When you foster a cat or dog and end up keeping them – instead of finding them a suitable forever home – it’s known as a “foster fail.” It’s why I don’t foster. (Give me ALL the cuddlies) But I always claimed Firefly didn’t count. Because, technically, his mom, Panda, was my foster. And she DID go on to a loving family. He just happened to stick around. And no one knew he was there when I originally signed on to take care of her. (I’m a huge fan of loopholes) Fourteen years later, as I said farewell to the most meaningful relationship of my life (apologies to my husband, but ours hasn’t lasted that long yet), I reflected on all of my protests and excuses when that striped jellybean came into the world.
As if there was ever any doubt he was going to stay and carve out a place in my heart.
Firefly was so TINY as a kitten. Panda was a slight cat to begin with, but he was small enough to fit in the palm of my hand. I pictured him as the tabby version of our Necile – the meanest little cat I’d ever encountered. (She embodied the definition of the Napoleon Complex) And he seemed to understand he was going to be her size, pouncing on her truncated tail and chasing after her every chance he got.
Once I deemed him old enough and “large” enough to venture out of the kitten box. (Though, truth to tell, the bugger figured out how to escape)
But my estimates were off. He hit his kitten growth phase and started growing. And growing. And GROWING. Before he was even six months, he’d topped Panda in length and weight. And by one year, he’d doubled her size. (Made me wince to imagine who his father must have been) He was a beast tearing through the house, dwarfing every other cat in the house.
Without a mean streak.
He loved to play and curl up with whoever happened to be handy. And while he wasn’t keen on sharing toys (as you can clearly see), he WOULD engage in games that spanned from room to room.
Usually in the middle of the night.
A Friend to Everyone
Firefly held a magical understanding of emotion. Whether it was the ache as I bid farewell to Nimue, my frustrations with an idiotic boyfriend, or the joys of work milestones, he sensed everything I tucked under the surface – afraid to reveal too much. And he came over to share those moments with me.
When I needed reassurance, he brought me catnip mice for a rousing game of fetch. (You read that right: A cat who played fetch) If I was dancing inside, he came over to clown for me so I could laugh. And in the moments when the tears collected in the back of my throat, he settled beside me until they found release.
He knew everything I felt.
And he got along with EVERYONE. (Which was more than I could say for others in the household) His easy-going attitude allowed him to engage with every feline personality that came along: aloof, boisterous, active, and even weird. (Okay, so they’re all weird)
He took everyone under his arm and reassured them they belonged. It was an ambassador position that I couldn’t have imagined a cat taking (though I was eternally grateful for his work).
He lived up to his reputation as a perfect gentleman. Regardless of who he met.
Firefly became my shadow. He knew my schedule and met me at the door. His ears somehow detected who was on the other side of the phone before I answered a ring, and he assumed proper positions on the couch – ready to commiserate or celebrate. And when I got lost in my writing, he curled up beside me, purring and radiating his approval of my work.
He was more my partner than anyone I dated (and a damn sight more supportive). And he held a higher position in my life than most of my family members. (No offense to them, but he listened without needing to venture an opinion. Well, nothing more than the occasional meow)
Of course, all of that closeness presented a sticky problem when my husband came along. I needed to introduce this wonderful man to the most important creature in the world. And I knew, in my heart, who ranked higher. (No offense to my husband, but Firefly had been through more with me)
Had that white-tipped tail drooped or snapped in annoyance, I know without hesitation that I would have ended the relationship right there. That’s how much he meant to me.
And it was a near thing! The first time Tim came over to meet the Minions (passing initial inspection), he MOVED Firefly to sit next to me on the couch. THE HORROR! Firefly was beyond offended. He immediately stomped over to wedge between us. And if I hadn’t heard purring, that might have been the end of things right there.
But Firefly warmed up. Just as he’d done to everyone new who entered the house. And he reassured me that I’d made a good choice.
There was no doubt, though, where his heart belonged. As he continued to snuggle between us on the couch and bed. He was my first love. And he wanted everyone to know that.
Firefly was the most stoic cat I ever met. Considering he was a lemon. He handled every diagnosis he received with dignity and grace (much more so than his owner ever manages). And he was the BEST patient. Every clinic adored him. (I mean, his manners were impeccable)
I have no doubt he grew uncomfortable and annoyed with the pills, drops, and injections. Or the constant insistence to eat his breakfast and dinner. Not to mention the admonishments to behave when he was receiving SIX eyedrops multiple times a day. (Oh, he lost patience then)
But you’d never know.
He was so tolerant and persevered through so much. And I marveled at every step of the process. Wondered how he could handle so many “setbacks” without breaking stride. And how he could weather so many farewells so beautifully. Sitting by my side as I fell apart.
How ironic that I desperately needed his presence for his farewell.
He remained patient to the end. And he was so peaceful until the end. Most importantly, he told me it was time. He was ready to rest. And I could give him the dignity of that peace.
But it doesn’t mean I don’t hurt or wish I could have more than 14 years.
Or that I don’t miss him one drop less.