Today our cat Louis Wu died. He had cancer in his throat that could not be reasonably treated. As his condition declined we made the decision to put him to sleep.
I acquired Louis back in 1989. My then-boyfriend Bruce had just lost the cat he grew up with and he had a fierce desire to have another cat. I did not want a cat. We were college students. How would cats fit in with our college lifestyle? We'd have to find apartments that allowed pets, and those were a bit hard to come by. But Bruce was insistent. He found a couple whose calico cat has just had a litter of kittens and we went to look.
Anyone who has ever fallen under the spell of a tiny kitten knows what happened next. All thoughts of not wanting a cat were vanquished by the powerful magic that is a kitten.
There were two nearly identical gray guys, and we quickly decided that we'd take them both and we each named one. Bruce named Abbie after Abbie Hoffman, and I named Louis Wu after the main character of my then-favorite novel Ringworld. As kittens and young cats, they looked so much alike that we had to hold them side by side and stretch their tails up. Louis's tail was a fraction longer than Abbie.
We had to sneak them back to our housing co-op, which had a no pets policy. Eventually we moved them temporarily to Joe's place (Joe and I weren't together at that point) while we looked for an apartment that had allowed pets.
I didn't know a thing about living with cats, and I thought it completely unreasonable that they'd trawl through the kitchen garbage and I'd come home to find chewed up styrofoam chicken packaging strewn across the apartment. Or, when our old princess phone rang, they'd knock the receiver off the cradle. Or, when you sat down to eat dinner, they'd jump up on the table over and over again. Or, when trying to go to sleep, they'd pounce on your feet... So it became a common thing for me to say "Do you know what those bastards did today?" And that's how "the bastards" became their nickname.
Later, when Bruce and I broke up, he took the cats and they moved from place to place until, in 1991, Bruce told me that he was moving out of state and would I like the cats? If I didn't take them, they'd go to a friend who had a barn and they would live the life of barn cats. Being the little suburbanite that I was, the prospect of "the bastards" living out short lives as outdoor barn cats did not sit well with me. As it happened, I was moving back to the house I inherited from my father and it was plenty big enough for two cats. But I had to convince Joe.
Joe at the time did not want the cats. "The bastards" had their claws, they were a bit destructive. Anything that looked like a scratching post was at risk, like stereo speakers. He said over and over, quite strongly in fact, that if they so much as laid a claw on his speakers that they were gone. But I knew that Joe had grown up with cats of his own. I knew secretly deep down he was a big softy and he wouldn't have the heart to follow through with his threats and that Louis and Abbie would work their cat magic and have him under their charm spell.
And so it was that in May of 1991 I brought them home to our big old farmhouse... only to see them cower in a corner. Abbie started to explore by creeping along the walls, avoiding all open areas. Louis wouldn't come out of his corner except to use the litter pan. Abbie and Louis latest home had been Bruce's one-room efficiency apartment. My cats had become agoraphobic!
Well, they didn't stay agoraphobic. Even Louis came out of his corner after 48 hours, and soon they were running all over the house.
This is were they have lived ever since. Chasing mice, pestering Joe at night while he sleeps, clawing our couches, and practicing that special form of "cat gravity" by which a cat becomes immovable. We called Lou our "scientist" because he liked to knock small things off of tables and watch them fall, as if testing to make sure that gravity was still working. (If gravity ever stopped working I imagine we'd all float, but cats would simply exert their own cat gravity field to remain in place.)
Back when Louis was smaller, he used to go behind the couch. One evening, I saw him climb up the back of the cough and poke his head over the edge right behind our friend Mark. Suddenly Louis sneezed. (ha-choo!) There was a look of panic on his face and then he dropped down behind the couch right as Mark jerked around to see who had sneezed in his ear. But to Mark's complete bafflement there was no one behind him!
Louis Wu had a very long thin tail, and he was very proud of his tail. He used to walk along the back of the couch thwacking his tail against the wall, the windows, and people's heads. THWACK! He'd get his hip into the action like a good aikido-kai, and the whole window would vibrate. Friends would flinch as that tail landed against the backs of their heads. We think he got a bit of arthritis in his tail in the past year or two because he stopped twacking things with his tail at every possible opportunity, but he'd still do a light one now and then just to let you know that the tail was there.
Louis and Abbie are both indoor cats, though I'd let them out to eat grass by the back door. Abbie once spent an entire night outside, and we found him cowering by the well house in the morning. Last summer, at the grand age of 17, Louis decided that we didn't let him outside nearly often enough and he learned to slip unnoticed as when people came in or out of the house. During one BBQ we and our guests had to comb the yard looking for him after we realized we hadn't seen him for over four hours. We found him hiding in the bushes on the north side of the house. He got so good at escaping that we had to lock him up in the cat carrier during our Holiday Party when we knew that there was no way he'd be in the house by the end of the party after 80-some people had come and gone during the night.
Lou loved playing with water. One day he was sitting on the edge of the tub dabbing his paws in the water while our then-housemate Michelle took a leisurely bath. Abbie snuck up behind him and when Lou had his back turned, Abbie stood up on his hind legs and (WHAPPPP!) knocked Louis into the water. Apparently Louis had hardly a drop on him, but Michelle had claw marks running down her body. (Ow!) Lately he developed a preference for drinking running water, and any time one of us went into the bathroom he would dash ahead of us and jump up on the sink and beg to have the faucet turned on. He also loved to lick water off the walls of the bathtub, and in the last few months had even taken to jumping into the bathtub while we were taking showers.
As he got older, Louis became more mellow and more sociable. He used to hide when people came over, especially strangers, but in the last few years he had taken more and more to hanging out with people. He could be incredibly obnoxious, and he could panic easily (which meant the claws came out, and anything or anyone in the way got to experience the claws), but he was at heart a very sweet little guy.
At the end he still managed to pull one last trick. He had a habit of stealing people's seats, and he had a few favorite spots he liked to steal. If you were sitting in one of those spots and then got up briefly, when you returned you'd likely find your seat occupied by Louis, looking all the world as if he had been there for hours. On this day of his death, he was lying on the couch. We kept thinking that he couldn't possibly have any more energy to move, but Lou kept surprising us. Joe got up, and when he returned he discovered that Louis had moved down the couch and stole Joe's spot.
We love you Lou. See you on the other side.
L & J