I met Isabel in the Fall of 2007. It’s a long and intricate story, but let it suffice to say that my beloved cat Matthew had just passed on in May of that year, and I was devastated. He disappeared (and after several months, was presumed dead) after over six years of successful cohabitation, and his absence left a gaping wound in my already fragile heart region. He had been with me through everything. I found him in a Walmart parking lot in the summer before my junior year of college, and his generally piss-poor attitude had helped me weather many a tough situation, including when we evacuated New Orleans together for four months in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. He was a tough little bastard who shat in my laundry pile, yowled for food/open doors/whatever-the-hell-else-he-wanted, and put me to sleep every night by pressing his damp nose under my right ear and purring me into oblivion. I would often awake to find him sleeping beside me, paw slid into my outstretched hand. He was what we Southerners call ‘honery’, but infinitely lovable all the same.
When Matty disappeared, I kept up searching for quite some time, but assumed the worst. I’m not religious, but I prayed desperately for his safe return, and protection wherever he was. He was an indoor/outdoor cat, and I learned my lesson about the dangers of that lifestyle the hard way. He always came home, and an hour late was not his M.O., so it seemed obvious after a week that he was dead, body or no. My friend Trin and I were getting ready to move to a new apartment in a nearby neighborhood when he left, and that was a stressful time, searching every day down the nearby streets, putting up signs, checking Craigslist compulsively every few hours. There was never to be news, even though I kept up the search in the coming months.
After we moved, I was frightened of being alone. Our new house was built around 1900, and we lived in the attic. It was spooky by nature, and my disposition is such that I’m naturally afraid of dark, old places, as well as being sensitive to energies. Though I didn’t want to alarm Trin, I was convinced that the house had some bad energy attached to it, and if she wasn’t home I’d shut myself in my room until she arrived. Years later, I found that she had felt the same way, and tried to never be in the house on her own, either. When Matthew was around, I had felt more secure in situations like this. His presence calmed me, and being alone in my grief, in a haunted house, no less, was making me a little more batty than usual. A couple of months went by, and I realized I couldn’t live without a furry companion any longer.
I was still searching for Matty every day on Craigslist, and also half-heartedly looking for a kitten to fill the void he had left. It had to be a brown tabby cat, like him, and definitely a male. One day, someone posted an ad for a brown tabby kitten. I responded to see if it was male, and the person said it wasn’t, so I gave my regrets and moved on. A few days later, the same person posted an ad about a brown tabby kitten, this time saying that if no one picked it up that day, it was going to the pound on the morrow. This raised my hackles to no end, and I responded that I’d take her. On the drive over to pick the kitten up, Trin and I talked about her plans to also get a kitten, and decided that if she did, she could have this female kitten and she’d find a male for me. We walked into the house with the idea that it was a rescue mission, and found that we were more right than we could have known. The people who had found the kitten had actually found an entire litter of kittens and their mother – all feral. The kittens were about two weeks old, and since the mother was too tough to handle, they took her to the pound immediately. The kittens were all given away within a day or two (hopefully they survived), but the runt of the litter remained, too sick and tiny to appeal to anyone other than a bleeding heart like me. I came to the house expecting a weaned kitten, a cute little roly poly bundle of fur. Instead I was handed a tiny, weak, sickly thing that fit into the palm of my hand. She was living on milk and moist dog food, her eyes were runny, and she smelled AWFUL. I fell in love immediately. On the ride home, Trin asked if I still planned to give her the kitten. I was probably a bit more gruff than I should have been when I said “Absolutely not.” Luckily, she loves me and realized I had already fallen hard for the new baby in my life.
Isabel was named after Isabeau, one of the main characters in Ladyhawke, one of my favorite films. She grew to be just as beautiful as her namesake, with large jade green eyes (they started out blue, later changed to rust brown, and finally turned green about two years ago) and delicate features. When she started, though, as cute as she was, I never expected her to be a beauty. Over the first month, she ate lots of banana-flavored medicine to cure her of the bacterial infection that left her gassy enough to clear everyone out of a room. I’ve never smelled anything so disgusting, and she was so tiny! As a baby, her favorite spot to sleep was directly under a person’s chin, and as soon as she relaxed, she’d start farting. It was unholy, and uproariously funny for those who were lucky enough not to be her target. It was hard to be angry at such an adorable little baby, though, and that was good, because as soon as she felt better she began to come out of her shell. For the next year she was a tiny terror, attacking ankles, climbing drapes, killing furniture (and bugs – she’s a great hunter), scratching, and being generally awful to just about everyone but Trin and me. She also killed most of Trin’s beautiful house plants, which was a cause for entertainment when the plants began to slowly migrate up the wall to see how high they’d need to go before the cat couldn’t get to them. The answer: she’s the world’s foremost house plant hunter – they never stood a chance.
Now she’s older, wiser, and immeasurably calmer. She’s still a little bite-y, but mostly just sleepy and affectionate. She loves kisses, and rubbing faces, and we often say ‘I love you’ from across the room by slowly half-closing our eyes at each other. At least that’s what I’m saying – she’s probably just blinking, or perhaps planning how nice it will be to smother me in my sleep. During her first year with me, she took a shine to a particular type of mouse toy with a fabric body and white rope tail. She gets them in sets, and plays with the green and blue ones often, hoarding the pink ones away to drag out and maul on special occasions. She’s a crackhead for cat treats, but only the crunchy ones, and loves nothing better than being covered with a blanket or towel and roughed up a bit. She has a very particular meow, plaintive and drawn-out, that makes her sound like she’s being punished or highly annoyed, and she issues it very often. Just after she releases her bitchy meow, she begins purring heavily. Like her mother, she’s not truly content unless she’s had a chance to do some kvetching.
Best of all, Isabel/Miss Isabel/Izzy/Izzy-graniada still likes to sleep with humans, and with me in particular. Sometimes she still curls up under my chin – all 9 lbs of her. Most of the time she stretches out along my side. Every now and then, however, she curls up with her cool little nose pressed just under my right ear, purring me to sleep – and that odd little bit of synchronicity is how I know that prayers do get answered, after all.
(Note: I now have two cats, and both are microchipped and are indoor-only cats. The average life of a feral cat is 2 years, and the average life of an outdoor cat with an owner who provides regular vet care is anywhere between 3 and 5 years. Meanwhile, the average life span of an indoor cat that receives regular vet care is anywhere between 13 and 17 years. My grandmother’s last 3 indoor only cats have lived to be 21+. I have friends who have outdoor only cats, friends who have indoor only cats, and friends who have indoor/outdoor cats. Everyone has their own reason, and as long as your cat is happy and well cared for, that’s the best any creature (including a human) could ask for. However, if you haven’t thought hard on this issue, please do, for your cat’s sake – and your own.)