Last month I lost my best furry friend, Thumper. He was pretty much everything to me, so his passing was heartbreakingly difficult. When the vet took him from my arms one last time, she begged me to consider getting another cat someday. In the moment, I couldn’t imagine loving another cat, but I acknowledged that, maybe after an extensive amount of time to grieve and heal, I wouldn’t be able to stop myself.
And then I spent a few days at home.
And it was quiet. Too quiet.
There was no sound of paws padding across the hardwood floor. There was no cat waiting at or near the front door for me to walk in at the end of my day. There was no critter to tell me that there was insufficient food in his dish, or too much poo in his litter box. There were no cuddles, no nuzzles under my chin, no paws to hold, no motorboat purrs.
I started losing my mind almost immediately. I am a person who needs a critter to love and care for; it’s an integral part of who I am.
So, a few days later I walked into San Francisco Animal Care and Control and met some cats. I wasn’t expecting immediate results, but I figured it couldn’t hurt to visit with some animals and give them some play time and love.
I met several kittens that day. They were all adorable. I wasn’t feeling terribly well, and I was a little overwhelmed by all of the animals. Being who I am, I felt immediately guilty for not being able to give all of them homes. And I did not connect well with any of the kittens I had met. So I was ready to go home, when the volunteer who was helping me pointed out a slightly older black kitten. “What about this one?”
I shrugged. Well, if nothing else, he matched my wardrobe. So I allowed her to usher us both into the get-to-know-you room and sat down on the floor as she came in with the carrier box. She opened the top. And I knew somewhere between 45 and 60 seconds that this was my cat.
Unlike the rest of the kittens she had brought in for me, he needed no help getting out of the box. He hopped right out and strutted about the room, tail straight up, full of fucking swag. He cased the room, and then checked me out. When I reached for a toy, my foot shifted and he pounced on it. When I grabbed him, he didn’t object, and when I flipped him onto his back and rubbed his belly he merely grabbed my hand with both of his paws and purred.
When I was finally able to pick him up from the shelter (thank you, Tristan!), it was pretty clear that he knew I was his human, too. The cuddles were immediate, and he followed me from room to room. That first night, as I lay in bed, he curled up beside me, wrapped his paws around my arm, and purred, occasionally stretching to lick my nose.
It was as if he knew how badly I needed those cuddles.
So now I have this kitten. He is made of love and purrs and headbutts and a willingness to burrow under my chin and a love of hugging my hand when I pet his belly and of gently tapping me on the face to get my attention at 5am.
To paraphrase my friend Valerie, nothing will fill the Thumper-shaped hole in my heart, but having this little guy curl up in it is a huge comfort.
Also, he does this:
I love my Monster.
(For hot and cold running pics of an adorable kitten, you can follow me on Instagram.)
This is Thumper:
He has been my best buddy for fifteen years. In the last few days of those fifteen years, I have watched Thumper go from older, but still moderately spry, to weak and wobbly. Or rather, it feels that way; it’s entirely possible that this has been creeping up and I’ve been willfully ignoring that motion in the corner of my eye. I don’t know.
Our last trip to the vet left me feeling optimistic. She couldn’t believe how old he was. His teeth, ears, coat, weight—everything suggested that he was several years younger than he is.
Now he sits in front of me, swaying back and forth as he tries to maintain balance and not have his paws slip out from under him.
Now he’s lost significant weight, and the joke that he’s really all just fur and fluff is becoming less of a joke and more of a truth.
Now he doesn’t jump down from things so much as fall as strategically as he can, and it really makes a difference to him when I help him up to or down from my bed, which is less than two feet off the ground.
Now he feels almost impossibly fragile when I pick him up.
And I am fucking wrecked over it.
I know that one of the things we sign up for when we bring home our four-legged friends is a life span that is far shorter than
ours. I get that, intellectually. I understand that we don’t get to have them forever, no matter how well bonded we are. But that doesn’t make the thought of losing the best friend I have had for almost 15 years any easier, as it turns out. That doesn’t make me feel any less like my world is going to fall apart a little bit when it is time for him to go.
Note: if any of you feel the need to tell me how lucky I am to have gotten so much time with him already, please shove it somewhere dark and mildly uncomfortable, okay?
Thumper is the closest thing to one of Philip Pullman’s dæmons I will ever find in this world. While he may not be the metaphorical embodiment of any soul I may or may not have, he still knows me better than any creature on this earth and has been there for me through more heartbreak, tragedy, loss, depression, loves, victories, and achievements than anybody else in my life.
He knows when I am hurting, or sad. He knows when to walk up to me and shove his head against my side until I drag him onto my lap, or when to rest a giant mitten paw on my leg to tell me he’s right here. He knows when I need him to butt his head against my chin and purr for me, endlessly. He knows that when he walks up to me and yells at me that I know exactly what he is yelling about even if I pretend not to. He knows that if he catches my eyes, we will spend minutes just gazing at each other. He knows that if I walk through or out of a room, and I see him reach out for me with one of his massive paws, I will be unable to resist giving him the cuddles he is requesting. I know that when I put my face in his face, I will be rewarded with a kiss or nuzzle to my forehead. I know I can bury my face in his big white soft belly and all he will do is purr.
In human years, Thumper is about 80 years old. I don’t know how much more time I have with him. Might be a while, yet. Hell, we’ve been expecting each Christmas to be my friend’s cat Elliot’s last Christmas for years, but he has clearly made a deal with Death or made friends with a voodoo priest because that fucking cat is apparently not going anywhere until he is damn good and ready. So it’s possible that I have years left with my cranky old beast of a cat.
I have spent the last 15 years telling him he has to live forever, like I was casting a spell on him through sheer force of love and will. But I’m no magician.
I’m pretty sure Thumper got all the magic.
Reading many of the #YesAllWomen posts from most of my female friends, one thing comes repeatedly to mind. It’s from a radio interview Marisa did in regard to being a female motorcyclist in the Bay Area.
During the interview a man called in with so much hatred towards motorcyclists, it was terrifying. He even went so far as to promise that any time he sees a rider in his side view mirror he tries to “put them into the guard rail” and that he hoped all motorcyclists died horrible, painful deaths.
This is as close as I can come to understanding that feeling of what it’s like to be female in this society. EVERY TIME I RIDE, I think about that guy on the radio and remind myself that he—and many others like him—are behind the wheel of some of those cars I ride past every day. I will never know who those people are until it’s too late, so I always treat every driver like they’re that one guy I heard on the radio that day, vowing to kill us all.
It doesn’t matter to me at all that most drivers don’t think that way. I only care about the 1 in 100,000 who does.
The kicker to my analogy is this:
I can stop riding my motorcycle any time I want.
Women never get to stop being female. (Not that easily, anyway.)
Thanks to all of you who have been brave enough to share your experiences thus far and those that will in the future. It has been enlightening, even for those of us who are trying to be the good guys.
Ben Davis is a SF/Bay Area web developer and 12-year veteran motorcyclist. Ben has appeared on ABC News 20/20, The Wayne Brady Show, and in the National Enquirer—for reasons you can’t possibly imagine.