There’s a way my cat likes to lie, like most tabby cats before him. Curled into an impossible croissant, his paws playfully in the air, his head tilted back and aimed towards whichever space was exposing him to direct sunlight. It’s at times the most baffling sight and also the thing that always brings me great joy. I have a photo I’ll go back to on hard days of one such moment, in an old bedroom in an old apartment in a city I can’t live in anymore. There’s a box of tissues on the bed and a mug of green tea. Out of frame, taking the picture, my wrist still has a hospital band on it from the night before. The night before being a time I admitted myself to the hospital so I would be around to see Charlie the next day.
Charlie is my exes cat. He showed up at our apartment one day after we had a conversation that went something like “I want to bring my cat to live with us” to which I answered “no” or something like “no”. The next day he was there, I came home and there he was, running around getting to know the inside of a one-bedroom apartment above a garage that we lived in. It was so small we couldn’t close our bedroom door and have a bed in it at the same time. The rest of it was just an open space, that we would discover means there’s no good space to find room for a litter box in. I was, at the time, upset about this. You’ll recall I had given my response of No or something like it before. But he was there, and that night he climbed up onto the shelf in our closet and slept on the stack of sweaters we kept out of the way in the off-sweater season. At around 3 or 4 am he decided he was done with his sweater nook and jumped onto our bed and scared the entire bejeezus out of me. Somehow, he stayed.
It took around 24 hours for me to warm up to Charlie, and another 12 for us to become close pals. My ex would lament that he was not a lap cat, or a cat that really liked to be close to people. The second night we had him he curled up next to my chest and fell asleep. It was all over, we were inseparable. A few apartments and the dissolution of that relationship later, my ex told me I should keep Charlie, he always liked me better then her, she said. So, we became bros for life. Well, so I thought.
See, a few years after that, I opted out of our bro pact, by publicly admitting something I would say out loud at night, when Charlie was the only one around to listen, like best friends do. I was transgender and I couldn’t hide nor fight it any longer. Charlie had been my confidant over the last few years as I would struggle with it, when I would stay up late at night, alone in my apartment, perusing Reddit threads and secretly reading about trans people on Wikipedia and Twitter. He knew how much I obsessed over it but never judged me, never pushed me when I wasn’t ready. He just curled up in his little croissant way and stayed by me. A constant in a sea of uncertainty.
The year that I came out was the year that my rapid decline in mental health had hit it’s worst. I was depressed, drinking too much, and spent most of my time either in bed, on the couch, or in the bath. If you could lay in or on it, that was about as much as I could muster. Still, he never judged me. He watched when he felt necessary and then go and do his own thing. Lying on top of the hot water heater was his favourite place and he would retreat here when the weight of watching me decline was too much. But then he would come and find me, meowsing his way around the apartment like feline sonar, waiting for me to call out and let him know where I was.
Meowsing is the only sound he made, but he made sure to do a lot with a little. A tabby cat that is part Siamese it’s in his nature to be chatty as, from what I am told, a lot of Siamese cats are. He would meows around all the livelong day, as if commenting on everything he saw on his journey from room to room, or if he’d been outside hunting, he of course had to regale you with his exploits. As most people that live alone with their cat, I used to sing a lot of songs to and about him. My favorite was a reimagining of the song Supersonic Rocket Ship by The Kinks, that had been changed to Supersonic Meowsing Ship. That one got a lot of play in our house.
Charlie was there through it all, he watched me move from a tall and confident person to a broken shell, going through the motions of being alive. He watched me bring a gun home, something that is remarkably easy to come by if you know the right person that also doesn’t want any questions asked. It lived in my house for a year but only came out twice. Luckily, it never fired and the night I got rid of it for good he stayed extra close to me, relieved such a destructive force was gone. He watched me come out with my truth and make the hard phone calls to my loved ones. He sat on the counter in the bathroom when I shaved my beard off, something I had the entire time he knew me. His favourite thing was to be picked up so he could rub his face in it. That first night when it was gone, he would sniff at my face, subtly enquiring as to the whereabouts of his scratching place. But he still slept next to me that night, and all nights. He watched me cry uncontrollably when my relationships fell apart, stayed with me the night I was jumped just two blocks from my house, and awaited my return when I would come home from the hospital. I don’t know why I would go to the hospital when my ideation got too much, I just knew it wasn’t safe in that house. I couldn’t go home until I knew it was clear, that the energy that was after me had left for the night. It would be back; it always came back. But I could at least get some rest in the interim.
In late January, after we had hastily packed our apartment, half-assedly painted the walls and threw boxes of stuff in my parents’ basement, I had to say goodbye to him. I was moving from the city that had been my home for almost 30 years. My plan was to get as far away from this place that was destroying me and come back for him once I had myself set up. I needed a place that was fitting for him.
A year later, 10 months of sobriety and a lot of work on my mental health later, my partner and I took a trip back home to visit my folks and grab some more boxes of my things and grab Charlie. We had this fantstic place to live, a two-floor apartment with plenty of room for litter boxes and warm places to hide. Here he would make his home anew, and meows around the hallways, maybe build a new nest on top of the hot water tank.
When we walked into the door of my folks’ place, he made his way up the stairs from the basement, where my old bed is, where he’s slept every night since I left. I picked him up and looked at my partner and said what we both were thinking.
“he can’t come back with us”
I pet him and could feel his spine and hip bones as my hands moved on his grey and black fur. He meowsed, but there was a crackle in his voice. A year had aged him, he’s in his 17th afterall, a long time on earth for any cat. I carried him around for as long as I could that night, his boney frame pressed against my sweater, he sniffed at my hair, now long enough to sit in the place a beard used to live. He pushed his face into it, trying to bring back old times. I held back every tear in my system but cried the minute I was alone. We had a week there with my family, and I planned to cherish the time we had but it was dawning on me we might never cross paths again.
And so, he slept at our feet and by our chests, waking up in the morning to meows about the room, sniffing at my partner as she slept beside me, lying down on top of her for a spell. I would watch him upstairs with my mom, she would bake and carry him around on her shoulder as she measured cups of flour and sugar. He seemed content in her arms, plenty of sun in that kitchen for an old man. We both, it seemed, had new people in our lives to look after us. The trip back to Toronto would be too much for him, a long plane flight for a human and not safe for a cat of his age.
So we left, the last night we had together as my partner was brushing her teeth I said goodbye. Hugged him close as I could and kissed his forehead and thanked him for his years by my side. In the days and months that I had felt alone, scared and unsure I always had him. He looked at me, meowsed and did his best to form his little croissant so I would scratch his belly. And then we slept, arose early in the morning and said goodbye. I hold out hope that we’ll see each other once more, but I know he’ll be safe and looked after, we all will. In our Supersonic Meowsing Ship.
Godspeed Charlie, may we see each other again someday.