On 26th April 2014, after dropping Mark at the station, on his way to a trip to Vegas, I made my way to a local animal shelter with my parents and Bill.
I was really struggling a year ago. I am a pack animal and, having lost Max, along with the dust from the split starting to settle, I was finding the lonely nights hard. Mark was around, of course he was, but we lived separately, an hour apart, and it was very early days.
Max had been gone for six months by that point, settling into his new home amazingly no doubt, but I was still full of regret, guilt and loss.
The second I walked in the shelter, I saw this beautiful big black cat on his hind legs just desperate for attention. If you’ve rescued an animal before you’ll know that it is a little like love at first sight. He was absolutely beautiful. Huge. Shiny black. And a face more like a big cat than a domestic one. He was selling himself very well, forever the little salesman, and because of this it took me a while to notice another cat at the very back.
Sweet, timid, frightened and so stressed from her life so far. She had pulled the fur from her stomach and looked desperate.
The shelter staff explained to me that they had been in for a while and struggled to find a home because there were two of them, and because they were black. The little girl’s condition hadn’t helped either. And to make matters worse, their story hadn’t been a kind one. Bought as kittens, they had quickly been neglected when the owners discovered their little boy was allergic. Instead of rehoming them immediately, they banned the cats from coming inside and left them riddled with fleas and desperate for love.
I did the dutiful thing of walking around and looking at the other cats, and even kittens which I had initially hoped for, not wanting to lose another pet too soon, but I couldn’t stop thinking about that brother and sister.
Ruby and Robin.
I turned round, next to the kittens and said I’d take the duo.
And everyone looked shocked. I think my parents thought I was mad, but I remember my dad saying that he expected it of me.
I went back to see them one more time and the boy was trying so hard. “Please,” he seemed to say. “I know there’s two of us but I promise you we’ll make you happy.” And as he pushed his head against my hand with some force, I felt like I had to take them home. I gently walked over to his sister and let her suss me out. Eventually she accepted my hand and as I stroked her I could feel her swell with happiness. When a sandpapery tongue licked my hand I was sold.
I hadn’t expected to spend what spare money I had on adoption fees, and I remember my dad stepping forward and buying one of them as a gift for me and Bill. My parents could see how much it meant and I’m eternally grateful for that as I couldn’t have afforded both on my own sensibly. I’d have gone into my overdraft and done it anyway, but his help meant I’d not struggle.
I left, expecting to arrange a home check and maybe pick them up next weekend, but only hours later, a lovely lady declared my house perfect and I was told I could collect them the very next day.
It breaks my heart to be writing this, because I know I’m going to remember so much and I have to get it down because I’m so frightened of forgetting one day.
In short, those cats changed my life. I spent my time at home with a little tiny boy and two black beauties. We played, we cuddled, and I laughed more than I ever could have hoped for.
As Mark became more and more a part of our family, he fell in love too.
And that was us. A family of five. With two cats who formed a huge part of our lives.
Gatsby and Elsa.
Just last week I celebrated their first year together with us. Old photos came up and I felt pride in the bare belly that Elsa no longer had, and the trimmer looking Gatsby, who was pretty chubby when we got him.
I remember sending Mark photos from our bed, while he sat downstairs, and chatting about how much we loved them.
But on Friday, as I was coming to the end of my lunch, feeling tired and fuzzy-headed, my phone rang. And I never answer unknown numbers, but I recognised the area code and for some reason I answered the call.
And I dissolved into tears as a vet told me that my gorgeous boy, a best friend, had been hit by a car and he didn’t make it.
If you don’t resonate with animals you won’t understand the joy of loving them and the true loss of losing them.
We left work. I finished what I was doing through tears and Mark somehow managed to get me home. I just felt defeated. Absolutely heart-broken.
We just missed our hourly train, so we took another to a closer station and battled early rush-hour traffic in the longest taxi journey of our life. I thought I was going to be sick the whole way. I held in my sadness with so much force that my head was banging and I was desperate with claustrophobic grief. Finally, we pulled up at our station and moved from one car into the other and it was there Mark called our vets and we made our decision to have him cremated. As he drove us to collect Bill, I heard myself make a noise I’d never heard before. It was full of pain and regret and I couldn’t breathe properly, or see.
I don’t remember much after that. I remember collecting Bill. But mainly just crying. I remember us both desperately seeking out Elsa within seconds of opening the front door. And I remember the puzzled look she gave us as we held her tight and cried.
I loved my cats wholeheartedly, and having Elsa here is a relief, but it doesn’t change that our boy is gone.
Gatsby and I had a natural affinity for one another. I felt like we’d chosen each other and as Mark said as he tried to comfort me yesterday: “He was your cat.” When I argued that he was ‘ours’ he replied: “No, he was ours, but he was yours. He was most like you. You were most like him.” And it is true.
I wrote once that Gatsby was healing me. Not only filling the hole in my heart that Max left, but making a place for himself all his own. And understanding when I needed company and something to hold when Bill wasn’t there. He was always there though.
He was my shadow, in every way.
And I won’t forget him.
I won’t forget the headbutts, the way he’d push himself with great force against you to get attention.
I won’t forget the burps and happy noises he made as you picked him up like a baby; a jumble of giant paws and fur.
I won’t forget way he had spot that was his in every room, if not more than one. The arm of the sofa that always got the sun. The other corner by the television, which I’m sure he chose because he knew it was my spot. Underneath the dining room table, on a chair, so when you pulled your chair out to eat, you’d struggle to do it, until you revealed a bleary-eyed cat looking confused. Sometimes you might spot him there, with a furry paw dangling down, if you were lucky.
Or the chair immediately to the right of the door in the conservatory, with a throw I’d have to wash every two weeks as it would become darker with fur. I didn’t care though. I even brought new ones in the end as they seemed softer for him. Our bed, always the bottom where the throw was. And the downstairs bedroom, Gatsby would take the side Mark always took in bed, and Elsa would take mine. We’d walk in and joke they were like an old married couple, sleeping side-by-side, heads up near the pillows.
I’ll miss his addiction to Dreamies, and food in general. How he’d try and paw bits of food from your plate, or hop right up and just assume it was a sharing platter. I’ll miss the hungry happiness of dinner time, where he would fight to get to his bowl before you’d finish pouring the biscuits out.
I’ll miss the stubbornness to eat anything other than Go Cat. Costing us money and wasting cat food. I remember telling him that some cats have nothing and tapping him on the nose when I told him he was a greedy and ungrateful cat head.
I remember my grandparents and mum creasing up laughing, as they told me how he’d got involved with some DIY while we were at work, angling up Gramps’ workbench, which had a piece of wood balanced atop of it. He angled, ready to jump, balanced and made it, walking to the end of the bench and then panicked as the wood flipped and catapulted him.
I remember his nosiness. Only on Monday we were building a picnic table and Gatsby got right next to Mark’s face as he was lying on the grass and drilling upwards. We laughed and had to shoo him away. But when all was done he was the first to take a seat as he joined us for lunch.
I will miss shouting your name. I tried the other morning, because I was desperate. Gatsby. Gatty. Gats. Gatty Bombatty So Fatty. Gatsby the Catsby. Gato. Gatty the Catty. Lamp Eyes. Frank Lamp Eyes. Mr Gats. Panther.
I will probably miss the way he used to lie like a slug, more than most things. I used to cry with laughter every single time I saw him like that. He looked so ridiculous. And he knew it.
I’ll miss the time we played cat noises to them both and they freaked out and started hunting for hidden cats and acting so bizarre. We felt bad in the end but it was one of the funniest things we’ve ever seen.
I remember the time Mark was on his computer and Gatsby wandered over, hopped on to the table and sat between Mark and the screen following the cursor on screen and completely distracting Mark from whatever he was doing in the end.
I remember the time when we were eating tea, and Gatsby thought it the perfect time to wash himself, hind leg in the air, little cat toes, splayed, and Bill looks across at him, reaches over and goes: “Oh! Hi five cat!” We couldn’t control the tears that came with the laughter.
I remember how he could easily spread out across both of our laps and still look like he needed more room.
I remember, just last week, watching him steal leftover chicken that was covered in chilli and licking his lips for the following half hour as he instantly regretted it. I remember spotting him as I opened the curtains before work, and opening the window and wishing him good morning as he just looked so funny watching the street in the early morning sun. I called Mark over and he did the same.
I remember the run he did, like a bulldog, as he saw us come home from work. Every single day he’d be there and he’d rush and greet us and stand by the front door, pawing it until we let him in.
He’d boff you with his paw if you weren’t hitting the good spots with your strokes and scratches, and he’d purr louder than a steam engine when you loved him, which was all of the time.
He was friendly to anyone but chose us. Never leaving the house unless nature called, and never going missing.
He was just always there. But not part of the furniture. He was part of the family.
I still can’t understand how it happened boy. It was so unlike you. And this road is so quiet. I can’t stop thinking about you. And I miss you so much. Collecting your collar hurt the most. I knew then that there was no hope.
And I hate that I didn’t have the courage to bury you or say goodbye, but I was scared of what you might look like and I didn’t think I’d cope. And I hate myself for that. I hate that I couldn’t find the words to ask if you’d have felt pain, or were scared, or you were alone when you died, or where it happened. I hope it was instant and you didn’t cry and wonder: “Mum, where are you? I need you.”
I wish I’d got to say goodbye. As your dad said: “I thought we’d grow old with him.” I expected you to be here forever, or at least be looking after you as an old boy, when our babies had grown-up and you would be 20 and we’d be 47 and we’d all curl up on the sofa together. Me and you. Your dad and Elsa. And instead you were only two.
I’ll look after your sister. I promise. I’ll give her all of the love I had saved up for both of you. She’ll be happy.
I know I rescued you. I know you needed a home. And I know we made you so happy.
But you rescued me too.
You took my lonely away. You gave me a family unit back. And you never left my side in the struggles of the last year.
I’m so sorry. I wish I could have saved you.
I will miss you so much.
I love you.
My Great Gatsby.