Constant and Faithful Companion

Sasha

Sasha

Twenty-six years ago this month a sixteen-year-old gray tabby cat named Sasha lay down on our bedspread and, content with the companionship of her lifelong friend and confidante Joan, closed her eyes and purred, consented to death, and left us behind.

We’ve owned cats most of our married life. But one cat has to be the first cat. The kitten you have when you are young, live in rented apartments, and are perpetually short of money. One day in 1973, during our second year of marriage, Greg asked Joan out of the blue, “Do you want a kitten?” Prone (sometimes) to quick decisions, Greg had decided the young household of two needed a feline companion. Joan, although with no previous experience of cats, was, as per usual, game to try this idea out. So, off we went, prospective cat-owners, to inspect a litter of rambunctious kittens whose newly-arrived presence in this world had been discovered and announced by a graduate school friend of ours.

The kittens, as all kittens are, were intrinsically adorable. They readily and easily plucked those emotional chords that their domestication of our species has instilled in some of us. One of them, following some ancient feline instinct, recognized her one-and-only, her true and constant companion. She boldly climbed up on Joan’s lap, fell asleep, and the contract was consummated then and there. Joan, always a good judge of character, knew this was the one.

We were told this kitten was a male. Of course, as first-time cat owners, we had no idea how to sex kittens. So Sasha (the diminutive of the Russian boy’s name Alexander) lived as a male for the few days it took us to take her to a vet for her first checkup. By then, of course, we (and she) were used to the name, and it stayed with her for the rest of her life.

Sasha was petite, a diminutive cat just as her name implied. She was mild and loving, with an even personality; neither of us remembers ever being bitten or scratched. She loved to have Joan hold her and talk to her. At night she slept with us in our bed, nestled usually on the pillow by her closest friend, whose long dark hair was a source of constant fascination and comfort.

Of course, she was a predator when the occasion demanded, evolutionary heiress to sabre-tooth tigers and cousin to lions. Joan still remembers the live cockroach (from one of our first university slum apartments) brought to her as a gift and dropped on her leg as she lay in bed half-asleep. And there was, of course, always the odd moth or mouse or dim-witted insect.  We remember a time when Sasha leaped high into the air to catch a housefly. With the fly still buzzing in her mouth, Sasha swallowed her prey with great satisfaction. We were duly impressed.

A few years before she died, Sasha allowed a homeless young orange tabby we were to name Goldberry (yes, Greg is a diehard Lord of the Rings fan) to move into the house. Tiny little Sasha, many years the new cat’s senior, established some house rules quickly.  She took a small chunk out of her housemate’s ear, and allowed the intrusion. Maybe she was anointing a replacement, mindful that her wayward human charges should not be without a cat to keep and protect them.

Sasha lived with us in our first Ohio apartments, in Bexley, Columbus, and East Liverpool. She moved with us into our first real house in Pittsburgh, and then later to our home in Burton, Geauga County, Ohio. Sasha, with her large green eyes, witnessed our first real jobs, our first real tragedy, and the births of our first and second children. She was with us when we were young and just starting out and stayed with us, faithful and fond, until we were homeowners and parents—grown-up people with respectable jobs.

We’ve had cats since then.  Goldberry, the favorite of our middle daughter, stayed with us for sixteen years as well. Ariel, our curmudgeonly caretaker after Goldberry passed, came in 1999, the year Greg had cancer and we feared for his life. A stray already five years old, Ariel was adopted as a token of his recovery and survival. Muffin, a beautiful Norwegian Forest Cat, was adopted and named by our middle daughter Kristyn (now, and maybe not by chance, a felinologist). Muffin ended up staying with us twelve years—until just a year ago last August when she, like Sasha, went away too soon and unexpectedly.

These faithful, constant friends were occupants of our hearts, and our children’s hearts. They provided, without particular condition or complaint, loving companionship and head butts; purring and soft fur; a languid little body in a cold bed in winter; a sleek silhouette in a window; a warm and comforting presence on a lonely lap. Now these things are gone, and we are alone. After almost 43 years of marriage it still seems strange to be without a feline companion or two. Now it hurts almost too much to love them and then let them go. Their lives compared to ours are too short by far. Sometimes in the night we think we can still hear them jump onto the bed and settle in next to us, keeping us company, constant and faithful, still.

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20 comments

  1. We have also come to view our pets as time capsules—their memory long outlasts their short lives with us. Our first kitten was an Orange Tabby and opened the door to a host of others thru the years. Thanks for the reminder.

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  2. We, like you two, have had cats our entire married life and they do indeed leave us far too soon. I miss them all. Their (generally) quiet demeanor brought a sort of calmness (and dust bunnies) to the places we shared with them. Thanks for a wonderful story. Made me think of all our funny, furry feline friends gone but not forgotten.
    Dave

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  3. My wife and I have had cats for the past 35 years. We loved them all and still think of the ones who are gone. We now have three cats who are adorable. Smoke is a gray longhair who is elusive but will sit on my lap occasionally. Mystic is a tortoiseshelll who loves my wife to distraction. Freddie is a gray and white semilonghair who is like a Ragdoll and loves to sit on my lap and sleep with me. I never want to be without a cat and will mourn the day if I am ever without one. As Whitman said, I’d rather turn and be with the animals.

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  4. I’m new to following y’all. Also relatively new to the South but obviously have adopted one of the few thing I like about living there i.e. the language. Anyway, I already kind of knew I had some things in common with you guys, and now here is one more. I was not a cat person till I met my spouse who already had Princess aka “Attack Cat” when I met him. When he took her for her final vet visit, he returned cat-less with tears in his eyes. We lost Ally a few years after we moved that poor girl from sunny So Cal, where she could liberally employ her outdoor litter box, to Nashville where she developed allergies which required administration of steroids. Just imagine a house cat on steroids! One of my many favorite sayings is: “I don’t trust anyone who doesn’t like animals.” That may be painting with too broad a brush, especially for a first impression. But, in my book, you two are good guys for at least that reason!

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  5. My daughter rescued a kitten from a parking lot when she was in high school. She left Gray Kitty with us when she went to college and veterinary school. Last month when she was in her final days with kidney disease, we took Gray Kitty back to our daughter who was able to help end her sweet friend’s suffering. It’s tough. Thanks for the nice story.

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    1. Thanks for sharing Gray Kitty’s story – so sorry to hear about your loss. You must be very proud of your daughter’s choice of profession!

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  6. Oh, dear. What a tribute, not only to beautiful Sasha, but to all your cats. I will hug mine a little closer tonight. Even Parker, who waits until my alarm goes off to decide she wants to sleep right on top of me just 5 minutes more. I am late every morning, but I wouldn’t miss snuggle time for anything. This was just lovely.

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    1. Thanks for your kind words about our post. We miss our little friends every day. We aren’t as active taking care of ferals as you are, but we have supported our daughter, a felinologist studying feral cat behavior and cat cognition at Oregon State, in her quest to improve the feral cat situation in America through research.

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  7. Since we posted “CONSTANT AND FAITHFUL COMPANION”, a stray cat named Kisa has come into our lives. (The name “Kisa” according to one source meant “Kitty” in Old Norse and seemed, we thought, the perfect moniker for her). Because we travel so much, we hadn’t planned on adopting any more cats right now, but Kisa really needed a home. She had been hanging around our daughter’s house for about a year but always ran away when approached. The end of April, however, while our daughter was working in the garden, Kisa let herself be picked up and brought inside. Turns out the poor thing was underweight and without front claws. Since our daughter already has 2 cats, we took her into our home. She is a sweet and loving cat, and we are lucky to have her for sure.

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