The summer after I graduated from college, I lived with my boyfriend and one of my best friends, working and living in the same place I’d been for the last four years with some of the people I’d come to love most in the world. Then the summer ended, my boyfriend moved back to Texas to finish graduate school, and I moved to west Philadelphia to begin graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania.
I lived in a 450 square foot studio apartment at the top of a hundred year old building in a neighborhood where I could quickly walk to class, but had to be careful not to walk after dark.
I hated it.
I enjoyed class and the my new friends and the Boston Market half a block away from my front door that always had warm cornbread. But I found myself blasting Barenaked Ladies’ “Hello City” over and over again in my tiny apartment where I couldn’t even open the oven door the whole way. “Hello city, you’ve found an enemy in me, hello city, hello city.” Damn Philly.
That’s when the panic attacks started. The first night I experienced one, I was pretty sure that I was going to die or possibly hurl myself out of my tenth floor window. It was terrifying. Ironically I was studying psychological services, so it was easy enough to open my DSM-IV and read about generalized anxiety. It was not so easy, however, to get over missing my boyfriend, my friends, my family, my adopted home city of Washington, D.C. I called my parents who felt helpless two hours away, and while they talked me through those horrible nights, my dad formulated a plan. He would find a way to add to my life two of the things I loved and missed most – music and a companion. I headed back from winter break with a keyboard and a kitten.
Tigger was found on a Pennsylvania mountain along with his three brothers and was given a chance at life by the lady who owned my hometown’s dry cleaners and happened to have some spare rooms at the back of her building. My dad knew about the kittens and took me to visit them while I was home for Christmas. Three of them were absolutely crazy. Two I immediately named Schizoid and Schizotypal. The third tried to climb my ponytail. But the fourth one walked away from the fray and stretched out against the door, soaking up the cool air flowing in from outside. The owner was calling him Tyson because of his huge paws. I kept the T, renamed him Tigger, and a couple days later packed him up to come live with me at 39th and Chestnut.
Our first night was rough with Tigger howling, crying out for his brothers. Sometime during the night he gave up and climbed into my bed. My waist-length hair was piled up on my pillow and he took comfort in curling up in it, close against my head. From that moment I think he realized that he had it made. Living with this crazy girl in her crazy city was going to be far better than that room behind the dry cleaners. He made himself at home and together we survived graduate school and west Philly.
The next fall we moved from Philly back to D.C. where Tig had to get used to living with the Texan. He was willing to share me, but never gave up his place in the bed snuggled next to me. From that apartment we moved to our first house where Tigger laid next to me on the cold bathroom floor while I was sick with my first pregnancy, his warm fur comforting me. He let me sob into his fur when I got the call that my college roommate had ended her life. He stayed in bed with me on days when I was too sick to get up.
He moved with us to our second house when I was 5 months pregnant, claiming his spaces in our new home as easily as before, rolling with life’s changes. When I left the hospital two nights after giving birth to my daughter two months early, he was waiting for me when I walked into that home heartbroken, no baby in my arms. He let me hold him every night and cry while I waited three long weeks to bring my child home. And when we brought her home, he welcomed her, stood guard over her, loved her as he loved me.
He was there next to me for all of those crazy and sometimes lonely baby days, hanging in there when we added another crying baby to the family just as we were starting to get that first one trained. Tigger embraced him just as he had her.
And suddenly those baby days were over and I started this blogging business. There he was, with me through the next step of my journey. Just as he sat next to me and helped me get through graduate school, he stayed by my side as I figured out what it meant to be needed less by my children, to have the freedom to build something that was all my own. He transitioned to the office cat and for the last five years, we’ve sat together at the computer every day.
You can assume that every time I’ve written a blog post in the last five and a half years, Tigger was nearby. That during every Twitter party, he was on or near my lap, his paws reaching out to rest on my typing hands…
About a year ago I found a lump in Tig’s neck. It turned out that he was extremely hyperthyroid. We gave him medicine twice a day, increased it when needed, and tried to keep his aging body strong. Last fall I returned from the Type-A Parent Conference in Atlanta to find that Tig had stopped eating. I spent the week on the floor with him in a pile of towels. I bathed him and talked to him and held him and begged him to eat. When I watched him take his first bite, I broke down in tears of joy. It seems that every week since then has been a roller coaster as we’ve battled one twist and turn after another. Then MLK, Jr. weekend I found a new growth.
Last Thursday I took my Tigger to the veterinarian to hear what I already knew, that this new growth was getting worse, that it would require surgery. His thyroid was no longer under control and also had a new growth. His body was tiny, weak, aging. He purred in my arms, nuzzled my ear, rested his forehead on my chest, closed his eyes. He was happy in my arms and always would be. But he was no longer well and never would be again.
I stayed with him until the end. I had my hand on his head as he took his last breath. I touched those beautiful, big paws one more time, felt the fuzz on his once strong chest, the fur on his tummy. And I let him go, this beautiful companion who saved my life so many times, who shared my life for fourteen years.
I thanked him, and then I let him go.