The night of April 14, 2018, Zelda passed away. It was an incredible shock and I’m devastated. When I took her in, with what I thought was a broken leg, the vet told me words like “blood clot” and “heart condition” and “happens all the time.” It was the sort of thing that I had no control over, there were no pills, no long term options. Just “we’re sorry, there’s nothing to be done. Consider yourself lucky for the time you had.”
I’ve always had cats and adored them. Zelda was the best cat I’ve ever owned. Every day with her was an honor. I worshiped the ground her tiny paws walked on. She was just so easy to love. She was friendly, playful, sweet, and social. She would light up the room and immediately become the center of attention. She acquired other families and made new friends on her adventures in the neighborhood. She was more than my pet; she was a soul mate.
Zelda had another name when I adopted her. She’d lived in three countries and two continents and came with an elaborate backstory. She was born in Canada to a breeder, sold to a Canadian man living in China, and lived in Seattle before a friend gave her to me in 2015. I called her Zelda because she was so high class and because Zelda Fitzgerald had a dreadful life. I wanted to right some wrongs and give her namesake a warm home and lots of affection and treats. I didn’t want my Zelda to die in an asylum fire after everything had been taken from her. Technically, I delivered. I just wanted more time to do it. I wanted Zelda to be a cranky curmudgeon sleeping in my garden on patio furniture. I wanted her to demand more and more pillows, to insist on more gravy. I wanted more cuddles, more interruptions, and to come home to her every day. We suited each other. I didn’t mind that she liked to run around outside, or visit people, and she didn’t mind that I insisted on having breakables. We had similar spirits, and we fit together nicely. My friend Sarah, who helped arrange the adoption, said “I knew Zelda before you had her, but I didn’t know her as fully as I did when she lived with you.” Zelda was the greatest character I ever wrote, and my absolute muse.
Zelda was completely a socialite. I was convinced she was some sort of demi-goddess of love that had pissed off some major deity who had doomed her to wander the earth as a cat. And then she found herself quite accustomed to belly rubs and wet food. If she had been human, she would have worn maribu everything and long flowing trains. Flowers bloomed around her – until she ate them. She looked so elegant as she jumped around the apartment – until she landed squarely into the trash can and emerged covered in banana peels and coffee grounds. She knocked over everything and did kitty parkour at 3am. Sometimes, I woke up to banging noises that I never actually found the sources of, I just sleepily said, “Zelda, whatever you’re doing, knock it off.” The banging would cease and she would remain a mysteriously mischievous cat, defying physics and limits. She called out to me when she heard the gate slam, and often drank my bath water. She never left me alone for very long, she liked being around. I could be passively myself with her, a rare thing.
It’s strange to stumble around my apartment without be tripped or sung to. It’s strange to be able to type without a set of paws clipping my chin for pets. It’s strange to wake up and not have her steal my spot or show me her butthole. Think of all I’ll be able to get done without her in my lap or needing me. This is what it’s like to not own a cat — productivity. My sleep is no longer interrupted because Zelda is licking the back of my head or demanding to sleep pushed all the way up against my face, it’s fitful and elusive because she isn’t there.
[cue uncontrollable sobbing]
When my last cat died, Fred Astaire, I carried his antihistamines around in my purse for six months. I love hard. I especially love my cats. My friend Shannon Chamberlain commented, “I spend more time with my cats than I do people.” It’s true. Zelda and I were more than pet and owner, we were a team. She brought me joy every single day. Now my days are noticeably less joyful, my apartment less warm, my spirits crushed to a pulpy mess of tears and sadness.
Whatever shall I do without her?
Zelda came to me in one of the weirdest years of my life. I was laid off the Friday after I got her, and went through a crap ton of terrible lovers with all of my free time. I held her against me as I cried, and she would put her paws over my shoulder, and stand on my lap, and press her warm tummy against mine. She was a beautiful thing that always loved me. At the end of the day, no matter how shitty the day, I had Zelda. I won.
Her tag, until she lost it, read ZELDA INDOOR CAT PLEASE CALL IF FOUND, with my number. There was a time when my phone wouldn’t stop ringing from all the kind people trying to return the adorable grey kitty who had stolen their hearts. Now I don’t get any strange calls from neighbors asking me if I’ve lost my cat. I don’t get any lectures about letting her run. I don’t know how to tell people she’s dead. I still listen for her chirping outside the door to be let in, but it’s only every the birds. I still expect her to jump up on the bed and to purr in my ear. Like none of this every happened, and she’s just on one long outdoor adventure that she’ll come home from, hungry and happy. Ready to settle in for the night.
Part of me feels like eulogizing my cat probably falls under “a bit much” but she was my girl. And I loved her so much. I hate grief. It’s the sharpest emotion. I understand the desire to build shrines, pyramids, temples to this awful feeling I’m experiencing. This barbed wire loss that keeps twisting in my chest. I don’t know how I’m going to get through this without her.
Hail Zelda, long may she reign.
I love cats too. I had to “surrender” my favorite cat to the vet clinic six months ago, and I’ll never get over losing him. I hope you are surviving after Zelda. Maybe you have a new cat? p.s. I just today (May 26, 2020) came across your writing, specifically a piece from 2016 about the “Fight the New Drug” group. I live in Salt Lake (don’t ask me why; it’s a long story), and I just happened to be walking by that group’s headquarters. They didn’t say on their sign outside what the New Drug was/is they are “fighting”. I stopped in to find out. I tried to be polite without laughing. Later I looked up some information online about the group, and found your article. Brilliant and to the point. Good luck. — tom dickman. «firstname.lastname@example.org»
I have gotten two new kittens and while I’ll always miss Zelda, it helps to have new babies to look after. Thanks so much for reading, Tom! I drove through Salt Lake City once and it looked lovely so I promise to not hold Fight the New Drug against it.