was when we got the call. Caren took it and came down holding the cordless. I could see it in her face before she said, "Jack's dead."
Even before I took the phone from her to speak to the woman on the other street, I was crying. She knew Jack well for he had visited her often and she found him dead, apparently hit by a car. She was so sorry, she said, for he was such a wonderful cat.
I could barely talk and tried to thank her before hanging up and then the grief poured from me. Caren held me while she cried too. My friend was gone and all I could do now was cry my guts out.
THE DAYS THAT FOLLOWED
I've tried to get hold of myself and I've done pretty well but it is especially hard when my routine crosses what would have included Jack.
The first instance was when I started to pull out two feeding bowls, one for Jack and one for Flash, and realized that I needed only one and I began to cry.
Even lying on the couch to watch TV can be difficult, when I remember that was when Jack would climb up to sleep on my chest, stretched out as he had when we spent those first few days together. It was always his favorite position.
Writing this memorial is the worst. I've been able to do it only in sections, sometimes a paragraph at a time -- the photos were the most difficult -- for I begin to cry too much, but I had to do it, even though I know that there are probably only a few close friends who will read it. But that doesn't matter. It really matters to me.
Thank you, Jack, you lovable son of a bitch. You gave me so very much. I will see you again sometime and you can curl up in my arm as you used to.
I will always miss you and love you.