April 20, 2006

He Was the Lasht One

My sister’s cat died.

Actually, I’m not sure where to put the apostrophe on that, since the cat was originally brought into the house by the older sister, but taken under the wing of my younger sister, after the first adopted a dog. So I guess he was my sisters’ cat. He was pretty old, thirteen I think, and had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in February. He was getting insulin twice a day, at the highest “safe” dosage, but we all silently knew the poor cat wasn’t long for the world. My knowledge of cats is not vast, but I now know through experience that when a cat needs insulin, you should start saying your goodbyes. I’ve known three different cats who didn’t survive the shots for more than a few months; they were all quite old, so it was less tragic than just really, incredibly sad.

Willy came to live with us as a kitten, the first cat the family ever owned, in 1993. I know this because he barely escaped being called T-Rex, as he arrived shortly after we had all seen Jurassic Park. And before you go thinking he dodged a bullet on that one, know that he was actually named after Free Willy. Yeah, the whale. [I believe the logic behind this was that the cat was black and white like an orca, and my sister was going through a whale / dolphin phase, but still. Shut up. We were 12.] In the years since, it became a plausible lie that he was named after Shakespeare, not only to save the poor cat from embarrassment, but because it fit his personality so much better. For instance, he closely resembled the CGI dragon in Dragonheart. This was one of his defining characteristics, as we would often pick the cat up and make him do impressions (like you do), and one of the most crowd-pleasing was a Sean Connery-esque “I am the lahssht one!” Willy always had an accent, usually Scottish or British, and the merest of gazes spoke volumes about what he thought about you.


Willy (aka William, Sweetie, Lunch)
1993 - 2006


He was the alpha cat, as the oldest and wisest, and took on a decidedly Gandalf the Grey role amongst the ever-fluctuating number of cats that came to reside at the house. They went to him to settle disputes. If they played too near him, they would move away out of respect. Willy got the best place in the sun, and if the others were lucky, he would share it with them for a communal nap. Not the least of his duties was to organize the secret cat meetings,* where they all disappear for hours and you can’t find hide nor hair of them until, one by one, they come out of hiding (from places you looked for them multiple times; the entrances into the Secret Cat Tunnel Network extend all over the world. One day you’ll be cleaning out your closet and fall right into Fraggle Rock).

I didn’t cry when I heard he had to be put to sleep, I think because I knew it was coming. Willy and I were never particularly close; I had my own cat—still have, the only cat my family now owns—so the duties of petting and feeding and various cat attentions went to her. My little sister took over Willy’s care for a few different reasons, not the least of which was the cat honestly liked her better. It was especially obvious when he got really sick, and lost weight, and his back legs started to give out, he would meow despondently until my sister came home and picked him up. She carried him like a papoose the days he could hang on, and wrapped him in her t-shirt like a newborn on others. He was never that close to anyone else, never seemed to take to anyone like he took to her. I picked him up and petted him occasionally, but we had more of an understanding than a friendship.

I think this stems from that time he tried to kill me.

Now, a lot of people have stories about their cats plotting against them, or trying to suffocate them in their sleep,** but Willy tried to outright assassinate me. I was lying on the floor, watching Nick at Nite’s block party summer (Lucy Tuesdays were awesome, right?), when the empty bookcase on the wall in front of me suddenly came crashing down. I rolled out of the way just in time, and as I sat up I saw Willy, looking directly at me. He was standing exactly where the bookcase had been, as if he were innocently trying to squeeze behind it and it “happened” to fall (which is how it would look to anyone running into the room…clever!). I don’t believe it was an accident for this reason: he looked at me, then bobbed his head slightly to the side, in a “damn!” kind of way, before sauntering off into the next room. His whole attitude reeked of disappointment; if he could have snapped his tiny cat-fingers, he would have. He didn’t like me. It was on.

Which is why I put him in the pot.

You must understand that this was years ago, back when I lived at home, back when I was still in high school. Back when providing for a billion growing children was the job of both my parents, and it was tedious and pricey. One day, while waiting for my parents to come back from ‘big shopping’ (what happens on payday, when there is absolutely not a celery stick of food left in the house), and staring into the empty fridge, I suddenly announced, “Well, Willy, time for the pot.” I picked him up, put him in the largest kettle we had, set it on the counter, and stuck on the lid. The best bit was after clapping the lid on, and enduring the tiniest pause before… Mrroooow? The meow of the utterly confused. The uncertain note of ‘wait—are you serious? You know I was kidding about that whole bookcase thing, right? Hello?’ in his little would-be-killer kitty voice filled me with an odd glee. The laughs lasted out the time it took my parents to get home, and I let Willy out with a “Good thing they came home when they did. I am totally SERIOUS, cat! I’ll get you next time, GADGET!” It came to be when the fridge was empty, “Willy in the pot” was the running gag. I think he eventually came to know the word “pot”; when we deliberated over dinner, he would speed up his walk through the room. Say what you will about traumatizing your pets; I never fell victim to another bookcase.

Willy is not only the first cat we ever had, but also the first to die. Every other cat or dog we had was taken to the humane society by my father, because we were moving or the pet had behavior problems. [I learn now that my mother objected to taking all of our pets to the chop, but I had no idea what happened then.] I think that’s why Willy’s dying has hit everyone so hard; with the exception of my brother’s ferret (also died of pancreatic cancer), we have never experienced the end of a pet’s life. He seems to be in every picture, somewhere, like a Where’s Waldo—in the corner by the vent, on top of the curio cabinet—and any picture taken of someone on the couch will inevitably feature Willy sleeping above their heads. He was as much a part of the house as the walls and floor—something that would just unquestionably be there. It’s strange not to watch your feet when you open a door to prevent him scampering up the stairs (and strange to miss my sister’s using his middle name (“dammit!”) when he inevitably got past her).

That’s all I got.

R.I.P. Willy; I hope kitty heaven has lots of whatever you were looking for under the neighbor’s bushes.

*Whether of literary, philosophical, or your standard ‘take over the world’ variety, humankind may never know.
** True. I don’t know if they hate us, I think they just want to see what happens: Curiosity killed the cat-owner.

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