One life down, eight to go.

EssieI first met Essie in 1998.  She and her brother Toby had wandered onto my family’s property out in the boondocks.  I was walking into the house, and this tiny ball of fluff attempted a flying tackle of my cat Priss.  Priss was not amused, and with a Shaolin grace, slapped her to the ground.  Essie then looked up at me with a look that said “Hiiiiii!  LOVE ME.”  I couldn’t argue with that.

My sister took it upon herself to name these two kittens Esther and Tobias, names which were suitably Biblical.  Esther and Tobias didn’t seem like good names for cats, though, she soon decided, and Esther and Tobias became Essie and Toby.  Essie was later retconned to be short for Essaria, because all cats have many names.  Essie, to her credit, would sport well over a hundred, because I continued to make up nicknames for her and use them frequently.  Many were some variation of Essie, Face, Purr, Butt or other nonsense words.  Puzzlewhat was the most common over the last year.

When I moved into my second apartment, I decided that Priss had adapted too well to the great outdoors, but I still wanted a cat.  Essie and Toby were at the ripe age for relocation, and my mother wasn’t too keen on tending to two more cats anyway (she already had three, Priss, Shadow and Boots).  She’d kept them outside, but they stuck around anyway.  They showed up in late spring, so it wasn’t a bad time to be outside.  I came over one day after I’d moved in with the intent of rounding the two of them up.  Essie practically jumped all over me, but Toby managed to stay just out of my reach until I gave up.  He’s still living with my mother and is, by all accounts, half bobcat.  Essie wasn’t too keen about the 30-minute drive to her new place, and attempted to explore every inch of my ’87 Plymouth Sundance.  In retrospect, I probably should have secured a cat carrier.

Essie adjusted quickly to life in the apartment.  It was considerably smaller than the 9 acres of grass and rabbits that she’d come from, but she didn’t seem to mind.  She was happy to be her roly-poly self all over our two-bedroom hole-in-the-wall.  Essie loved people, and we had constant guests.  She wasn’t one to sit still for a petting, preferring instead to do half of the work for you.  Not quite a lap cat, more of a “you’re occupying this space and I’m furry, let’s dance!” cat.

When my roommate and I moved to Pittsburgh, she didn’t appreciate the drive.  She spent the 7-hour trek looking rather uncomfortable on my roommate’s lap, and yowled like it was the end of the world when we went through each of the three tunnels.  Our place in on the south side of the ‘Burgh wasn’t any bigger, but it had a huge bush out front that attracted finches every day.  Pittsburgh was lousy with finches.  Essie would sit for hours in the window, making that horrible noise that cats make when they see birds outside.

When I moved home six months later, Essie went to live with a friend until I got settled.  Unfortunately for her, ‘settled’ entailed two other cats and a very excitable Jack Russell Terrier.  Essie took an instant dislike to Snickers the dog.  She wasn’t too happy with Persimmon, and viewed Hyacinth as some sort of punching bag.  There were definite negative cat politics in our house, but no one was actively trying to kill anyone else, so we just went with it.

We added another Jack Russell, Aramis, into the mix two years later, and Essie insisted that twice the dogs meant twice the hate.  They would attempt to gang up on her and chase her around the house, but she always got the better of them.  I remember them streaking through the kitchen in one brown-and-white blur, ending up in the bathroom with Essie making a noise like murder was definitely happening.  When I got in there, the dogs had her cornered and were nipping at her.  The bathroom looked like a set from CSI with blood everywhere.  I shooed the dogs out and picked the growling ball of angry up.  She was soaked – with dog slobber.  Not a drop of blood on her.  The dogs, however, had scratches all over their noses.

Together, the dogs were confident they could take her, though they never managed to.  Separately, they were terrified of her.  Snickers and Aramis would slink out of rooms that she entered if they were alone.  They would turn their heads and try to not see her if they were being carried near her.  Terrified.  It was quite hilarious.  Essie still didn’t think so.

After nearly a decade of living with the other cats, tensions started to defuse and there was sort of a cat Détente.  Essie stopped chasing Hyacinth around, and Persimmon stopped hissing at everything that came into the same room. Aramis wound up living with my mother, and Snickers and Essie came to sort of an agreement that didn’t involve anyone getting cut.

A few weeks ago, Essie started acting weird.  She lost a lot of coordination, stopped eating, and started getting really interested in everyone else.  This came as a shock to Snickers, who was still expecting to be swatted for being that close.  Essie started loosing a lot of weight, and I packed her off to the vet.  Our regular vet didn’t have any openings, and I was really worried by that point.  We took her to the local cat vet, who I now refer to as Dr. Thyroid.  This guy thinks it’s the thyroid for everything.  Hyacinth had a stroke, but he said it was thyroid.  The medicine he gave her caused seizures, so we stopped giving it to her, and a week later she got better (cats apparently recover from strokes).  He said that Essie had the same problem with completely different symptoms, and prescribed the same medicine.

It didn’t do anything for her.  We had to syringe-feed her, which became agonizing for everyone.  As she got worse, I decided that it was time to make the call, but I really didn’t want to.  Then, she started eating again!  I was cautiously optimistic, and we got her some kitten chow.  She wasn’t doing so well to start, but after a few days, she started putting weight back on and looking a lot better.  Things were looking good.  I would have liked to get her more veterinary care, but at $350 a visit, I had to play doctor myself.

Alas, I found my little ball of fluff laying still in the basement this morning.  She was almost 15 years old, not what I’d consider “ripe-old” for a cat (Shadow lived to 19 and, though stone-deaf, caught and ate a rabbit the week before she died).  I wrapped her up in a towel and packed her off to the pet crematorium, one last ride that for once she wouldn’t be freaked out about.  Essie was a constant through a number of very important milestones in my life, and the house is going to feel emptier tonight.

But I’m sure I’ll be finding tufts of hair for years.  That cat shed like it was a solemn duty.  She certainly was my little Danderpurr Cuddly Rumplebutt.