Child Asks About Bygone Cat
Small inquisitor: “What did Gertie eat? Where did she sleep? Did she have a pillow?”
Our cat Gertie died almost two years ago, on New Year’s Eve, just after Kina turned two—which, as it turns out, is just old enough to have a wispy memory of one’s childhood cat. Periodically, she will see Gertie in a picture on my phone, or in the name of a local restaurant, and ask about her. Gertie was, for much of her life, an uncommonly churlish cat who took great joy in making her owners and house visitors bleed, but she was always lovingly tolerant of her infant sister, even when Kina got to the age of tail-pulling (an indignity that Gertie had never suffered at the hands of any other human being). She slept near Kina whenever she could and would blissfully sprawl out near her while she boinged around in her bouncer. We have not told Kina that, before she was born, Gertie spent a few choice weeks hate-pissing in her new crib and stroller; we feel that Gertie atoned for that in Kina’s first few days, and we do not want Kina to hold it against her.
This morning, we answered a lot of questions about Gertie and her sleeping habits. I ended up spending a not-insignificant amount of time explaining why cats don’t need pillows and yet occasionally enjoy a blanket or two. We tried to see if Kina could remember Gertie’s little bed next to the radiator (the legendary “fat head cat bed”) or how she would feed the cat little bites of Cheerio from her snack cup—she didn’t remember any of it, which is a little comforting, in that she also doesn’t remember Gertie’s passing. Kina has never asked us what happened to Gertie; in a way, she must think of her as an ephemeral friend, her absence as notable and normal as her existence. That is, in a way, an apt expression of cathood, and we think that Gertie would appreciate how respectful Kina has been of her personal space.
I’m not sure we’re ever going to get a cat again, partly because Gertie was often a total nightmare, and it’s sort of nice to live in a house that isn’t covered in hair. Kina hasn’t started to ask about pets, which gives us a little time to consider our options. Our standing response, which we have not yet had to deploy, is that it would be a great idea for her to start a cat-sitting (or dog-walking) business. She’s wonderful with little animals, and I would hate to deprive our four-legged friends the love of a child who herself benefitted so much from the unlikely love of our otherwise incredibly horrible cat.