“I’m too aggressive.” My mother said. “She won’t come out for me.”
“Let me give it a try.” I said.
It was May of 2005, and my mother had just brought home our new cat. She came in a vented box, which was designed to look like a house with a red-shingled roof. On the side was written I’m going home. Yet, I hadn’t seen the occupant of the box. She was in hiding under a bed we had in a spare room. Mom had brought her home while I was at work, and so I wouldn’t be able to see her until that evening.
My mother had informed me that, “She looks like Oscar the Grouch.”
To which I replied, “You didn’t bring home a Muppet, did you? She doesn’t have green fur, does she?”
Thankfully, she did not.
I was twenty-five years old at the time, and couldn’t resist getting it on it video. I set up my camera on a tripod, and then knelt in front of the bed. I then reached out with my left hand. I didn’t dare put it under the bed, as I assumed a large clawed paw would strike forth, and pull me under. I had way too many horror films to know that this is a bad idea. The underside of the bed was like a cavern, and a beast lurked within. That must I knew. Whether she be friend or foe was unknown at this point.
“Call to her.” Mom said.
“Yesterday.” I said gently. “Come get my scent.”
Then, I saw a small, flat nose emerge from under the bed. Two golden eyes rested above it, framed by elegant eyelashes. She stepped forward, and was ladylike in her walk. She has a stocky build, and the most beautiful coat—tortoise markings, which were perfectly proportioned. She looked as if she’d been painted that way, or designed in a lab. She reminded me of a teddy bear, or some other plush toy.
My mother said, “She looks like an owl.”
Yesterday walked up to me, and then said, “Mowe.”
She sniffed my fingers, and then I gently petted her back. Yesterday then started to walk circles around me, and rub against me. From that point on, she followed me through the entire house. There wasn’t a moment she wasn’t with me, except when I took a shower. That would have been weird. Though she did seem to enjoy the scent of Lynx. I can’t imagine why.
Those were Yesterday’s first steps into my life. She took her last steps on Sunday, February 12th, 2017. She was my cat for thirteen years, her entire lifespan. Life without her feels both odd, and a little empty. This comes on the heels of my mother’s death in July of 2017. Losing two loved ones so soon was both unexpected, and incredibly painful. I figured she’d live another year or two, seeing as how she was thirteen. For her to die so soon after Mom…it was a bit of a shock.
Pets, especially cats or dogs, become family to us. People who don’t have pets, or have never had them, will not understand. Yesterday was like my kid. Mom used to call her my sister, which I always thought was a bit odd, but that was my mother’s sense of humor. I cared for Yesterday, and all our cats, the way I would for a child. I fed her, bathed her, held her, and played on the living room floor with her. After Mom died, I became her only caregiver. It used to be that I was there to give the cats affection, and Mom was their cook. Then I assumed both roles last year.
Cats aren’t driven by purpose the way we are. We exist to get affection from us, while giving us affection in return. They are the ultimate givers of unconditional love. Maybe there is a lesson to be learned there.
I can’t put Yesterday’s life into a single narrative, so I’ll just give some highlights of it. I should also point out that at one point my mother and I had three cats; Yesterday, July, and Roxanne. Roxanne was the first to pass away in 2015. July is now with the family of a friend, as she was too feral for a smaller apartment (after Mom died I moved around a bit). Yesterday was always my cat, as I was her human. So, she went with me no matter where I lived. The only time I was away from her for an extended period is when I lived in the Bay Area. These past four days are the longest I’ve gone without a cat in my life. Even since childhood I’ve either had cats or dogs. Though, I admit, I do prefer cats. No offense to the bow-wows out there.
Memory Number One: Yesterday Goes to the Morrison Hotel
The same week we adopted Yesterday, I picked up a
Morrison Hotel t-shirt. It’s my favorite Doors album. I still have the shirt, which features the album cover for that iconic record. I listen to that album every summer. The only exception was this past summer, when my mother died. Outside of that it’s been a yearly ritual since…well, for a long time.
I put on a Morrison Hotel in the living room. Then, something peculiar happened. I was worried the music might freak Yesterday out, and was surprised when it didn’t. Instead, she sat on her haunches at my feet. She had this big grin on her face, like the Cheshire cat. I petted her, and thought, “Was Yesterday a groupie in a previous life?” Wait, she couldn’t have been…nah, not the Lizard King. I think she looks more like a Tudor monarch, given her regal bearing. She could easily have been a member of the Henry VIII’s court. She was build a Tudor.
My mother poked her head into the living room, and said, “Riley and Yesterday groovin’ to the music.”
I then had a wicked thought.
I gave Yesterday some cat nip.
I held her for a bit, and made sure she had a nice, mellow high. I then put on some Bob Marley music. She crawled into her kitty tube, and laid on her back. She had the biggest Cheshire grin on her furry face. She was high as a kite on Stinson Beach. I turned the music down, and then had some nachos.
No, I wasn’t stoned.
Mildly drunk, perhaps, but not stoned. This was my twenties after all.
Memory Two: Yesterday’s Chair
I still have this as well. It was my mother’s favorite chair. But at the time when Yesterday was young, it was a chair I often sat in while watching shows like Kyle XY or Deadwood. Without fail, Yesterday would jump up onto my lap. She’d situate herself, and then start to purr. She’d sit there until either the show was over, or until I got up to use the loo.
Then, one day, Yesterday jumped up onto the chair without me.
I swear to God that this part is true.
I found her sitting upright! Her front paws hung limp like a zombie, and her eyes were closed. Her tongue protruded from the side of her mouth, like Bill the Cat in Bloom County. I eyed her suspiciously, and then wondered, “Is she alright?”
My mother, who sat on the living room sofa at the time, didn’t seem to notice.
“Look at Yesterday.” I said.
Mom looked at her, and then said, “Well, just make sure she’s not dead.”
This may sound cavalier to you all, but you should understand, my mother had a very dark sense of humor. Now you know where I get it from. Just remind me to tell you about the time we cleared out my grandmother’s shoeboxes. On second thought, don’t ask. It correlates to something that happened after my mother died.
Yet, I digress.
So, I did as Mom asked. I very gently roused Yesterday by touching her left shoulder. She instantly woke up. Yesterday looked at me, as if to say, “What’s a matter with you, human? What the hell you wake me up for? Quit looking at me like that.”
She then cleaned herself as normal, and I backed away slowly.
Memory Three: Claire De Lune
More than just one of my favorite pieces of music. I used to hold Yesterday, and show her the moon. My parents did that for me when I was an infant, which would explain why I’m a lunatic. I mean, why I’m interested in astronomy. It also explains why the moon plays such a vital role in my life.
It would always somewhat late at night; eight after nine or ten. Mom would be in her bedroom, watching TV. The rest of the house would be silent. I would then pick up Yesterday, who’d purr loudly. She had the loudest purr of any cat I’ve ever known. It would reverberate inside my chest when I held her. Then I’d walk her to the dining room window, which faced the back of the house.
The moonlight outlined her profile, and reflected off her golden eyes. She’d look at it in fascination. Did she wonder, as Newton did, “Why does it not fall from the sky?” Did she have the capacity to wonder about such things?
I’d then set Yesterday on her window seat, which Mom called, “Her throne.” I’d then make tea.
Memory Four: Cat Dance if You Want to
Yesterday had this habit of tap dancing. Again, I’m not making this up. When she was practically orgasmic from the petting, she’d tap dance from side to side with her hind legs. Her tail would then wag upright in a jittery fashion. This meant that she was REALLY happy, and couldn’t get any more satisfied than in that moment. She did this often, but had lapsed from it in her later years. I’m not sure why, but it may have had to do with her difficulty walking toward the end of her life.
You’d have to see her dance to believe it. I think I have video of it somewhere. There are many more memories, but I can't recount them all in one blog post. This will suffice, until more surface.
In the end, Yesterday had survived a lot. She an abuse case, that was rehabilitated by a local animal shelter. She was taken in by a grieving mother, and her son, both of whom had lost a cat earlier that summer. She was a companion to both humans; but she adopted me as her favorite. Yesterday was also a loving sister to a tabby (July) and a marmalade (Roxanne), and showed kindness to them both. Though she sparred a bit with them, it was only play fighting. No one ever got hurt, except for the humans that tried to break it up.
Yesterday also survive watching the death of my mother. She knew something was up when Mom didn’t come home that night. She wasn’t herself after that. She seemed a little less joyful, and purr-full. She also, wasn’t as active. She didn’t play as much, nor, explore the apartment as much. Her death is all the sadder because of the upheaval we’d both gone through because of our mother’s death. I’m still feeling the shockwaves of it. She was a little kitten, even in old age. She missed her mommy, as do I.
The day Yesterday died, I held her paw. I petted her, and kept her warm. I covered her with a warm track jacket that once belonged to me, and then belonged to my mother. I couldn’t put her to sleep the night before. I had to take her home, so she could die peacefully, and with me next to her. I didn’t want her last memories to be of a pet casualty unit, with smelling blankets covering her.
I slept next to her the night before. When she still breathed the next morning, I was in shock. The vet thought she would have gone within an hour or two. My little girl wouldn’t give up that easy. She fought one hell of a fight to stay alive. I’m proud of her. She was more like me than I thought.
I continued to pet her, and talk to her. I told her that I regretted not spending as much time with her as I used to do. I talked to her the way I did my mother, when she was on her deathbed.
I then said to Yesterday, “I don’t want you to go. But you have to go to Mom now. She’s waiting for you. She’s lonely without you. I’ll be lonely without you too. But she needs you now.”
Around 3:20 in the afternoon, Yesterday breathed her last. I heard her exhale, and recognized the sound. It was like the one my mother made when she expelled her terminal breath.
I called some friends, the same ones I did when Mom died. I confessed to one of them, Kethry, that, “I promised Mom I’d take care of her. I think I failed in that.”
“You did take care of her.” She said. “Now it’s your mother’s turn.”
I believe she’s with her now.
I’ve performed three cat funerals now. I knew what to do.
I wrapped Yesterday in her favorite towel. Much like me, she always knew where her towel was. I bound it gently with the twine she used to play with. I then placed her in a small box, along with a can of cat food, and two of her toy mice. I then placed her in a suitcase, and made the long trek back to her kingdom.
This may sound morbid to some, but I had to do this for her. I traveled by bus, with Yesterday’s body all boxed up, and in a suitcase. It was our final adventure together. I caught the bus back to our old neighborhood, just in time as well. It was on a Sunday, so the buses run a bit wonky. I then took her to where the old house stood. It was bulldozed a few years ago. In the back woods, under the proverbial cloak of darkness (I was wearing a flight jacket) I dug her grave. The ground was soft enough from a warm up, that I could do it. I said a few words, and then made the long trek back to the city.
It doesn’t get easy losing a pet.
I’m sentimental, as you all know. I’m not sure that’s a bad thing. What I am sure of is that I couldn’t have asked for a better cat. No matter how many cats I have in the future, Yesterday will always be the best. She was unique in so many ways.
There’s a strange postscript to all of this.
That night, the clouds parted, and I saw the full moon. It was tinted gold, like Yesterday’s eyes. The black clouds parted, and framed the moon in such a way that it looked like the markings on Yesterday’s fur.
I then said, “Yesterday, I know you’re up there with Mom.”
The next morning, something interesting also happened.
I was on my way to class, when I heard Elton John’s Tiny Dancer playing in a local pharmacy. It’s one of my favorites, and was also the first song I’d heard when I first entered San Francisco, about ten years ago. Then, I heard Prince’s 1999 being blasted across the street from a local shop. Mom loved Prince. Then I entered another shop, and heard Sweet Caroline by Neil Diamond. Mom loved Neil Diamond. I then heard Prince again later that afternoon, as a co-worker was listening to him on her iPhone. The song was again 1999.
I took all of this as some sort of sign. The dead don’t talk to us with rattling cabinets, or floating objects. They communicate in other, more subtle ways. I took this as meaning that Yesterday was with Mom, and that all was forgiven. I had taken care of her, and now, it truly was Mom’s turn.
Copyright Riley Joyce 2017