The Nattiest cat I’ve ever known
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Nattie was a tiny, premature kitten when I met her – a hand-sized creature with a tail the size of my pinky and little sharp points of claws and teeth that occasionally poked out of fluffy white and brown fur. It was my first night back from sophomore year of college. I slouched on the couch in my mom’s home, shirtless, as the kitten crawled up my bare stomach, introducing herself. The itsy-bitsy claws tickled my skin, but I was more interested in the TV. Suddenly a set of fangs pierced my left nipple: “Yee-oww!” I leapt off my seat and the surprised baby fluff-ball fell into my reacting hands. She looked up at me with disproportionately large, green eyes. All she wanted was milk I couldn’t give her. “Meow,” she seemed to question. (Six years later, she is the most conversational cat I’ve ever known.)
My mom – a dog person – adopted Nattie so that my loyal, lonely black-and-white short-hair, Hobbes, might have a companion while I was away at school. Hobbes didn’t seem to like her. She wouldn’t leave him alone, climbing onto his back and trying to play when he only wanted sleep on a square of sunny carpet. Nattie also had digestive problems, as many preemies do – so I’m sad to say I wasn’t the most welcoming of her. And like I said, my mom is a dog person: Nattie was very much on her own from the beginning, though never without care and love.
Hobbes was a wildish feline who forfeited his alley life (and man-sized testicles) in favor of adopting me when I was 12, an only-child uprooted by divorce and in need of friends. My mom and I had just moved into a dark, dumpy four-plex in Berthoud. Trains rumbled past at all hours; a Latino baby cried constantly on the other side of my bedroom’s cinder block wall, and there were bullet holes in another wall from when our neighbor’s ex-wife tried to shoot him; the place is simply described as depressing. Hobbes made sporadic appearances at first, then started coming around more regularly, as I loved to feed and pet him, wishing he were my own. One day he darted in our front door when our landlord happened to be there. The landlord knew the cat had been abandoned by previous tenants and made an exception to his rules for us so we could keep it. But first I had to give the cat a bath – a miserable experience for us both. Then, a huge fan of the comic strip “Calvin and Hobbes,” I gave him his most appropriate name. From that day, he slept with me, purred when I was sad and cuddled on top of my text books as I studied through high school (I practiced French by talking to him). He was my “puma cat.” My man. My buddy no matter what.
Nattie was about 4 months old when Hobbes died. I had started a new semester at college when my mom called to tell me how she had come home from work to find Hobbes lying in a corner, dying a painful, mysterious death. His health hadn’t been the same since I’d been gone. In a way I felt like he knew I was busy with other things in my life and that it was time for him to move on. It still grieves me to think about. No matter how much I wished I’d taken him with me, Nattie was all that remained. By then, however, she was accustomed to being the outcast of the house. She was shy and skittish, and seemed to hold a memory of all the times I shooed her away from Hobbes. Our relationship has grown closer, though, through the years.
Last week I house-sat for my mom, taking care of Nattie and the dog, Zoe. Nattie is a spoiled princess these days. And Zoe is a jealous bitch, which makes for an interesting love triangle. Nattie will go outside on her own but she will only come inside to her food if someone steps out, picks her up and carries her in – no matter how hungry she might be. She purrs and meows at the slightest touch, almost with a quality of desperation. Meanwhile, Zoe expects all the attention all the time. Even after a 20-minute belly rub, it drives her nuts that I would pause to give the cat a minute of petting. So it was the other night when I came home late and sat down on the kitchen floor to give the animals some time they deserved. It was a rare moment when I managed to cuddle up with both simultaneously, each tolerating the other just enough because my love was enough. I felt like a pimp-master juggler, happy to have such a good furry family. However, I still feel like there is something I’ll never be able to give Nattie; all I can do is pet her as best I can when Zoe isn’t around to notice.
Derek Franz’s column appears every other Monday in the Post Independent. He can be reached at rockgripper8000@ yahoo.com.
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