Thursday, July 01, 2004

Goodbye, Sweet Friend

Friday, June 25th started off like any other weekday here in the Pete household. The alarm went off at 5:45 and the cats, Calvin and Hobbes, leapt across the bed like prize show jumpers, hoping to coerce one of us into feeding them immediately. As was the case every morning, I jumped in the shower first to keep things on schedule, then came out to get dressed and ready for work while Mon took hers.

As usual, Hobbes sat at the end of the bed, facing the bedroom window, while his well-meaning "brother" Calvin went through his morning rituals. As I opened the armoire (which doubles as my dresser) to select my clothes for the day, Cal jumped a good four feet off the ground into the open area above my jeans, mainly so he could be eye level with me so I could rub his forehead. Like every other morning, I had to grab him out of there and place him on the bed, where he would sit patiently waiting for me to finish getting myself together so breakfast could be served - all the while taking time for rubs across my back and craning his neck for tickles under the chin. Calvin's needs were simple, as always: a moment to fight with my laid-out socks, a stop to sit and purr while I sang my morning songs to him. "Cal-y, my little pal-y...". He'd leap up for a head moosh and you just knew he understood it all.

Every day, to keep Cal from running into my closet while I picked out a shirt, I needed to pick him up. Fast little bugger, if you didn't he'd zip right by (and getting him out requires a little work). This sight always amuses Hobbes - me holding Cal and struggling to get a shirt off a hanger with my free hand. Oh, the things you have to do.

Having fetched the shirt of the day, I placed Cal back on the bed next to Hobbes. The two of them decided they'd had enough of waiting for me, and bolted out of the room together the same way they did a million times a day. After a few trips between the kitchen and the bedroom, they stopped to play and wrestle by the bathroom, hoping to impress "Mom". Now that I was fully dressed, the two of them ran ahead of me - fully aware that food was on the way within moments.

Just like every other breakfast, I split a can between the two of them and refreshed their water and dry food, being sure to give both of them a rub as they walked over to the bowls. "Enjoy, guys" I said, repeating the daily routine, and walked back to the bedroom to finish getting ready for the day. It was going to be a busy weekend - Mon's brother and his family were coming in to stay up at her Mom's, and we hadn't seen them in ages. I needed to pull a change of clothes for that evening and made a mental note to myself to stop and buy film on the way home if I had the time.

Their morning needs sufficiently met, the boys returned to the bedroom. Hobbes took his usual place in the window contemplating the meaning of the universe behind the glass, and Cal resumed showering us with love. It seems that was all he worried about. Just the night before, on the way to bed, Cal jumped up on Mon's exercise bike seat (he'd do that if Hobbes wasn't there first) and just looked at us with that wonderful look that he always had and purred so loud you could hear him in the next room. "Can you get over this guy? He MUST be the happiest cat in the world!" I remarked, and Mon agreed.

We were ready to go, cereal ingested and hair combed. It was 6:45 and we had to get a move on if I was going to make the 6:50 bus. I wanted to get out of work early so we could get up to Number One Mom-In-Law's and see the kids. Hobbes had transferred himself from the bedroom window to the living room window in search of new enlightenment, and Cal proceeded to do what he did every morning: he threw himself in front of the door in a courageous attempt to block our exit.

And just as I did every day, I had to pick Cal up so Mon could scoot by. And just like every other morning, she told him she loved him, and made her way out the door while he watched her walk down the driveway from my arm. In order to keep him from following me out, I had to put Cal a few feet away, in the kitchen. He took a few steps toward me anyway, and I said "uh-uh, buddy, you stay put. I'll see you later". Cal sat down and looked at me with that same look he had every day at that time: head tilted, eyes full of love, as if to say "OK, I'll be here". And off we went to end another week.

I'll remember and cherish every second of that morning vividly for the rest of my life, for while it was identical to every other one we'd had for many months, one thing changed that day - and it was something that would effect the rest of our lives. Calvin left us that day while we were at work. Things will never be the same again.

Mon came home that night and Cal appeared to be napping - not unusual. But the sight of Hobbes standing protectively over him revealed that something far more serious and awful had happened. For fear that a virus or something equally heinous might be to blame, the vet recommended an autopsy. Turned out to be something called FHC - Feline Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy. Basically, FHC is a cruel demon - a heart defect that causes the walls around the heart muscle to enlarge. Cal was a perfect example of the worst-case scenario for FHC - no warning signs, no symptoms. Most cats that suffer from it are fine one second and gone the next. The number one cause of death in cats under the age of two.

Calvin was just short of his first birthday.

To Know Him Was To Love Him

I could sit here and write several hundred pages and several thousand words and I still couldn't properly explain how wonderful Calvin was, other than to say I truly feel sorry for every person in the world that didn't get a chance meet him. Cal was far and away the most unique and impish little boy trapped in a cat that it was ever my pleasure to know. Cal was the perfect Yin to Hobbes' Yang. He could always tell when Hobbes was being a fusspot, a grumbler, a grouch (which he has the tendency to do). His solution was to sneak up on him and force him into a few rounds of full-contact rasslin'. In no time, the two of them would be tearing around the house like tornadoes, stopping on their way back and forth to play with the various toys that lie about the place.

While most cats would flee from strangers entering a home, Cal would welcome them. He melted the hearts and touched the lives of every single person that set foot in our house. Whether it was reducing a pair of burly roof repairmen to cooing doves, poking his head into the fireplace to check on the chimney inspector, or crawling into the open loops of the cable repairman's utility belt, Cal had a way of taking away the wall that separates humans and felines. In no time at all, people who had never met him would be talking to him like he was their best pal. Hell, people came here just to see him.

Most cats live by the union agenda - sleep and eat, show affection when only necessary. Not Calvin. His main itinerary was giving and getting love. The boy wanted his back stroked and his head petted, plain and simple. A tickle of his butt and it would fly right up in the air, after which he'd flop to the ground and offer up his belly for a vigorous rub. Man, did he love having his belly rubbed. It was his nirvana. In return, you would get a touch from his huge black paws, a loud purr or a prolonged nap next to you or on your lap. You could be in the worst mood possible - and Cal would find a way to make you forget what you were upset about. He just had a way like that.

Topping this off was Calvin's love/hate relationship with being kissed on the nose. Cal's nose got pinker and cuter as he got older, and it was irresistible. When you picked him up, his face would scruntch all the way in, and he'd grunt like you were subjecting him to the most inhumane torture possible. Yet, as soon as you were done, he'd rub up against you and start up that never-ending purr, so you knew he was loving it all the same, the little faker.

And In The End...

There's a lot of irony in what took Calvin from us. All who knew him know he had a heart bigger than life itself. Making people happy made him happy. He was the happiest thing on Earth, and he made the rest of us happier for it. Even now as I write this, I can't believe he's gone. I keep expecting him to jump up on the computer desk and park himself in front of the screen, or plop down by my feet in search of a belly rub. I keep expecting him to try and coerce me away from writing so we could play with his favorite toy for hours. But it's never going to happen again, and so we remain heartbroken.

We spent the first 30-some-odd hours afterwards crying. I didn't know one could find such sadness, but this was much more than losing a "pet"; this was a family member, a friend, and Hobbes' companion. The feeling of emptiness still remains as strong almost a week later.

We buried Cal on Saturday. It took everything out of us just to tear ourselves away afterwards. Who knew such a little ball of fur could have such a profound effect on us in such a short amount of time? But that was Calvin. We came home to find poor Hobbes in varying states of confusion. He toured the house aimlessly in search of his pal, and obviously upset, became glued to our sides.

After a few days, the initial shock of what happened wore off. We were finally able to think about the joy and warmth of Calvin without being overcome with sadness and tears. On Saturday night, unable to sleep and in despair, I sat down and e-mailed some friends to let them know what had happened. At the time, anger had set in as I could not fathom why something like this could happen. Why would Cal be taken away from us like this?

My friend Steve put it into proper perspective for me. We didn't know it, and he didn't know it, but his fate was destined at birth. Rather than looking at it as Cal being "taken away" from us, I try to look at it as he was given to us, so that we could make his short time here as fun and full of love as possible. We did, with joy. The rewards we got in return from him simply being in our lives made it a pleasure. We made it through a Thanksgiving, a Christmas and Easter with him. According to what we've been told, we had twice as much time with him as we should have.

God bless Hobbes. As hard as this must be for him, he's done so many things to comfort us. As crazy as it sounds, he's even begun taking some traits of Calvin and making them his own. You couldn't go NEAR his belly before. Now, he welcomes a rub or two. His life must be getting back to some normalcy as well, as he has resumed many of his daily rituals, and has taken his familiar perch, right here next to the keyboard, enjoying a cat nap.

As I said earlier, I could write from now until the end of time and never be able to properly convey what Calvin was all about. Meet anyone that knew him and you'll get a story or two not unlike the ones I've told here. His warmth radiated like a super nova, touching everybody. He came into our lives on borrowed time, made it better, filled it with love and we did our best to return in kind. Then, when it was time for him to go, he did so peacefully in his sleep with Hobbes at his side. I guess in an unfair world, that's not all that bad.

Don't ask why of me
Don't ask how of me
Don't ask forever of me
Love me now

Take care little buddy...see you later.

1 comment:

Sianna said...


That was the most beautiful tribute to a pal! thank you for sharing ... I now know Calvin too!
"We who choose to surround ourselves with lives even more temporary than our own live within a fargile circle, easily and often breached. Unable to accept its gaps, we still would live no other way. We cherish memory as the only certain immortality ... "
Irving Townsend "The Once Again Prince"

Today's The Day

Some good advice from the legendary Ray Stevens.