Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Billy the cat

This is Billy, my ex-cat.  

Billy first came into my life in mid-2012.  I was living in a sharehouse in The Hague and one of my flatmates inherited him to go along with her slightly elderly black cat, Felix.  The story was that her daughter had just moved in with her highly allergic boyfriend, so Billy needed a new home.  Fur almost literally flew for a week or two of Felix and Billy getting used to each other, but before long they sorted things out.  Billy became a welcome part of our house, and provided quite a few humourous moments as young cats do.  

I have always been fond of animals in general, and particularly cats, so I was already good friends with Felix.  Spoiling Billy with attention came as second nature, and before long he and I became good friends too.  Some of the early signs that there might be a bit of a bond forming began when he began to greet me in the mornings - as soon as he heard the door click he would give an excited "meow" and rush around the corner to greet me.  I wasn't doing that well at that stage, and having a friend (because that was what he was) so pleased to see me every morning really helped.     

It didn't take long before Billy began spending more time with me than with his owner.  This was despite the fact that she was most definitely the primary care-giver.  The only times I fed him or changed his litter were when she was away, which was pretty rare.  Nevertheless, Billy started spending most of his time with me, which was pretty quickly recognised by the rest of the house - maybe even before I did.  I did quite a bit of travelling for my work around then (still do), and whenever I came back everyone said "Billy missed you".  The best examples of that were in September and November of that year when I spent nearly a month at a time in Germany doing language courses.  On both occasions I thought that he would have forgotten me, but there was not a bit of it - I remember him letting himself into my room on one of the nights I came back and falling asleep in my lap whilst I was on the phone.  It was, to my surprise, quite wonderful, and actually a little moving.  

It wasn't long after this that his owner moved out, however.  Completely independently of me, it was decided by the rest of the house that Billy would stay with me.  Funnily enough I was actually a little resistant!  Despite the fact that he didn't seem to be suffering under her care she wasn't the best animal owner, and I thought that if I was to own a cat I would do it properly, which meant a level of responsibility I wasn't sure I wanted to take on.  I held none of the people there in high regard, but somehow they "got it" though, more-or-less insisted that he stay, and it turned out to be a really good decision.  I fed him, took him to the vet, registered him and organised for his shots, looked after him, and really enjoyed it.  I even took him to London with me for two months at considerable expense and inconvenience, and despite him finding it a little stressful getting there, it was a great thing to do.  Later on when I moved to Germany I took him with me, and my choice of place to live centred completely around him - somewhere cat and animal friendly, where he would be looked after when I was away, and could go outside when he was ready, too.  

And what did he do in return?  He loved me.  And by that I mean that he LOVED me.  Sometimes in ways that made me stop and wonder.  Have you ever been loved by a person so much that the sheer strength and power of it gives you pause?  It seems ridiculous to talk about that in the context of an animal, but that was how it felt.  He was mine, and I was his.  He wasn't one of those animals that is everyone's best friend, either - he wasn't unfriendly with other people, but I was absolutely the main event.  He would also do quite unusual things, based on some of my reading online - he would always come when I called, would greet me at the door, and would even play fetch, like a dog.  He would also sulk when I went away which was hilarious, although also did its job at making me feel bad.  Our evening routine was always great as well - he would wait until I was properly in bed, and then jump down from the wardrobe where he slept, and come and join me.  There was a real rhythm to it - he would see me, jump onto the cat tree, onto the floor, and onto the bed, always from the right side.  Jump, jump, thump, jump, hello.  
He really made me happy, too.  As I mentioned, things hadn't been going so well when he first came into my life, and they wouldn't improve for quite awhile.  He really helped me get through it, and helped me deal with the loneliness and pain I was feeling.  People like to laugh at "cat ladies" but I have to admit that I understand them to a point, now.  What made our relationship so special was that he chose me, though - I wasn't his owner, I was just some guy that lived around the corner, but he decided that I was the guy that he was going to spend his time with.  It was so flattering, and so affirming.  Like I said, it really helped me through some bad times.  

Sadly, on July 10th 2014, he died.  He was only about three years old.  He had been in a big field across the road from our house, and was on his way back when he was hit by a car and killed.  I was, predictably enough, a complete mess.  I still couldn't quite get my head around being so upset about an animal, but again, other people really helped with that, who all seemed to understand how bonded we were.  We were an absolute double-act, to the point that whenever people asked how I was, they always asked how he was, too.  Someone also said that when the sadness had subsided, what might remain was a sense of gratitude that he was in my life, and I can absolutely relate to that.  Even now, I'm living with really nice people in a really nice place that was chosen with him in mind, and have found a life that's about 200% better than when I first met him.  He changed my life for the better in large, measurable ways, and for that I will always be in his debt!  

Shit, I loved that cat.  RIP.    

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