The good cat wasn’t the one who was supposed to die.
He was the good cat, after all. And calling him the good cat implied that there was a bad cat, which there certainly was. Ichi was the bad cat. He had issues. Expensive issues. Constipation and anxiety and UTIs and special food and twice daily medicine and destroying furniture and pooping and throwing up just about everywhere. There was no question that Ichi was the bad cat.
But Hello was the good cat by more than just default. Yes, in 13 years he had cost only a fraction of what Ichi had cost in vet bills. Yes, he ate virtually anything you put in front of him with a waggle of his fluffy black tail. Yes, he used the litterbox like normal cats are supposed to do. But more than that, Hello was the good cat. Whenever I sat down, a few moments later I would realize he was already on my lap, nudging his head under my hand for a pet. At night the same thing would happen. I would lay down in bed and immediately be would be on my chest, curling up for a rest. When I was pregnant with Myles and alone while my husband (at the time) was far away in Afghanistan, Hello wouldn’t leave my side. He was sweet and curious, as cheerful and chill as a cat could be.
Hello came from a shelter in Lunenburg, MA in October of 2004. I already had Ichi, an impertinent gray fluff who had picked up a nasty biting habit. The cat books said Ichi needed another kitten to socialize with. We lived in just a tiny 200 square foot studio apartment, but off to the shelter I went. I wandered around, looking at kittens, looking at older cats. None of them seemed quite right. None of them were mine.
One of the shelter volunteers walked by and said, “We have a 6-month old in the infirmary for something minor. Would you like to meet him?”
“Him” was Hello, my Hello. The cage opened, he jumped into my arms and he didn’t leave. That was that.
In those thirteen years Hello (and Ichi, too) had quite the life. We lived in eleven apartments and two houses. We had roommates and no roommates, boyfriends and no boyfriends, and a husband, too, for a while. We had views from high floors over the treetops, sometimes to the ocean, sometimes to the highway, and we had views to yards with birds and bugs. Inside we had nature to chase, too, mice and ants and bats and spiders. My two baby boys were born, and Hello adopted them as his own, or maybe just accepted them as his less furry brothers.
After my divorce, with my 9-month and 2 year old boys, a full-time job and my cats, it was all too much. I gave Hello away to a stranger who seemed responsible. A month later, Hello came back. Another animal shelter had called, told me that the guy who had adopted him had dumped him, injured, on their doorstep. They scanned his microchip and found me. “Do you want him?” they asked. Yes, of course yes. I couldn’t let him go through that again. Hello came back.
Hello was the kind of cat who should have lived to 20. He should have lived until his eyes and ears and teeth and legs and bladder all failed him. In the end, many of those things failed him, but much sooner than I ever thought.
Moving to Spain was a surprise. It was never what I would have looked for, but when it arrived unexpectedly, it was what I needed. But it was crazy, really. What single mom moves to Spain on her own with two little boys? And what completely insane single mom brings her two aging cats, too?
This one, apparently. I tried, briefly, to find the cats a new home, and more than a few kind people offered, but new homes with new kids and new cats and dogs seemed crueler to my furry boys than a trans-Atlantic journey, and after what had happened the time before, I couldn’t take the risk. I put the paperwork together for all of us, bought sturdy cat carriers and expensive airline tickets, and away we went. One mom, two boys, two cats.
Ichi was the one who I thought would fall apart in the middle of all of this. Ichi of the anxiety and health problems and expensive vet bills. But Ichi was fine. Hello was the one who fell apart.
First it was sneezing, coughing, watery eyes. Hiding under the bed. He’s just adjusting, I thought. We were all adjusting, and he passed in and out of my thoughts with hardly a notice. A few days, a week later, he was worse. We went to the vet, got some medication. He’ll be fine. I gave him the meds, kept trying to make our new life in Spain.
But Hello was not fine. A life-long virus, probably caught in that first animal shelter, or maybe even before, in the garage he was found in, became more than a nuisance. It wouldn’t let him go. He got sicker, he didn’t eat. I was out of money and options. I was in a country where I barely spoke the language, a single mom struggling to keep it all together and mostly failing. I failed Hello, and he died.
A boyfriend once said to me, “Hello has the best name. He is always full of greetings.” He wasn’t named for that. He was named after the cute little Japanese version, during a childish phase of my 20s. But he could not have been named better, because he was, indeed, full of greetings.
The city picked up his body. The boys were sad, but accepting. A few weeks later it was All Saint’s Day in Barcelona. In the early hours of the morning I had the most vivid dream. Hello was curled up by my head, on a red pillow. I was petting him, gently. I startled awake, petting nothing, my hand above the red pillow. One last greeting from my friend, and one last goodbye, too.