Within days of moving to Connecticut in 2011, I learned that Dakin Humane Society in Springfield had adult cats (i.e. 3 years or older) for adoption. They had a cat colony room with big windows, toys, cat trees, and lots of very cute cats. I remember some of the cats, but the one I liked was on her side in a pillow on the windowsill. A tortoiseshell, or tortie, a kind of calico girl cat known for having lots of attitude. I was looking for a love bug personality and this one seemed very mellow. She curled a little and showed me her belly and started purring when I pet it. And that was that.
I don’t remember when the name “Maggie” came to me, but I picked it because something about her reminded me of Maggie from Extras — very sweet and well-intentioned but a little klutzy. I did my best to prepare my new apartment for her, because I didn’t really know what cats liked. They’re very picky about new places, so I prepared a blanket in the big closet. She didn’t have many other places to go, since my furniture hadn’t even arrived from Wisconsin at this point. If I’m remembering right, I brought anything I could fit in my car: some folding chairs, a TV, a sleeping bag, and a suitcase with all the clothes I could fit in it.
I didn’t have a carrier yet, so I took her home in a cat carrier that was like a cross between a pizza box and a briefcase. That didn’t suit her, and on the drive back she pushed her face against the top with great determination and a mighty meow and made her escape. Think Jim Carrey coming out of the backside of the fake rhino in Ace Ventura 2 and that’s pretty much the vibe.
I went to bed that night on the floor of my new apartment and let the cat get the feel for the place if she wanted, and when I woke up, I couldn’t find her anywhere. It didn’t make sense. Front door, closed, back sliding door, also closed. Windows? They might have been open but the screens were still there.
Great, I thought, how did I lose the cat?
I had to get dressed to go out and find the lost cat. I opened my suitcase and there she was, curled up on my clothes and looking a little put out by being woken up. It was such a relief and so extremely cute. First she broke out of a box, and then she broke into one by sliding through the zipper somehow.
When Jourdan and I moved house this year, we found Maggie’s paperwork from the shelter. It was like reading about a completely different cat: shy, hides when people come over, not friendly, scared of the dog and people. Maybe the shelter mixed up their forms? No, the physical descriptions were all correct, including a small, sad detail: a chemical burn between her shoulder blades.
If you knew Maggie, you know what I mean. She loved company, and she was the friendliest cat. When new people would come over, she greeted them with her big, tiny voice, lots of purring, and lots and lots of bunting her head into their hands. On one occasion, I found myself with about five or six philosophy grad students in my kitchen, crouching in a circle as Maggie went from one to the next and back around again for another go around the petting circuit as they all laughed at how sweet she was. Card-carrying dog people would ask if they could take her home. It boggles the mind that this very cat — the cat that only a few months ago, despite her arthritis, was still jumping onto the kitchen table to meet the HVAC man — could ever have been afraid of anyone. For as long as I knew her, she only ever wanted to be in a lap.
I have to talk about some things she did in the early days. First, she made air muffins. She would lie on her back in my lap and knead the air with her paws. This was also known as “reaching for the stars.” I think that phrase led to the name for another habit which we called “rising star baby”: every time she leapt onto the couch or bed, she’d meOW on her way up, and I don’t know if it was like a Doppler thing or what, but it always sounded so funny and so cute. As she got older and arthritic she didn’t do air muffins anymore because it didn’t feel good to lie like that, but she still tolerated me when I’d pick her up and hold her like a baby.
She tolerated a lot from me. It wasn’t her favorite thing to be kissed on the face or head, but she let me do it. She let me bury my nose in the top of her fuzzy head a lot, and I hope I never forget the smell of her fur. I’ll miss how much she purred and how much she spoke to us, and how loud she could be with her tiny little voice.
I loved her so much. The house seems so quiet now. It has pockets of emptiness, for example, on my pillow. When we got our dog, there was a moment where Maggie didn’t quite know what to make of the situation, so at night, she would curl up on my pillow and force me to share it with her. She made fast friends with Gemini and soon took to snuggling up to her whenever she could, but she never gave up sleeping right on my head. Part of the practice, however, involved staying on the pillow for only a few minutes after lights out, at which point she would leave and have her dinner. We believe that Maggie considered us tucked in at that point, and with the humans finally down, she could finally eat.
Without Maggie on my pillow, the bed feels more expansive, and I don’t know what to do with all the space. After she died, I’d wake up with only the top of my head actually resting on the pillow itself, as if unconsciously I felt that Maggie needed the room.
Saying goodbye was very difficult. Maggie was my heart cat, and if you know what the phrase means, then you understand. She was my best friend, and when we were together, I knew I was home. When we learned that she had cancer, a very rare kind of tumor in her nasal cavity, we had to accept that our time together was short. The cancer could not be removed and it could not be cured, only slowed, but even that treatment would have meant frequent visits to the hospital, which would have made Maggie upset. She loved meeting new people, but she hated going in the car. A few years ago we started doing laser treatments for her arthritis, and after a few trips, we gave up, because she would hide as soon as I brought the carrier out. Not wanting to put her through the difficulties of radiation or chemo, we decided to make whatever time she had left as comfortable as possible, and spoil her rotten.
Spoil her we did. She was always a good cat, the best cat in the world, but she retained a capacity for naughtiness. She learned at our new house that she could push her way through the screen door, and that there was a crawl space under the house. You could not leave her alone with ice cream, or really any plate of food. Whenever we caught her and picked her up, she’d start purring immediately. You couldn’t stay mad at her.
Maggie let us know when it was time. One day, as if a switch had been flipped, her condition worsened, and she seemed to have withdrawn into herself. The next morning, we held her in our laps and pet her as she went to sleep. A veterinarian, an unbelievably kind and gentle woman, came to our house to euthanize Maggie. When it was over, she carried Maggie away in a basket lined with blankets and flowers.
If you know what it means for Maggie to be my heart cat, then you understand how heartbroken we are. Our lives will never be the same. The empty pockets stay empty. But it’s important that everyone knows how special she was, and how she made our world better and friendlier. We are happy to miss her, because it means that we got to love her.