In the beginning of the summer of 2000 I decided that my youngest son Andrew (AJ) should have a cat. Every kid that enjoys pets like he did should have the responsibility of an animal. He used to hunker down and talk to them on their own levels. They sensed his compassion and sensitivity and responded to him accordingly.
That summer he was visiting in our second home with my mother for a couple of weeks while I worked and Christopher (Chip), my older son, went on to play All Stars Baseball. So we had a full summer planned.
I don’t know why it came to me to give him a kitten when it did but I believe in fate. Andrew’s favorite color was black so I had in mind a black kitten and planned on going to the pound for it with him when he returned.
One day when we made the trip up to Atascadero for yet another game of the All Stars that Christopher was participating in only to find out when we got there that it had been cancelled, I decided to take us to the sporting goods store so that Chip and his friend, Joe could stock up on fishing hooks because they spent a lot of time fishing from the docks of Morro Bay where we lived when I was in town (we traveled a lot then).
The sporting goods store was in the same parking lot as Walmart and heavily congested so I dropped the boys off at the front of the store and went to park my extended van, built to seat sixteen, because it was impossible to park, and I didn’t want them to wait. Having found a spot I got out and started to walk towards the stores only to hear someone else who had parked nearby go, “Careful, don’t drop them.” I looked up to see a mom and some kids getting out of a mini-van with a box. I immediately knew what they were doing; they were going to try to get rid of them in front of Walmart.
I walked over and said, “Excuse me, are you getting rid of kittens?” They looked startled but the mom answered, “Yes, yes we are.” I asked to see what they had and they handed me a calico. Not what I had in mind and I asked what else they had. The second kitten they handed me was black. Not just black with a white spot or two, but solid black right down to her eyes at the time (they later changed). She stiffened at my picking her up and cuddling her. I looked at her and KNEW, just KNEW she was why I was there at that moment in time. I asked if she was giving them away free and the lady said, “Yes.” “I’ll take this one then if that’s okay?” and an agreement was reached immediately. I cuddled my new ‘friend’ and headed back to the van to lay her carefully in it, locking the van and cracking the windows slightly.
I half ran into the store to find my son and his friend who were still looking at the different fishing gear including the various hooks. A hook is a hook isn’t it? I hurried them out of there, told them I had a surprise.
“What’s the surprise?” the young boys asked.
“You’ll see,” I hedged.
When we got to the van, the kitten was nowhere to be seen and I began to look. “I think I may have lost it,” I told the boys lamely.
“What is it?” one of them asked.
“I can’t tell you but if you help me find it you will know,” I said teasingly.
They half-heartedly started looking for ‘something.’
After a while of us all looking I started to get alarmed as there was no sign of the little bundle of fur. I encouraged the boys with comments like, ‘it’s black,’ ‘it’s soft,’ and things like that but didn’t tell them until too much time had gone by for us not to have found it. I had the thought she somehow ‘escaped’ from the van.
Finally I told them it was a black kitten.
“Is she serious?” Joe asked Chip.
“I don’t know but I’m going to look harder,” he said enthusiastically.
They found it all the way in the back of the van by the back door where a panel had been leaned against the side of the van. She stiffened up for them too but they petted and caressed her and chattered excitedly at the baby. Don’t all babies seem cute at that age?
She eventually settled down on Joe’s shoulder, content and seemingly unaware that the vehicle was even moving. We went through a fast food joint to grab lunch and this didn’t seem to faze her either. We ended up at the Joe’s house and I told his mother that I had gotten him a new pet. She raised Russian Blues and this ‘mutt’ would certainly NOT be welcome so she ‘humored’ me for the hours we were over there as we socialized and she petted the kitten. When we left though she made sure that this kitten went with us.
I told Chip that he could NOT tell AJ about the new kitten. I wanted it to be a surprise. How hard is it for an eleven year old to keep a secret? Conversations on the phone were stilted but manageable. I decided the kitten needed a name.
I also decided that the name should come from Andrew (AJ) but without him knowing. The conversation went something like this:
“AJ, if you had a black cat, what would you name it?”
“Did you get me a black cat?” he asked excitedly.
Since I never lied to my kids I had to think fast and I think I was a lawyer in another life as I split hairs on how I answered. “No Andrew, I didn’t get you a black CAT.” Now over the years they learned to split said hairs too and to discern certain words that got emphasized. Since I had just repeated back to him what he asked, this too might have tipped him off had he been older.
“I don’t know,” he answered disappointed.
“Well would you call it Satin, or Silky, or Blacky or something like that,” I asked, favoring simple names for the kitten which was adorable. The other two cats, Buster and Flash, weren’t as thrilled at the new addition. Flash especially growled whenever it came close, but then, Flash was an eternal Bitch about things. Buster was a little more tolerant and laughed at the kitten who immediately fell in love with him.
“Ida know,” he said again musingly.
Now the kitten’s hair was like none I had ever seen before. It practically glowed it was so full of natural oils. That’s why I favored Satin for a name. Then I asked, “How about Velvet?” because after all, she was as soft as velvet.
“Naw,” he said, I’m sure he thought the names I was suggesting were too girly. “Did you get me a cat?” he repeated.
“No Andrew, I didn’t get you a CAT,” I answered. Which, technically, was true…it was a KITTEN. So I wasn’t lying to my little boy. “But if you had a black cat, what would name it?”
“I think I would name it Casper,” he told me.
“Casper?” I asked incredulous, immediately not fond of the name. “Casper is a ghost and it is white, why Casper?”
“I don’t know, I like the name.”
“But if it’s black that doesn’t suit for a cat,” I tried to reason.
“Did you get me a black cat?” he asked once again starting to catch on.
I backed off and said, “No Andrew, I didn’t get you a black CAT.” Now older children learned to realize how I worded things. I wasn’t lying but I wasn’t telling the whole truth either. I said my goodbyes and hung up soon afterwards.
So that was how AJ named ‘his’ cat without even being aware of it. The two weeks sped by and I drove the four hours down to our second home to pick him up. When I was there I told my mother about obtaining another kitten and she was like, “You travel all the time, don’t you have enough already?” She really meant with two homes, two dogs, two kids, and three other cats, perhaps I shouldn’t get another kitten…oh well.
On the way back home I told Andrew I had gotten a surprise for him. I wouldn’t of course tell him what it was but that he had to find it in the warehouse. At the time I kept the cats there, it was simpler as I spent so much time at work and travel with the boys in tow.
When we got there he immediately set off looking for ‘the surprise.’ She ran across his feet and he didn’t feel or see her. He went through the store front, he went through the production areas, he went through my offices, no ‘surprise.’ He asked repeatedly what he was looking for. I gave him the same vague answers I had to Chip and Joe back in the van two weeks prior. We were there a while and still he hadn’t seen it, as he wasn’t looking DOWN. She ran in front of him once again and he didn’t see her.
The telephone rang and I answered it. My mother was on the other end of the line. “How’d the surprise go? Did he like the kitten?” she asked eagerly.
“He hasn’t found IT yet,” I said stiffly.
Just then Casper ran across his feet yet again and he happened to look down at that instant. “A kitten?” he asked incredulously as he raced off after it. “You got me a kitten,” he shrieked excitedly. He caught her and immediately started to cry.
“He just found it,” I said dryly with a smile into the phone and my mother laughed, she could hear his voice.
We chatted while he started to cry in happiness, blubbering. Then my mother said, “Let me talk to him,” and I handed him the phone while he clutched the kitten in his other hand.
He cried into the phone, “She got me a kitten, and it’s black, and, and, and,” the rest was unrecognizable as English as he cried and blubbered. He finally handed me back the phone.
“Well, he SOUNDS happy,” my mother commented wryly and laughed. The sense of humor in this family extends all down the line. She and I both could certainly tell he was happy, he was ecstatic.
That night I had to work late so the boys camped out on the couches in my office. This pleased Andrew as he could snuggle up with his new kitten named Casper. He took a long time to settle down and I heard, “It keeps attacking my eye-lids.”
“Well if you go to sleep it should stop attacking,” I told him as I worked too hard and laughed at my son’s antics.
Now, that kitten was with me and my other son for TWO WHOLE weeks before AJ was around and yet she KNEW that this was HER boy and from that day on SHE was HIS, totally and absolutely. How she knew I don’t know but they claimed each other from that day forward. Even when he had to give her drops a couple of times a day after we took her to the vet for some kitten problems and to get her shots and then later get her fixed, she KNEW, Andrew was HERS. No one could catch her or be found petting her like AJ could. No one.
It was interesting to watch her over the years, the different behaviors in each cat and their personalities that came through. Casper was extremely petite and the vet was convinced she was a mini but at the age of one, well after the time for growth into an adult she had a growth spurt and developed longer legs and a bit of a longer body to become just a small cat but not small enough to be considered a mini. She always had that soft, silky, and oily fur…nothing like the other cats. It clung to things differently than normal cat hair did. The oily part made it slip into fabrics and impossible to get off some things.
She always adored Buster and would throw herself at his feet. Sometimes he would look down on her and laugh and other times he was disgusted at the display of adoration. He defended her to Flash, his bitchy sister who considered herself queen-bee and emphasized it when we obtained our six foot cat tree. My dream of having a cat on every leaf was never to be fulfilled as they didn’t cooperate (what cats do?)
When we moved from Morro Bay to the Big Woods I had four cats (we got Kitkat the following summer) and the other cat we had, Sunny became an outdoor cat and refused to move with us. I brought my two sons, the four cats, and one dog (the other one we gave away). They adjusted to the difference in temperatures and later snow fairly well but Casper was always the shy one, always timid, and our ‘ghost kitty’ in more ways than one. Anyone who saw her felt honored as she never appeared in company.
Andrew would have friends over and later girlfriends, I could hear them say, “I saw CASPER,” excitedly as though they had won the lottery or something.
It wasn’t until first Chip and then Andrew left for college that I began to notice a change in the cats. Casper became a wee bit more visible. I think she was convinced that since she was black that I couldn’t see her at night. A black cat however is a darker shadow and if you watch them out of the corners of your eyes instead of straight on you actually see more of those shadows (works well for real ghosts too but that is another story). She would ‘allow’ me to pet her but on her terms. I could hold out my hand and she would rub up against it. As the years went on this too would change.
About six and a half years ago I watched Flash go blind over the Christmas holidays. She adjusted well but two months later her kidneys shut down and she began to curl up into herself. She was miserable, more bitchy than I can remember and sad. I decided to put her down. Buster was lost for his littermate and sister and the other cats seemed almost confused to lose the ‘Queen’ kitty in the house. Casper seemed happier as now Buster could be adored without interference from Flash, the bitch. He enjoyed all the other cats and had always been the peacemaker.
Then a year later it was Buster’s turn to take a turn for the worse. He too went blind and his kidneys began to fail. He didn’t adjust well and was constantly confused as to why he couldn’t see things. It was pathetic to see. It was a hard decision to decide to put him down. He had been MY cat and I HIS human for eighteen and a half years. I didn’t want to do it but felt it was for the best, he was possibly in pain and definitely confused. He talked to me all the way to the vets office too, almost asking a question (he was very verbal) and yet consoling me.
The other two left were Casper and Kitkat. They took a while to adjust and without ‘their’ boys at home, I was their sole human. It took me years to corrupt them after that, to get them to take treats or lick off a plate but eventually I became ‘their’ human. Casper could be seen in the daylight now and again, always skittish as though someone was going to grab her or chase her, we never did, but she remained ‘tense’ all her life. She let me pet her a little more and even in the morning which technically is daylight. She used to look longingly on when I roughhoused with Buster and I saw that and remembered it. Sometimes I would hold her down and pet her with my fingers, rubbing back and forth, hard. She wasn’t happy for the lack of ability to escape but I could tell she loved the feel against her body. Even when I let her go she would look back almost gratefully.
The two adjusted but they had to learn that my bed was Switzerland, no fighting allowed. Now Casper and Kitkat from the day of Kitkat’s arrival ALWAYS had an antagonistic friendship. They would take swipes, they would chase each other, but they would NEVER lie together. Not like Buster with the others. On my bed they would take swipes or growl at each other and I’d get them air born from under the covers, they learned to cope with the presence of the other, grudgingly. I watched amused. From time to time they would ‘accidentally’ touch when they would stretch out or something and it was funny to see their expressions when they realized their mistakes. They would carefully walk past each other on the bed until the tension was too much and one or the other had to jump off the bed.
Over the years I came to understand that Casper was a slob. She went through a molting every year where she let her hair mat up and I’d either scissor it or clip it off with my clippers for the dogs. It was always a long process because of her skittishness. The last couple of years I let it go on longer because I didn’t wish to stress her out and we did what we could by hand.
This year her molting was getting very messy and at its peak when I realized one of the cats was pulling food out of the automatic feeder and leaving it on the floor, I thought they didn’t ‘like’ it and were spitting it out. I realize now that perhaps she simply couldn’t ‘see’ it. She began to lose weight and behave very sluggish, steps were becoming difficult. At fourteen I worried.
When I went to P-Town for Woman’s Week I anticipated and feared that I would return to find her gone. Instead I found where she had climbed on my new bed and elsewhere and shed some of her mats. This proved she was still kicking. Then I saw her today. Her eyes were mucky, she didn’t ‘hear’ me when I spoke to her, and climbing the stairs was very painful to watch. I even caught her, something never possible before. She half-heartedly took a swipe at me with her claws, she didn’t recognize me. I cleaned her up and realized she couldn’t see or hear me. It was time to make the painful decision to end her life and today I made it. As standoffish as she was, I will miss this beautiful little cat.