March 19, 2021, my husband, Judah, and I lost our sweet kitty, Max. He was thirteen years old. Barely a teenager. A year later, I find myself reflecting on his life.
Max had a difficult early kitty-hood. His sister, twin brother, and he had been found on the streets of the Bronx in the middle of December. It was freezing cold out, and their mother had left them for dead.
We believe that this exposure to extreme cold caused some neurological damage. Cats are famous for landing on their feet even when they fall from great heights.
Max, not so much. He could be walking across the back of the couch and fall off. He would shake his head to tend to an irritation in his ear and knock himself over. More than once, he ran full-speed across our bed, jumped, and face-planted into our dresser. He hadn’t jumped high enough to stick his landing.
For years, our other cat, Oliver, slept on the bed with us, but Max was off by himself somewhere. As he got older, he would sometimes sleep with us. It was as if he couldn’t tell which parts of the covers had humans under them and which didn’t. He would plod onto the bed, full-force across the terrain, fumbling and bumbling as he went.
Judah threw me a surprise party for my thirtieth birthday. The cats were a little over a year old. When we got home, I placed a gift bag, with my combined gifts in it, on the bar that separated the kitchen from the living room in our apartment.
In the middle of the night, we were startled awake by a loud crashing sound followed by mayhem.
Half asleep, we sat up to see both cats race through our room, turn-tail, and charge back toward the living room.
What in the world?!
Oliver seemed to be chasing Max. But why?
Their second lap through the bedroom brought the answer.
Max must have jumped up on the counter and was sniffing around my gift bag. He must have stuck his little head through one of the handles. Who knows if he realized this at the time or not.
When he jumped down off the counter, the bag split down the seams, dumping the contents on the kitchen floor. This was the crashing sound that woke us up.
But now, Max had a gift bag chasing him. With one handle gripping his neck and the bag split open, it trailed behind him like a cape.
Max was running for his life from this terrifying gift bag, and Oliver was in hot pursuit. Whether Oliver was chasing Max or the bag, we will never know. The end result was the same: Max was being chased by a bag and Oliver.
We caught Max and got the handle from around his neck. His pupils were fully dilated, he was breathing for his life, and he had this terrified look on his face. It was both hilarious and heartbreaking.
We tried to put collars on both cats. We lived on the third floor of an apartment building with only four units, and it was very unlikely the cats would ever get out, but we figured it was better to be safe than sorry.
Every time we tried to put a collar on one of the cats, they would freak out. Sometimes they would totally stop moving as if the collar had frozen them in place. Other times, they would thrash around as if we’d put a snake around their necks. They would paw at the collar as if they could get it off themselves.
One Sunday, the cats seemed to be getting used to their collars. They had been on for a couple of hours with no craziness. Judah and I were going to a friend’s apartment for dinner and decided we would leave the collars on for the first time while we were gone.
When we got home, Max greeted us at the door, so happy to see us.
Judah reached down to pet him.
“Ew! Ugh! Max must have gotten into the water bowl.”
Not too unreasonable of an idea. Max did love to put his paw in his water bowl.
I bent down to see what Judah was talking about only to discover that the entire front of Max was wet in addition to the tops of his front paws. The wetness had a density to it.
As I got closer, I saw that Max’s collar was in his mouth! He must have been trying to get it off and got his lower jaw stuck in the collar. Who knows how long he had been like that. The “water” down his front was saliva! He couldn’t close his mouth, so the saliva just poured down the front of him.
The casual way he greeted us at the door, we would have never known anything was wrong. Based on his body language, he seemed to have accepted that he would have a collar in his mouth for the rest of his life. He had made peace with it!
Max loved paper!
Sadly, I think we humans are to blame for this. When Max was a kitten, Judah and I would order Thai food which was delivered in a brown paper bag. We would take the food out and throw the bag on the floor for the cats to play in.
The bag smelled like yummy Thai food, and soon Max started eating a hole through the bottom of the bag. He got a taste for paper that extended beyond Thai-food-laced bags.
To visit our house, you might think we are tidy people. You wouldn’t see a scrap of paper anywhere. This is because Max had us well-trained. If we happened to accidentally leave something out, Max would find it and consume it.
One time, Judah got a paper check as payment for some freelance work. He left it on the bar in the kitchen, and Max ate part of it! Judah had to confess that his cat had eaten his check and sheepishly ask for another one.
We had a friend stay with us who left the door to her room open and her Bible on the floor. When she came back, she found that Max had digested a Psalm.
Occasionally, when we would receive a package in the mail, I would leave the box out for the cats to chew on, lay in or on, and play in. Max fell in love with an Amazon box. It remained on the ottoman in our living room for two or three years! I called it his “petting box”.
I’m not sure who trained who, but it came to be that I could tap my nails on the petting box, and Max would come running! He would climb in, and I would pet him.
Pretty simple game.
We put a bunch of his favorite toys in the box, and he would play with them from time to time. Instead of sitting on one of our laps while we watched TV, Max would lay in his petting box. With us but apart. That’s largely how he lived his whole life with us, and we cherished every moment.