It is impossible for me to forget the day one of my favorite people I have ever known walked into my life. The date is easy to remember: October 10, 2010.
It was a Sunday, and we were returning home from buying groceries. With only about a mile left to go, I saw a figure walking down the middle of road towards us. It was a black kitten following the yellow dividing line. I whipped the car off the road, jumped out and swooped it up into my arms. It’s a wonder I didn’t get hit by any of the vehicles behind us, as I know I didn’t bother to check traffic before running into the road.
This little guy was on his last legs. The tip of his right ear had been torn off and it must have been a fresh wound, as it was bleeding. He had blood streaming out of his nose. I put him the back seat, and this little road warrior hissed off and on during the trip to the nearest Petsmart.
The vets there stayed past closing time to examine him and, for that, I will forever be grateful. They recommended he be taken to a 24-hour veterinary hospital. There, he was found to have every parasite a cat can apparently get, as well as significant internal injuries that required surgery. His stomach was full of bones, including at least one skull of unidentifiable origin (though some variety of snake or rodent) and large enough that they couldn’t figure out how it got there.
Those first few days were very tense, as his life hung by a thread. There’s a line from the Tim Buckley song “Valentine” that sometimes come to my mind at times like that: “The coin is in the air”. It was one of those moments where odds were equally likely things could have gone either way.
Almost miraculously, he recovered and so he needed a name. When we found him, we had been listening to the latest Belle & Sebastian album (the song was “I Can See Your Future”, as if anybody cares), and so he became Sebastian. Over the years, he filled out considerably and, with a swagger he would develop over time, he acquired the nickname “Bear”.
His first year or two at home was fascinating. He isn’t a talker as an adult, but he was quite the chatterbox as a kitten. He would just wander around the house on his long, gangly legs making sounds like he was talking to himself. One of the most amazing things I have ever seen is the time he came up from the basement and stopped at the next corner. He straightened up, his eyes went wide and he went, “OOO-ooo” as if he had just experienced the most amazing revelation. I find it difficult to not anthropomorphize animals, but this behavior was uncannily similar to something a human might do.
He was incredibly smart, which made it difficult to engage him in play. If you dragged a string under something, he wouldn’t pursue it—he’d pounce on it the moment it emerged from the other side. Between this, and all the bones in his stomach when he was found, I knew this was somebody who had to hunt to survive out in the real world.
Then there was his ability to pick up new skills easily. Some toys had to be set aside only for monitored play sessions, such as a Lego minifigure he would tear into ferociously. I’m still not sure how he didn’t chip a tooth from how hard he would bite that thing. Anyway, we’d keep that, and some other such items, in a coffee table drawer. He would lie on his back under the table, and jiggle the drawer until it opened enough to reveal its treasures.
I also remember how intimidating the stairs were to him initially. He would scale or descend each one independently, every one of them a challenge. Then came the day when he realized he could easily navigate them, and he spent the longest time just tearing up and down them repeatedly. It was simultaneously exhilarating and terrifying.
As an adult, he stopped talking to himself and became a cat of few words. He’s the kind of person who doesn’t feel he needs to raise his voice; however, if he says “MEEP”, you know you’re in deep trouble. This is usually only after he has looked at you for some time with what we call “square eyes”. I’m not sure how he can square the corners of his eyes like he does, yet he does it. We have never allowed any of our cats on the dining room table, but one time I was sitting at the table and he had that expression as he stomped across the surface towards me. Not sure what I had done to piss him off that badly, but I was genuinely intimidated for a moment.
Another surprising behavior he developed as an adult is his need for “fort time” when I’m reading in bed at night. I wish I could remember how it started, but I no longer recall after so many years of us doing this. Almost every night, he will jump onto the bed and stand at my left side until I lift the covers. He crawls under, turns around two or three times and then settles down under my tented knees. Somehow, he sinks into a very deep sleep, despite being right up against my stinky ass. I like to think he feels protected during these sessions.
The health issues he had when first found foreshadowed some major crises he has been through in recent years. The worst of these was the removal of his spleen, the recovery from which required him to not jump on anything while his stitches were healing. For roughly a month, he was in the largest kennel I could find. Having a significant portion of our living room taken up by a box with chain-link walls was a surreal experience.
Shortly after this came the onset of diabetes. He had always drunk water like there was no tomorrow, and I assumed this because of the lack of a fresh supply in the wild.
Previous diabetes tests had been negative, so we were shocked when his numbers were suddenly off the chart. Fortunately, it is easy to give cats diabetes injections, as they have thin skin. He even came to anticipate when he would receive a shot and would position himself accordingly. Still, I didn’t want to burden anybody with the responsibility of giving him those injections, so we have not had a vacation, or even been out of the state, for four years now.
Then came another surprise from our miracle kitty, as he became un-diabetic. The news from the vet stunned me. I finally said I didn’t know anybody or anything could eventually be diabetic no more. Her response was, “Cats are weird”.
For years before Sebastian walked into our lives, we had a picture of a kitten on our fridge. We simply liked the image from an advertisement and so onto the fridge it went. It is almost like we wished on it long enough that it became a reality. Today is thirteen years since he walked into our lives, and I cannot overstate how important he is to me. We are fortunate to be able to afford the costly procedures and vet appointments he has endured for his various issues. I suspect the time is near when he will need to move on. For now, I simply live in the moment, treasuring each additional day he is with us.