[Dammit, this was supposed to go up by Halloween. Oh, well – better late than never]
This is Miley.
He (and he is a he) is rapidly approaching his 8,000th birthday, a fact which I’m sure will be lost on him.
Most facts are lost on him. He has a brain the size of a walnut.
Somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 years ago, the family went Trick-or-Treating at Grandma’s house. We live out in the densely forested boonies, and so the local Trick-or-Treat options were pretty minimal.
I always hated Halloween, mostly because I hated dressing up. I was about eighteen months old when my parents got married, and for reasons known only to her, Mother thought it would be a good idea to put me in a cow suit for the ceremony. The ceremony was a beautiful, hippy-dippy sort of affair, held in the woods by a lake. In the photos, my parents are young and radiant and wearing wreaths made of wildflowers. The scenes are serene and peaceful and as fitting a set for the union of two souls as any I’ve ever seen.
I can be seen in the background, dressed like a cow, howling.
For one of my earliest Halloweens (early enough that I have no memory of it, and was stroller-bound to boot), Mother lovingly hand-stitched my costume out of raw fabric. I was a peapod. Mother still laughs when she remembers my sheer, unbridled rage at that indignity, and the way I immediately set to work tearing the fabric peas off the front of the suit and hurling them as far away from me as I could.
(I don’t mean to make Mother sound… I don’t know, sadistic, or anything. She was just a theater person her whole life, and early on was still trying to get a feel for the odd, dour little person newly arrived in her life. She figured things out, eventually.)
The Halloweens got better as I gradually got over myself. I remember one year I informed Mother in no uncertain terms that I would be going as something called “Bug Man”, the implication being that she was to divine exactly what in the hell that was supposed to mean, and then make it happen. Which she did, bless her; I dressed in a black cape with plastic bugs sewn all over it, and a mask she found at the store.
To this day, I have no idea where “Bug Man” came from.
So, anyway, we used to go Trick-or-Treating at Grandma’s house, because Grandma lived in an actual neighborhood. It was full dark, the night was over, and the family had convened for the post-holiday debrief over pie in the kitchen. I have absolutely no memory of what was talked about, but eventually everyone started looking around at the big clock on which still hangs in Grandma’s kitchen and decided to call it a night.
We were on our way out to the car, in the dark, waving back toward the house and blowing kisses goodbye, when from somewhere near at hand a woman started screaming.
I don’t remember my reaction, or anyone else’s – the blank patches in my child’s memory have been filled in by retrospective accounts, but those are scant on the kind of details I’m looking for. There’s something about that sound, though, which cuts right in past the forelobes and embeds itself in the amygdala directly. Heads snap around and eyes widen, each of their own respective volition and without first asking the ego’s permission. A woman screaming is like the hominid analogue of a hare thumping, or one of a flock of birds taking suddenly to wing; it means something has gone terribly, terribly wrong.
Mother’s unthinking response was, probably, to belt me in and slam the car door before whipping around to find out where her husband had wandered off to, but I imagine Dad did the reflexive ape thing. I imagine he straightened to his full 6’4″, broadened his chest, squared his stance and turned to face the danger, scanning the darkness with narrowed eyes (all, I would think, without being aware he was doing any such thing. Those chimp reflexes are dug in deep, ain’t they?)
My father is a gentle man. But he is (like you and I) basically an ape which has figured out how to dress itself, and he’s a large specimen of same at that. Not just height-wise – he’s spent forty years paddling against the current on top of a surfboard the size of a canoe and, rumor has it, he can rip a phone book in half. I’m inclined to believe it. Whatever was coming out of the shadows was gonna have to go through him, first.
He waited some more.
And then it came.
It, when it passed into the yellow glow of the electrified sodium vapor in the streetlight above, turned out to be two women pushing a stroller at something slightly less than jogging pace.
No, that couldn’t be right. Dad’s eyes must have slid off of the women and refocused on the darkness, scanning for target reacquisition. Muscles must have tensed in his shoulders.
It was still out there. Whatever it was.
It was coming.
And then It actually did come. I imagine Dad’s shoulders loosening, his brow furrowing, his higher brain functions reasserting themselves. I imagine him feeling slightly embarrassed. I imagine him hearing himself say, in a tired and exasperated tone of voice, “What the fuck?”
The Thing which had been chasing the women with the stroller was a tiny, orange housecat.
The women (who, in my memory, are wearing high heels and clomping along just about as fast as they could in that condition) were probably high as fuck. Regarding this story, no one has ever hinted at that to me, but I know what kind of town my dear Grandmother lives in and I know what kind of chemicals it takes to transform a kitten into a slavering beast. God only knows what ever happened to the poor kid in that stroller. I can only imagine he had a rough go at life.
The cat was just this side of kitten-hood, and bowing maybe to some latent set of instincts all his own, he abruptly abandoned his pursuit of the acid-baked stroller-pushers and b-lined right toward our car, hopped up into the passenger seat, and curled up into a ball and went to sleep.
Five minutes later, I informed my parents that I had a cat now, and that his name was Miley.
He’s in remarkably good health for being as old as he is. I attribute this mostly to the fact that we’ve always lived out in the boonies, so he’s had the benefit of living his life in mostly the same way his most distant progenitors would have done on the edges of the Sahara. He was always able to come and go as he pleased – out there, he was free to slink through the tall grass, climb trees to survey his dominion, find the most isolated corners of the forest in which to bury his turds.
And then he’d come home and curl up on my lap for the night, so all things considered, I think he’s had it pretty goddamned good.
But he is old. His hips have started to go, and when when he goes up and down the stairs he makes this bu-bump, bu-bump, bu-bump sound which is really funny until you think about it too hard. He is no longer flexible enough to lick his own asshole, which I assume to be tragic. He can’t really groom himself at all, actually, and unless I am extremely diligent with the comb he develops these grody little cat dreadlocks which I have to pick off him in clumps. Sometimes he can’t quite retract his claws, and gets stuck to the upholstery until I come over to help him escape. He has developed a habit of entering empty rooms, facing a wall, and yowling until someone comes stomping in to tell him to shut the fuck up.
That last I’m guessing is symptomatic of whatever the felid equivalent of Alzheimer’s is.
He still hunts, somehow. We continue to find mouse tails under the table in the kitchen. I still see him out there, skulking through the tall grass in the back yard with his eyes on something to which I am blind.
He wakes me up in the wee hours of the morning, and then establishes base camp on my upper chest while purring aggressively. He didn’t used to do that, but I guess I can’t really complain.
I think he’s probably not long for the world, any more. He’s been my friend my whole life whether he wants it or not, and given the fact that I ended up bawling like a fucking baby when Maggie finally went, I think I’ll probably be semi-catatonic1 for a while when he does.
Supposedly cats just wander off when they die, which I guess makes sense. They come from the desert, and the last thing any feral colony needs is the smell of rot to draw predators their way across the sun-bleached wastes. I hope that’s what Miley ends up doing, because I don’t think I could put him down.
But I really hope he makes it through this winter. The idea of him wandering out to die in the cold and the rain breaks my heart. Let him see another summer at least, so he can lay out in the sun under the trees one last time.
I think he’s earned it.
1 Oh, look – a pun. Imagine what else I’d notice if I actually edited these things, eh?