Friday, May 22, 2009

In Memorium

I found Keegan when he was maybe four weeks old. He was tiny, very hungry, and his back legs had already been broken and healed in his brief life. He walked on his back knuckles, and had for long enough for the fur to have been rubbed off and callouses to build up.

He fit snugly in the palm of my hand, and his eyes were still blue. I tried to give him some canned cat food that I already had sitting around, and he didn't know what to do with it. At the time, I was in college, living very close to campus, and I didn't have or need a car. Except when I suddenly very badly needed supplies to care for a kitten far too young to have left his mother.

I signed online in hopes of seeing someone I knew who lived in town. I was greeted instead with a desolate buddy list...not even the people I knew only on the internet who lived in other countries were online. I was cursing and wondering what to do when my best friend signed on, and when I asked if she'd come over right away, of course she did.

We went to Wal-Mart, because in Norman, Oklahoma, your options are very limited on grocery stores. I took the tiny kitten with me, and he kept crying. People came up to ask about him and talk about how adorable he was while a manager shadowed us, wanting badly to throw us out, but not daring for fear the crowd would lynch him or something. He finally asked if it was a one time thing, and I told him it was an emergency.

I grabbed kitten chow, canned kitten food, and cat formula, as well as a bottle. I was going to have to pay for it with loose change, but the lady in the check out line behind us had the cashier add her few purchases to mine. When I tried to protest, she told me, "I've rescued kittens before. Trust me, this is the cheap part. Just take care of him."

I tried to get him to drink from the bottle, and he'd have none of it. He wouldn't have any of it out of a bowl, either. He would, however, lap it up out of the palm of my hand.

At the time, I had another cat. Her name was Eris, and I learned all kinds of hard lessons about naming a pet after a goddess of chaos. She hated all living things besides me. I have many friends who have the scars to prove it. Hell, I have scars to prove it. I loved her, and for me (and me alone), she was a really great cat. I didn't think she'd tolerate the new kitten, but I figured I could get away with having him until I'd found a good home for him.

That first night, I was afraid to let him wander around on his own. He was tiny, my apartment at the time was treacherous for me, let alone a baby, and I was genuinely afraid Eris would kill him. So I found a big box, and I put in a blanket, a makeshift litter box, and little bowls of food and water. During the night, he woke me up because he was crying. At a loss for how to comfort him, I dropped a hand into the box. He stood up, weaving a little because he really wasn't steady on his feet, and he threw his entire body into rubbing his cheek against my hand. And I was so in love at that moment that I knew I'd never be able to give him away.

Eris tolerated him fairly well, but she was never very stable. It sounds funny, but I truly think she had some kind of chemical imbalance, like the feline version of paranoid schizophrenia. Something we can barely diagnose or treat in people, never mind animals that cant talk to us and tell us what's wrong.

When Keegan was about six months old, Eris completely flipped her lid one day. I was walking out of the kitchen, and she suddenly hit the back of my legs, ripping them open. She whirled on me, and I managed to grab a broom, which I literally had to use to beat her off of me. She kept coming after me, making the most horrible noise (recordings of it should be used in horror movies). I was trying to round her into the bathroom, because it was the only room in my apartment with a door. Eris was crouched down, getting ready to come at me again, when Keegan suddenly came charging out of nowhere and leaped on her to try to save me.

Eris was about twice his size, and not just angry, but crazy. He courageous attempt to save me was cut very short when she handed him his ass, and he wisely beat it. I'll still never forget that he charged in to save me.

As he aged, Keegan's back feet straightened out so that he did walk more or less properly. He never walked really well, and I teased him that he was the perfect cat because no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't get on the kitchen counter. He never did have feeling in his back toes. He never got a lot of exercise, and for a while I called him my basketball. Someone did once ask me if my cat was pregnant. Nope, just fat.

A friend of mine from Chicago came to stay with me for a couple of weeks once. She was terrified of bugs, and Norman always had a cricket problem while I was there. She slept on a spare mattress on the floor, and one morning, she woke up to a huge specimen crawling right alongside her mattress. Just as she was starting to freak out, Keegan walked into the room, and I said, "Get it, Keegan!" He immediately walked over, picked up the cricket, and walked back out of the room.

He loved sitting in my lap. But he wouldn't just hop in or climb in. No, he'd walk across my legs, then just stand there, waiting. I'd have to wrap my arms around him, and he'd drop all of his weight on my arms. I'd lower him into my lap, and he'd reach up, resting his paw on my chest and sometimes even wrapping his tail around my wrist.

And oh, Keegan's tail. It was like in order to make up for his gimpy back legs, he got an extra prehensile and mobile tail. We used to joke that it was a separate living organism, and like a shark, it would die if it stopped moving.

I think I became 'mommy' to him pretty quickly. I gradually let him have more and more freedom as he grew and got stronger and I got more certain Eris wasn't going to do him harm. My apartment was set up kind of funny, in part because it was actually one of four apartments carved out of this big old house. There was this extra room between the living room and the bathroom that I called the dressing room, and it was actually the one room with a door. Keegan had gotten certain enough to do his wandering without me watching all the time, and I was working on some homework when I started hearing the most piteous, frightened little meows. I got up and followed the cries into the bathroom. Keegan had made it out of the living room, though the dressing room, and into the bathroom, where he had gotten lost behind the toilet, and like all children with a flair for the dramatic, he had decided he was lost forever and was going to die alone. I turned on the light, and he saw me and immediately made this sound that has to be the kitty equivalent of either, "Mommy!" or "Thank God!" He ran to me, and for the rest of his life, he rarely spent much time in a separate room from me.

Not long after that, we were having a party. We'd decided to take over one of the lounges on campus, but I was doing the cooking and decorating. There were going to be balloons, and I took one out to find out how hard they'd be to blow up. Not too hard, I'd do 'em myself. Really hard, and I'd make everyone else do it. I blew up this big blue one, and blue was Keegan's favorite color, so he was immediately fascinated. He walked over and very delicately picked it up by the knot and trotted off with it. Keep in mind that at this time, he was still very young, and the balloon was considerably bigger than him. He got it all of the way over to the front door while I sat at my desk on the other side of the room. He was being so gentle that I figured it would be ok--and just as I decided I didn't need to confiscate it, he took a swipe at it with one paw and it blew right in his face.

He bolted across the room as fast as he could go, threw himself under my chair, then saw there with his tail wrapped around his legs, shivering.

When my friend from Chicago came to visit a year later, she happened to come during a two week span where my birthday would fall. She got up before I did and decorated my apartment and blew up a bunch of balloons. Keegan walked out of my room with me and discovered the decorations at the same moment I did. As soon as he laid eyes on all of the balloons, his tail puffed up and he ran as fast as he could into the kitchen, where he yanked open the door to the cabinet under the sink, then ran in to hide.

He calmed down after a while, and my friend took me out for dinner. She was an extremely picky eater, and wouldn't tolerate most of my usual haunts. We finally settled on Applebee's because she'd actually eat there, and the joke ended up on her. When she told the waitress it was my birthday and she wanted me to be really embarrassed, the waitress apologized and said they didn't have any birthday things, but she could give me some balloons. I didn't have to have a bunch of waiters and waitresses sing at me (and I'm sure anyone who has to do that stuff likes it about as much as the people being sung at), and I got balloons? Score!

When I walked into the apartment with helium balloons, Keegan took one look at that and you could just see his thoughts all over his face: "Shit, they can come from the sky, too?" I tied them onto a cauldron so they wouldn't hit the ceiling and set the cauldron on a table. Keegan crouched by the table to keep an eye on his mortal enemies, and every time the air conditioning kicked on, the balloons would bump against each other, and he'd cringe.

He hid in my room with me that night, and he'd more or less come to terms with them until we got up the next morning. Most of the helium had leaked out, and they were floating just above the floor, and he had another heart attack.

For a while there, I had this kitty fishing pole, and it had a green ostrich feather on the end of the string. Keegan absolutely loved that toy, and he would chase it back and forth and even do flips through the air. When he caught the feather, he'd crouched on top of it with his tail flipping back and forth.

I know cats are supposed to be color blind, and I believe Eris was, and that my other cat, Remy, is. But I swear Keegan saw color. His absolute favorites? Blue and green. If he had a choice of sitting on something blue or green, he'd take it even if it wasn't the most comfortable option. He didn't mind red, though it didn't get the same kind of preferential treatment.

He loved my little brother for reasons no one could ever figure out. When he wanted to be petted, he'd meow (or rather, squeak. He was a very quiet cat, and he made this little tiny sounds instead of full on meows), whip his tail back and forth, and head-butt your legs to get your attention. If you held a hand down for him then, he'd do the same thing he did as a kitten, throwing his whole body into scrubbing his cheek against your hand. He was standing on the far side of the back of the couch once when my brother had just gotten home from Iraq. He was standing on the other side of the couch talking, and Keegan kept squeaking at him for attention. He ignored him, and Keegan finally lowered his head and trotted across the couch to deliver a head-butt. He apparently got enough time to achieve ramming speed, because he hit so hard it made all of his fat quiver, and my brother let out a yelp. But he then gave the cat the attention he wanted.

He always loved to sleep on me, and he was so thrilled when I got a queen-sized bed. There were mornings when I'd have Keegan against my side, Shika under the blanket on the other side, Itzl on top of the blanket right where Shika was, and Remy lurking at the foot of the bed.

He really preferred to be on my left side. If I was on my back, he'd curl up beside me so I could wrap my arm around him, and he'd rest his chin on my stomach and purr. If I rolled over, he'd get up and stretch out against my side, unless I had my arm around my pillow, in which case he'd want to sleep in the circle of my arm on top of my pillow. Even if that meant pressing his back against my face so I couldn't breath. Some mornings, I'd be on my back, and he'd curl up on my pillow so he was sort of resting against my shoulder, and he'd have his cheek against mine, and he'd just purr so loud...those were my favorite mornings.

It was a little hard to sleep without Shika sharing the bed. I don't know how long it's going to take before it'll feel ok without Keegan there. I think Remy knew how badly I needed her last night after I got the call about Keegan. She's normally a little distant--she likes to be in the same room, but she minds her own business and prefers if I do the same. But last night, she came onto the bed and laid down beside me for maybe half an hour.

I'll try to get this blog back on track, but I'm not going to promise I won't post more stories about Keegan as I think of them. And pictures.

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