Maybe this will sound a little pathetic but my best friend is a cat.
Okay, I’m not the most sociable critter in the world but I am not entirely friendless. Nonetheless I think I can say without hesitation that the best friend I will have in this life is 11 pounds or so and is currently curled up on my lap. His head is partially buried in one paw. He lies where he always lies on my lap, with his head on my left thigh and his paws nestled up toward my belly.
His name is Sprite and he’s been my best friend for at least 16 of the 18 years he’s been alive. We bonded shortly after he and his sister Squeaky came home from the Doktor’s Pet Center in Tysons Corner, Virginia in January 1987. In the beginning our relationship was a bit challenging. He had claws and he used them instinctively. This frequently meant his jumping onto my lap and embedding them in my thigh. For about a year I would not let him on my lap until I had first a blanket on my lap.
So Sprite required a little training but he was as good a pupil as a young cat could be. I wanted a lap kitty but at first he was a bit skittish around people in general. So I petted and praised him all the time, and made sure I gave him extra affection when he was on my lap and not sticking his pincers into me. He still gets it wrong sometimes. Fortunately I am now better at keeping his nails trimmed so it is less of a problem. As a kitten he could not sit still for nail clippings.
In fact Sprite and I are now perfectly bonded. We understand each other intuitively. I know exactly where to stroke him to make him happiest. He knows instinctively when to sit on my lap and when to leave me alone. When he wants to sit on my lap he only rarely demands to be on my lap. Rather he petitions very politely. He comes next to me and I hear the roar of his purr motor. I look down and see his wide glass-like eyes petitioning me. I can hear him in my brain: “Can I please sit on your lap, Daddy?”
When he was younger and more agile I would slap my hand on my thighs a few times and he would normally understand the signal, jump on my lap and move into the lap position. At 18 though he has cataracts. Only occasionally can work up the courage to jump on my lap. Sometimes he succeeds and sometimes he doesn’t. When he misjudges he falls awkwardly back and I have to catch his fall. Fortunately he has me well trained. I look down and coo, “What’s the matter sweetheart?” and he gives me a silent meow. And I pick up his 11 pounds and awkwardly put him on my lap. He of course has to move into his special snuggle lap position. And there he settles in for a long couple hours of purring, sometimes sounding like a motorboat engine. At other times his purr is barely perceptible. His eyes open half wide most of the time. He gives me a look of complete and utter adoration. But after a while he seems content just to bask in my warmth and love and enters a dreamy sort of trance-like state, not quite asleep but not quite awake either. He seems hypnotized. The longer I stay on my chair (I am usually in front of the computer) the more he likes it. It breaks my heart (and his) sometimes to have to get up to attend to other things.
Sprite knows to trust me completely. I will never deliberately hurt him and when I stroke him I always stroke ever so gently. I stroke over his bat ears and they twitch with an autonomic response. He likes a scratch under his chin or along the side of his face. I can play with his paws and pull on his nails and he doesn’t mind. He just purrs louder.
On rare occasions he will let me give him a belly rub. He likes any form of affection but it is still difficult for him to be that vulnerable in that way. He doesn’t usually mind being picked up and dragged around. And he’s quite unusual in that he doesn’t mind being cuddled. I can pick him up like a baby and cradle him in my arms. It’s a bit uncomfortable for him but he does enjoy it, and his little purr motor cranks up to high volume.
We should let him sleep on the bed with us now that his sister is gone but we maintain the habit of having a cat free bedroom during our night hours. Nonetheless I often find him on the bed when I retire, waiting for some last minute petting and stroking. If I read in bed he will come right up in my face. Sometimes I have to push his rear down to tell him “That’s close enough, son”. And I do call him “son” all the time. I don’t have a son of my own. I have a daughter I love very much, but it’s too late to have a son. He will have to do.
And what a great son he is! He likes whatever I am into. But he also knows when I’ve OD’ed on his presence and will find a nice corner to go to sleep in.
Sprite has always been an indoor cat. He gets out on the screened in deck when the weather is nice, but is never let out to the wild. He was neutered young so he never lost his childhood voice. But he doesn’t speak much. He believes in the silent meow and the use of Bambi eyes to get his needs met.
He loves us all dearly but without a doubt I am his favorite. He misses me when I am gone. He waits for me to arise on the landing outside our bedroom in the morning, and lately has been greeting me with an almost anguished “Yeolp!” It’s a sort of “I missed you! You’ve been gone so long!” along with some confusion from being a senile 18-year-old cat.
And he may be 18 but he is doing wonderfully. You’d be hard pressed to find a cat his age in better health. His coat droops a bit but he is amazingly youthful. He is as soft as he was as a kitten. He has become a very mellow cat. He is not a complex creature. He does four things. He eats. (He doesn’t mind dry food, but likes wet food a couple times a week for variety.) He sleeps. He poops. And he sits on our laps. That’s it. Mostly these days he just sleeps. He’s an old but beloved kitty.
Still, he seems so completely bonded to me that he often feels like an extension of me, and I of him. It’s like we’re one unit, not two. I have read some books that suggest we don’t bring all of our soul energy with us into a life, and that some remains behind. I have heard that some souls actually spread their energy out into two or more lives at the same time. I don’t know if I take any of this seriously, but I am so completely bonded with Sprite that I have to wonder if there is something to this. Perhaps part of me came into this world as a cat simply to keep me company. Yes, it sounds nuts but at the moment this seems wholly plausible. It fits my Occam’s Razor test: it seems the simplest and most plausible explanation because, yes, we truly are that well integrated. It is sort of supernatural.
Sprite just got a checkup. I now worry at every checkup that they will find something dreadful that means his days as my soulmate and best friend are soon to be over. But the vet says he is doing fine. He can’t see too well but he sees better than most cats his age. I can’t think of anything, even the loss of a parent or sibling, that is likely to leave me more emotionally traumatized than when Sprite dies. Some part of myself will be gone.
But if there is an afterlife he will be waiting for me patiently and he will be back on my lap again. Something like death cannot keep us apart forever. I think on some level we have always been together and always will be together. All I know is I love him dearly and I am so grateful for the 18 years we’ve had together. Every day I have left with him is precious.