Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Love, Pain and the Whole Crazy-Cat-Lady-Writer Thing

“I live in two worlds. One is a world of books. I've been a resident of Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County, hunted the white whale aboard the Pequod, fought alongside Napoleon, sailed a raft with Huck and Jim, committed absurdities with Ignatius J. Reilly, rode a sad train with Anna Karenina and strolled down Swann's Way. It's a rewarding world, but my second one is by far superior. My second one is populated with characters slightly less eccentric, but supremely real, made of flesh and bone, full of love, who are my ultimate inspiration for everything.”  -Rory Gilmore, Gilmore Girls

https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1TPxJocfPlioinWwsQSR9bBxTO31iG50z

My earliest memories of childhood include two main markers: Cats and books. There are photos of me as a baby, not even walking yet, hanging out with a large, black cat. There are others of me paging through Golden Books, examining the pages from all angles. I was raised on words and animals, on imagination and compassion. It is something I took with me into adulthood. 

I have always had a cat. I am nearly 40 years old. 

Boots appeared in my life, a tiny feral kitten whose mother had died, in my early 20s. The fluffball walked in off my dad’s porch one evening, bold as brass. Boots was sick, however, and getting sicker. He was not expected to live terribly long with a raging respiratory infection in his lungs, eyes and ears. He could not meow or trill or purr or play. I asked the vet to try to save him. I asked them to help me save him. It took more than two months of three-times a day antibiotics into a less-than-thrilled squalling kitten, but bit by bit Boots recovered. 

I remember the first time he purred. It is carved into my memory and heart. 

As a kitten, especially after being ill for so long, Boots was committed to living his life to the fullest. The vet said he likely would not live past 6 or 8 years due to the damage to his system. I said that was okay, I’d give him all the life I could while we were together. 

Boots was at least part-Siamese, though not in appearance. He was all black, tail tip to whiskers. Like a true Siamese, though, Boots was chatty and curious and whip-smart. He had a meow-baby-cry that asked where I was, a meow-ch that said he was hungry, a meow that announced he was bored, a trill that he wanted to play, an expectant purr when he wanted to be picked up, a yowl that assured he was on nightly patrol. The trills, all kinds of trills, went on all day as he’d be talking with me or narrating his day. Boots was busy and into everything - swinging from a curtain one moment and expertly navigating a ball around a set dining room table of porcelain with his paws. He liked a routine, waking me with a paw tap and loud purr and herding me to bed at the end of the day. He knew when it was breakfast time, snack time and dinner time and expected all to arrive on the tick. He favored orange catnip mice, sparklies and a tiny stuffed shrimp as his toys. We enjoyed playing hide and seek - Boots usually won. Each night, we played ping-pong with the catnip mouse. His paw-eye coordination was spectacular. 

It was Boots’ strong, engaging and charismatic personality that inspired my first middle grade novel, THE GREAT CAT NAP. He was sneaky and mischievous yet also clever and creative. I imagined what a cat like Boots would do given the situation he was a reporter or detective-in-training. What came to life were four novels (two yet unfinished) based on Ace the Cat - Boots’ doppleganger. When THE GREAT CAT NAP was published, I met cat person after cat person who read the book. Children and teens, adults and even the elderly. They loved Ace. 

They loved Boots. 



Boots, like Ace and even myself, was never entirely social or adept at parties or crowds or family gatherings. He was particular about who he allowed to see him, and very choosy about who could pet him. Many people didn’t even believe I had a cat, he was so elusive when they’d visit. There were six wonderful years Boots and I shared a senior rescue chihuahua, Lola, who was a great friend and companion for Boots and myself. We both grieved deeply when she died. 

While Boots adored my mother, and would visit and snuggle her, for 13 years, I was the only person Boots would sleep upon through the night or whose hand he would hold. The first time my boyfriend-to-be visited my house, however, Boots made a rare apperance. He scratched on his cat tree and nearly did acrobatics played string - showing off for Ryan. Engaging new people was not something Boots partook in lightly. Within time, Boots would allow Ryan to pet him. Boots would even choose to sleep on him (I admit my jealousy) and even hold his hand. When we moved in together, Boots was happy to herd us both to bed shortly before 10 p.m., share laps and hands and maybe a snack or two - powdered donuts or tiny bits of cheese and, especially, shrimp. For the first time, Boots deeply loved another human besides myself. 



Boots died last week. He was 15 years old. We were together just short of half my life, the longest I have had a companion animal. 

On his last day, we slept in - a rarity for time-managment Boots. We cuddled and he purred and held my hand. He slept on Ryan’s chest for awhile, ate more breakfast than he had for weeks. He trilled at the birds on the deck, watching them flit from feeder to feeder. He sat on my lap while I wrote about Ace the cat, as he did for all my writing about his counterpart. We napped together and watched our favorite show, Gilmore Girls.

To say I am soul-wrenched and devastated is a severe understatement. My heart is un-moored. I wander from room to room, place to place, unsure how to find my true north now that Boots is no longer here. For 15 years, our lives were irrevocably intertwined. During all that time together, Boots witnessed some of my best and worst and most vulnerable moments. Books published, my MS diagnosis, a beautiful niece born, a family member’s heart attack, writing awards, my nephew’s death and new homes and adventures. 
Boots has been one of the greatest loves, and absolute joys of my life. 

True love comes in many forms. True love stories go on and on and on. In books and in our hearts. Boots and me are a true love story. 

I have always had a cat. And even though Boots is no longer physically sitting beside me, I still have a cat. I will always  have Boots. He is safe. Inside my heart, where my other cats and dogs have gone until we can all be together again. 

"As I stare on and on into the past, in the end you emerge, Clad in the light of a pole-star, piercing the darkness of time. You become an image of what is remembered forever.” -Rabindranath Tagore

Happy Reading,
AM Bostwick




6 comments:

  1. Lovely. And heart-breaking. I am so sorry for your loss. Last week, a friend's cat, whom I cared for whenever my friend was away, also died at a riper-than-expected old age. Her name was likewise Boots. Maybe all Boots have to come and go in pairs.

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    1. Thank you <3 It's lovely to hear other cat love stories right now.

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  2. We lost both our cats within months of each other...maybe there is something to the pairs thing. Thanks for sharing this.You have so many wonderful stories of life with Boots. I hope they bring you peace and joy. xo

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  3. So sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing and your kind words <3

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  4. Wow. I love how you say it's a true love story.

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