Monday, February 3, 2014

Eulogy for Empress Tobi, Mistress of Evil

Today I have to say goodbye to my first kitty, Tobi AKA Tobo P. Lobo Cat Princess Extraordinaire AKA Empress Tobi, Mistress of Evil AKA the best damn cat in the history of cats.

Tobi entered my life on September, 20 1997. She was a gift for my 14th birthday. My parents claim they bought her at Petsmart but I'm pretty sure they pulled her directly from the mouth of Hell.

Yes, yes, look into my eyes Hu-Man. I shall be your Master.

She showed no signs of her inherent evilness for the first few months of our cohabitation. In fact, she slept roughly 23 hours a day and spent the remaining hour staring at me without blinking. At the time I thought this was normal behavior for a 4 1/2 month old kitten. Now, having lived with two other kittens, I know she was just storing up energy for future demonic activity.

That's right, just keep putting scrunchies on my tail. It's all fuel for the fire, Hu-Man.

Now it may seem harsh to call a beloved pet demonic, but, well, for example, as I was writing this eulogy, this poor, shaky, senile skeleton of a cat who hasn't moved in hours and can barely stand got up, limped over to my dresser, hopped in my underwear drawer and peed. That's Tobi.

During my teen years, Tobi became my extremely reluctant sidekick. I spent long hours reading in my room while petting her (in order to accomplish this I had to hold her down with one arm, pet with the other and turn pages with my nose, but those were precious times...really). I took her downstairs to watch TV with me (in order to accomplish this I had to hold her firmly in my lap with both arms and change channels with my nose, but again, precious times). She saw me through every break-up I've ever had by staring me in the face and saying (I swear), "Stop that infernal noise, melodramatic girl-child and go get me some more food."

Precious times.

When I went off to college, I couldn't bring her with me to the dorms so I left her in the care of my then-10-year-old sister, Adrienne, a fanatic animal-lover. Tobi, though displeased in my presence, was even more displeased by my absence and took to peeing on, well, everything. I think she was single-pawedly responsible for Adrienne's temporary defection from the ranks of animal fans (she has since returned whole-heartedly and now works at a doggy day care). Here is a poem Adrienne sent me during that time:

Can you feel the love?

During the summer after my freshman year of college, I worked at a movie theater in the hopes of saving up enough to pay a pet deposit at my new apartment so I could take Tobi back to school with me in the fall. Much to Adrienne's relief, I did manage this and moved Tobi into my first apartment at Aggie Square with me when I went back to Davis in September. She was very excited.
See the excitement?

Tobi wasn't necessarily any more evil in Davis than she was in Modesto, but she wasn't less evil, either. I remember an occasion when she went to my roommate, Dara's door whining like she wanted something. Dara bent down and said, "What's wrong, Tobi?" and Tobi promptly grabbed Dara's head between her paws, bit her and ran away.

Stalking the halls at Aggie Square, looking for heads to bite

About the only thing Tobi did like in Davis was my then-boyfriend Dylan. She loved Dylan. She ran to the door when he came over and flopped in front of him, exposing her soft white belly. She jumped up on his lap every time he sat down. She wove between his legs when he walked across the room. In any other case, I would probably have been relieved that my pet took to my boyfriend so easily. However, since the pet in question was the soul of evil birthed in the very heart of Hell, it gave me pause. Eventually, though, I figured out that she wasn't so much applauding a corresponding evil in Dylan's soul as she was trying to piss me off by flirting with my boyfriend.

Tobi had her first encounter with another cat when Dara moved out and Hannah moved in. Hannah brought with her William, an unusually long and cheery cat who attempted to make friends with Tobi time and again and time and again was met with violence of an unwarranted viciousness for his pains. Tobi also seemed to blame me for this addition to the family and began pooping on my bed any time I went home for the weekend in revenge for leaving her with William the sweetheart.

Precious times.

When Dylan and I graduated and got married, we moved to our own 1 bedroom apartment where Tobi ruled as Empress Supreme. The space was a bit smaller than she would have liked but overall she was pleased, except when I turned her out of her (not my) bucket chair to vacuum it.

New American Gothic

Tobi's life was pretty great...until 2006 when, during a wave of baby fever which it was too early to satisfy with a child, we purchased Sasami, a 2 month old female kitten and Tobi's new arch-nemesis. Tobi spent roughly the next 12 months hiding under a shelf in our storage closet while Sasami the giddy dingbat from a place definitely northwards of Hell, spent her days zipping around the apartment seeing how many things she could knock over that day and then crashing in my lap for snuggly afternoon naps.

Life pretty much just kept getting worse as far as Tobi was concerned after that. Dylan was accepted to several PhD programs and chose to attend UT Knoxville, which meant a move across the country. We packed up our tiny apartment and our 2 cats, gecko, aquatic turtle, tortoise, frogs and hamster and drove 2500 miles to our first house. The vet gave us some pills that she assured us would calm our kitties and make the ride a peaceful one. As soon as we packed the cats into the car, Tobi started whining. By the time we hit Sacramento, she was at a full-on yowl. Somewhere past Reno she took a stinky protest shit, completely ignoring the tiny litterbox we wedged into the crate and instead dumping it on poor Sasami's side of the crate. We stopped at a casino/truck stop in Lovelock, Nevada and cleaned things up as best we could, but we had to make Salt Lake City that night so we pressed on, a reeking carful of caterwauling and woe.

We did eventually make it to Knoxville and after a month or two, Tobi adjusted...and wave of baby fever #2, we brought home Alice the Scurvy Sea Dog, an effervescent and incurably curious Welsh Corgi. Tobi had had dealings with dogs before as when I lived at home we had a Golden Retriever named Jesse and a yellow lab named Josey, so though she was not amused by Alice's arrival she did know how to handle herself. Upon their first meeting, Tobi reared up, hissed and treated Alice to a volley of battering cat fists and Alice retreated, terrified, but her place in the pack firmly established. Alpha - Tobi. Beta - Alice. Omega - Sasami.

After the inexplicable addition of Dog, we then had the nerve to add something even worse to the pack: Baby. Rylan was born October 9, 2008 when Tobi was 11. I expected Tobi to be grouchy and tried to keep her away from Rylan for a few weeks, but we were actually in for a monumental surprise. At their first real meeting, Tobi hopped up onto the couch, gravely sniffed his face with an air of suspicion and then immediately relaxed. She sat down next to him and began to purr. I stayed in full red-alert mode for a good 5 minutes sure it was some evil ploy of hers to lure me into a false sense of security and then pounce and bite out my baby's eyes, but that was it. She went to sleep.

Over the next several months, Tobi stuck by Rylan. She always seemed to be nearby when he was playing on the floor - not too close, but not hiding under the bed, either.

Every breath you take...

She also tolerated all the fur-pulling and ear-grabbing and belly-nuzzling he could throw her way (this is a cat who used to bite people for looking at her), until he turned 2. Shortly after his second birthday, Rylan ran over to Tobi and began drumming on her belly with his tiny hands. She turned, looked at him, growled and popped him in the face with her paw. After we had Pippa in 2011, she was granted a similar grace period and taught a similar lesson around the age of 2. I can only conclude that Tobi saw them as kittens for the first couple of years and tolerated their nonsense and then decided, in her infinite wisdom, when it was time for them to grow up and keep their hands to themselves.

Tobi and Rylan continued to have a special bond, though. I've always felt that she knew he was different, that she knew things were harder for him and he was sick often. Maybe it was just that he doesn't speak and so all that human language garbage doesn't get in the way of their connection. Whatever the reason, she continued to be his cantankerous shadow until the day last month when she could no longer climb the stairs to his room. She was particularly tender towards him during seizure cycles and would keep watch with us while he slept.
Thanks for looking after my baby, Old Lady

Last summer we moved the family to Clemson after Dylan got the professor gig. The trip wasn't quite as eventful as the last move had been, though she did engage in more smelly protest pooping and a fair bit of yowling. She seemed pretty happy in this house. It's over twice the size of our Knoxville house with plenty of crannies for an old cat to hide in.

A few months ago we noticed she was sleeping a lot. She seemed stiff and in a bit of pain when she walked. She seemed to care less when people touched her, which was truly worrisome given her previously crotchety nature. Then, in early January she and Sami both came down with a stomach bug. Sami got better. Tobi didn't. After a couple of weeks it became clear that it wasn't a stomach bug. She was losing weight. She, who we used to make up fatty cat songs about, wouldn't eat. She slept in Dylan's closet all day. We took her back to the vet. Colon cancer.

I know she's nearly 17 years old but I was completely shocked. I really didn't think she would ever just get sick and die. I was sure her pure evil would sustain her until the age of 22 when she would look at me, cackle one last time and vanish in a puff of smoke. I knew we had to let her go. She can't make it to the litter box. I have to hold her head up to help her drink. I know. It's time.

And yet, I'm engulfed in the most mystifying sadness. True, this cat never really liked me, or so it seemed, but she's been my companion since before I could drive. Looking through these pictures I have of her...there's my 8th grade class photo on the wall in the first of the Emily books I must have read 100 times as a teen...the first carpet I ever had to husband looking about 12 years baby before we knew how hard and blessed his life was going to be...she's been there for all of it.

When I was in 11th grade, my English teacher came to class one day with red eyes. Her pet had died. She passed out copies of Dylan Thomas' "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night". I thought it was a strange overreaction to the death of an animal. I don't think it's strange anymore.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
May 24, 1997 - February 3, 2014