Since beginning this little blog a year and a half ago I’ve written too many obituaries. None were as difficult as this one.
Haley didn’t move in with us so much as she announced herself queen and completely took over our home and hearts. She was oblivious to the rejection of her previous owners, who returned her after discovering her heart murmur and bad teeth. Following a stint at a pet store without sale, her breeders offered her free to me, but warned that she might not live past five years old. A tiny ball of blonde fluff soon arrived, and proved false all predictions of her early demise. In fact, she lived well into her 16th year while none of her relatives lived past 15.
The details of her 16+ years with me are many. As a kitten, Haley laid in the middle of the living room on her back, secure enough to expose her tummy whether we were alone or when crowds of noisy children played all around her. Most nights she slept on my head, and enjoyed chewing my hair following a bleach foil. She couldn’t meow, and instead would peep, bird-like, and bleat “ack” during amorous moments. She purred especially loud when T rubbed her shoulders. She answered to Haley, Doris, or Zsa Zsa. She didn't much care for leaving the confines of the house, but she squeaked with pleasure when given fresh catnip from the garden.
Petite Haley wasn’t a big eater, but when asparagus, spicy Thai food, or salty cheese sauces found their way into the kitchen, it was nearly impossible to keep her from stealing food off our plates. One summer evening we worried as she vomited pink foam. Had she swallowed something dangerous? Was she poisoned? Bleeding internally? A trip to the emergency room and a $300 x-ray confirmed that Haley probably just “tasted something she didn’t care for and was simply spitting it out.”
Haley regularly avoided physical trauma regardless of the precarious situations she found herself in. After a fall from a two story window, we raced to the backyard only to find Haley sitting calmly in the grass waiting for us to retrieve her. T threw a football in the house and accidentally hit her in the head. The football weighed more than Haley, and she was stunned but then trotted into his arms, happy and affectionate as always. A few summers ago she escaped the house through an open sliding glass door. T frantically searched for her in the yard, and finally realized that she was following directly behind him as he repeatedly circled the house.
She inspired many works of art, including a cartoon series I developed with a friend and a number of my best short-short stories. As a child, my daughter did this needle point of kitten Haley, and it is one of my most cherished possessions.
Our niece called Haley “The Marmot,” and drew both our cats into scenes based on famous artworks and Disney movies (imagine Olive as the Mona Lisa, or Haley as Beauty and Olive as Beast). My favorite is this one, with Olive playing the unlikely role of the Virgin Mary, and Haley starring as Baby Jesus.
Haley also made an impression on my mom’s dog, Lexi. Lexi loved the smells that hid within Haley’s cotton fur, and nothing pleased her more than pushing her long snout into that fur and taking deep pleasurable sniffs. During one of Lexi’s visits, we couldn’t find either animal. They were sleeping together in our bed, gentle giant Lexi laying next to tiny vulnerable Haley; cautious but obliging friends. I imagine Lexi greeted Haley on the other side, with Lexi acting as Haley’s guide and buddy.
Who could predict that a goofy little five pound cat would change and improve our lives? T always claims that Haley was the most good-natured pet he’s ever known. And she was beautiful. We learned last week that Haley was nearing the end. I spent those final days memorizing the soft peak of her forehead and the touch of her whiskers against my skin. The house is empty now, without her sweetness to balance our snips and snarls.