I don’t know if you know this but my lady — Melanie Warner Spencer — is the editor of this column. She also edits New Orleans Bride, Louisiana Life and other titles for Renaissance Publishing. She’s raised the bar on every magazine that she has touched and this column as well. She makes me sound smarter than I really am. On the other hand, she’s a stickler who knows what she wants and, in my case, she expects there to be a New Orleans sports angle in every piece I write.
But today, I’m going to write about our cat Cleo.
Let’s get this out of the way as well. After 19-and-a-half years one of my best friends, Cleo, has died. Cue tears.
Okay I’m back. As anyone that has lost a family pet knows, and I’m guessing that is almost all of us, life gets rough when your little friend dies. I gave up acting like a tough guy years ago and this is really, really difficult. To be more to the point, it’s like a relentless ocean, whose waves are always bigger than me and batter my shore at every second. It wears you out and is so, so heavy.
It Was Never Supposed To Happen
Nearly 20 years ago, I was probably still acting like a tough guy. The type that would say, “Hell no, we’re not getting a cat.” Though, in my defense, I had some ammunition. One drunken night walking into our place I grabbed a sweet little stray kitten, not Cleo, and agreed with Melanie to make it ours.
Turns out, the cat was Looney Tunes crazy.
You know the term, “Climbing the walls?” It’s based on that cat. As in, I watched this demonic entity literally climb the wall, all the while, deep from the depths of Hell, its eyes stared straight into my innocent, “I’ve only owned dogs,” soul. Anyway, as Damien was rearranging the carpentry of my car as we drove to the animal shelter, I decided that maybe, just maybe cats weren’t for us.
So obviously, months later, Melanie says, “Let’s get a cat.”
I say, “Hell no.” The next day she shows up with a cat. That cat would be named Cleo, and I said, “Cool.”
She placed the newly-minted Cleo down on the living room floor and the definitely-terrified Cleo ran into the guest bedroom and entrenched herself under the futon. Over the next ten days I laid on my back for hours in front of that futon coaxing her. “Come on, baby. Come on out, Cleo.”
Then, one day staring into my eyes, her eyes got bigger and bigger. She wasn’t afraid, she was moving towards me. Cleo crawled out from hiding, sniffed my face and became The Greatest Cat In The World.
The Cool Movie Montage
This is where all of those great moments cascade down upon us like a glorious waterfall. Everything was new to me. Melanie had come from a family that loved cats, but this was my first (besides my short time with the hell spawn). Cleo’s kitty eyes ripped right through my heart, and the baffling nature of cats always intrigued. Cleo could go from the gentlest creature on the planet to a freakish athlete — leaping, sprinting, doing something very weird and violent to my shoes — in a moment’s notice. It was beautiful.
She was shy around everyone, but all over me and Melanie when we were home alone. Whenever I went to the store, Cleo would sit by the door waiting for my return. When Melanie would take a shower, Cleo would guard the bathroom door. After dinner, Cleo would sit on my lap. Then as the clock struck ten Cleo would shift over to the couch and cuddle with Melanie. I would put them both to bed around midnight. As 2 A.M. approached, I would get into bed and Cleo would look at me like I was making some horrible mistake by asking her to move. It was the routine. It never got boring.
And now she’s gone and I have to adapt to a new routine. One in which I don’t ask where Cleo is the second I wake up. One where I don’t stick my foot out as I enter the front door, so she doesn’t slip past. One that doesn’t have a “group hug” with my two best friends in the world. It sucks.
About a half-year ago we had to start giving Cleo treatments to keep her healthy. A couple of months after that my buddy lost her eyesight. It was hard on her. Gone were the bullet train sprints across the living room floor, gone were the days spent watching the birds chirp from our porch.
But she still loved to cuddle and that was all we needed.
Then last week, she got really sick and I learned the true meaning of the saying, “overcome with emotion,” as I tried to talk to Melanie on the phone. The moment I heard Melanie’s voice…
All I could manage was, “You need to come home.”
A couple of hours later, and about an hour before heading to the Animal Clinic, Cleo was lost under our bedroom chair. I wasn’t on my back this time, but crouched over, smiling a smile that only comes at the end of long journey.
“Come on, baby. Come on out, Cleo.”
She, with those beautiful eyes, walked out from under the chair and we held her in our arms. One last group hug. We marched to the car and drove to the clinic. We showered kisses down upon our old friend in the room. We cried. Then it was over.
And now I sit here, wondering what she’s doing, what she’s up to. I see her out of the corner of my eye — in the window, lying on the floor, walking towards me. She’s everywhere, but gone at the same time. She’s out there waiting and I’m sitting here building a time machine to go back in time, to a time, where I held Cleo in my arms.