On 5 November, right before my birthday, my cat Twitch died. It's been a day shy of one month since it happened, and I'm still having difficulty with it. This has felt like a season of loss on a number of fronts: my paternal grandfather is suffering from the effects of advanced age, which has created difficulty for my father; several close friends are undergoing significant personal upheaval; projects I wanted to do well have not been the professional boon I'd hoped; my runs on several series that I've had extended tenures on have ended.
The last few months have forced me to say good bye to a lot of things. So, forgive me the rank sentimentality; it's been a sad time.
Twitch wasn't young; my best reckoning puts him at between 18-20 years old. He was a shelter rescue, and the shelter had no exact record of his age. But he's been part of my life for almost two decades, and his absence has been keenly felt.
Before adopting Twitch—so named for his dual habits of shaking his tail like a rattlesnake when he was happy, and for his tendency to smash catnip toys into his face like a lunatic—I'd never had a cat before. At the shelter, it was a toss-up between Twitch and a massive orange tomcat (probably 10 years old) that had become a favorite of the people at the shelter. I chose pretty wisely, it seems.
We brought him home, and he ran around like a lunatic, exploring everything, climbing up the wooden support beams in our upstairs loft and crouched in the rafters overhead, which soon became his favorite perch.
I was reluctant to let Twitch run around outdoors, as the neighborhood we lived in was plagued by inattentive drivers, so we leash-trained him. He was not overly fond of the leash, but he did tolerate it for many years.
On one of our daily walks, we bumped into two small children and their mother, who recognized him as "their" cat, "Mittens." (Twitch was polydactyl, with both "thumbs" and vestigial toes between the thumb and the main part of his paw.) It seemed that our decision to leash-train Twitch was a good one; the mother told me that they had been forced to give him up because he had a habit of chasing—and catching—the school bus.
After leaving Pennsylvania and settling in Washington, Twitch continued to thrive. I'm not given to anthropomorphizing animals, but he appeared to intuit when my mood was low or if I was ill; when my first marriage ended, he wouldn't leave me alone, quietly perching near my shoulder when I sat on the couch, or sitting next to my computer when I worked at my desk—places he had ignored prior to the upheaval.
As recently as October, he seemed to know when I didn't feel well, always making a point of "checking up" on me, patrolling the area where I sat or napped on the couch.
Up until the last couple weeks of his life, he still played with toys (tail twitching with pleasure), still vocalized a specific, chirping purr when he saw either myself or my wife, still demanded his "fair share" of the bed.
That morning, he seemed fine. A little tired, and with advancing age and a thyroid burning out and requiring daily medication, but otherwise good. We'd had to relocate him to the downstairs bathroom, as he'd been having issues finding his litter box in time, but there'd been few mishaps for several days so we were contemplating restoring his bedroom privileges.
But quite suddenly, he became disoriented; hungry, but unable to swallow his food. A look in his eyes confirmed to my satisfaction that he was just too tired to hold on any longer. My wife made the vet appointment, and I was getting ready to say good-bye to my friend of nearly 20 years.
I hopped into the shower, and Gabrielle wrapped Twitch in a favorite bath-towel and snuggled with him on the couch. Within minutes, and with typical stubbornness -- he hated car rides, and the vet was about an hour's ride away -- he began to fail. Gabi and I held him as he quickly and painlessly passed away.
He was a great companion, with a scrappy, robust personality. He was funny, and stubborn, and scrappy, and grouchy, and adoring, and mischievous, and affectionate, and playful. For several months, because he required daily medication, he'd been a part-time store cat, bunked a few days a week (mostly in my office) at my wife's comic book shop so we could take care of him. He'd patrol the store, collecting his due affection from staff and customers, and my store kids adored him and treated him like their own. (The joke was one them, of course; Twitch adopted them, not the other way 'round.)
For almost 20 years, Twitch was a constant presence in my life, and a good pal, and I miss him terribly.