On January 20th, I was sitting outside on the back patio, appreciating a moment of rare sunshine, when Vivani Catpants sauntered up to me.
I’d been living at the Mighty Small Farm for about ten months. Over the course of that time, Vivi’s opinion of me went from, “Interloper, ignore completely,” to “Potential Door Opener, treat with disdain,” to “Acceptable Servant, if given clear instructions.” I’d gotten used to interpreting her demanding meows, mostly based on location. At the door, she’d be telling me to let her out; on the table or the small carpet where Suzanne put cat food, she’d be telling me it was time for a snack. Once, on the front porch, she seemed to be ordering me to assist her in getting on the railing, which I did, gingerly, wondering whether I was about to get scratched for my impudence.
On this day, however, she did not meow at me. Instead, she conveyed — and I’m honestly not sure how — that my lap would be an acceptable place for sitting. I had my doubts about whether I was correctly understanding her, but I gently lifted her up and set her down on my legs. For the next twenty minutes or so, we enjoyed the sunshine together, while I stroked her soft fur and she purred. It was the first time I’d ever petted her.
It was also the last. She stopped eating several days later, and on February 15th, after a slew of ups and downs, hopeful moments and resignation about the inevitable, we said good-bye.
Vivi’s story started in Oaxaca, Mexico, where Suzanne and Greg found her as a kitten. As I remember the story, they heard her before they saw her. She had a most imperious meow and as a lost kitten (probably dumped because she had a broken tail), I’m sure she was thoroughly annoyed. I suspect she accepted her rescue as her due, and her rescuers as acceptable human servants.
During the time that I knew her, she was relatively sedate — also sixteen years old, so maybe that should be phrased as “understandably sedate.” But if every cat has an adjective — Tank was tough and Gina is curious and Moe is shy — Vivani’s word was regal. She was a princess of a cat. Or maybe a queen. Definitely royalty, anyway. She never just walked — she either sauntered or stalked. But she was also an elegant predator, with the sort of graceful beauty that didn’t quite seem to match the headless bird bodies left on the doorstep or the absolute determination to battle the neighbor cats.
She loved to be told how beautiful she was. The practical part of my head is pretty sure that cats don’t understand any more human language than dogs do, which is to say not an awful lot of real words, more tone of voice. But the less scientific part believes that Vivi absolutely understood if your tone of voice did not match the meaning of your words. She liked to be told she was beautiful, she didn’t care what tone of voice you used. The compliment was what mattered. She definitely knew she was beautiful — she wasn’t grateful for the compliment — but she was a cat who accepted worship as nothing less than she deserved.
Saying good-bye to pets is so damn hard. Knowing that little lost kitten had a good life, lived a long time, and was as pampered as a cat can be doesn’t actually make losing her any easier. But I think Suzanne and I both believe that Greg was waiting for her, happy to see her, and will be taking good care of her until she’s ready to venture forth on her next life.