I grew up in a family of cats. Three of them entered my world a week before Christmas in 1988. They were a colorful crowd over the years. All but one donned a beautiful coat of stripes or splotches. The exception was Stormy, the plain Jane of my flamboyant family. She was dressed in solid black – so black that when she closed her eyes in the dark she disappeared.
For reasons that I still fully don’t understand, Stormy’s two tabby siblings never really liked her. She was an outsider to their feline world, often hissed at, usually ignored. As such, she made the conscious decision early on to cross over into the human realm. Her sole objective on earth, as far as I could tell, was to get as physically close to humans as possible.
Stormy’s favorite activity was to sit upright on my lap, rest her paws on my shoulders and nestle her face into my ear. She would bury her wet nose into my neck with determined intensity as if searching for something. Her purr within centimeters of my eardrum could sound like a roar.
If humans were not accessible, Stormy settled for lamps. She would climb under the shade, rest her paws on either side of the light bulb and bask in her warm little house. Three lamps met their end this way, crashing to the floor when Stormy would lean too heavily into them.
She had other qualities worth mentioning, the most important being her pliability and forgiveness. As a child I would spin her in circles, strap her around my neck and shoulders (a very chic scarf, I would remind her), and toss her into bathtubs. She hated these things but tolerated them with grace, sometimes hissing but rarely holding grudges.
By the time I left for college, Stormy was aging and seemed to recognize, intuitively, a new kinship with my mother. Neither enjoyed the role of empty nester. My mom had quit her job to go back to school and would sit for long stretches at the computer to write papers. Stormy joined her on these late-night missions, unfailingly. Here the two old ladies worked tirelessly together—the first reading her sentences out loud, the second agreeing whole-heartedly and purring the words back to her.
The last time I saw Stormy was the day we’d gotten back from a family vacation. We’d been gone for two weeks. Stormy never fared well without constant human interaction. I suspect that being alone magnified whatever physical weaknesses already lurked inside of her. When we returned she attempted to greet us at the door with her usual enthusiasm, but instead sort of wobbled towards us. I remember something different with her meow – in its pitch – something high and unstable that I instinctively tried to ignore. I returned to my own apartment that afternoon, and the next evening Stormy died. My mom found her behind the couch in the dark, body tightly curled and eyes closed so as to be virtually undetectable.
I understand that animals prefer to die alone but this method strikes me as odd in this particular instance, to this particular soul. I suppose that even the most accomplished of extroverts needs to withdraw. Stormy extinguished herself quietly – a dramatic act in itself given her proclivity for crashing lamps and roaring purrs. In her final act, she greeted us home with a joyful nod to the human realm. Thank God, she must have thought, to be back where she belonged, in the world of language where she could effortlessly shine.