There’s nothing wrong with writing about your cat

by Brian Clarey

We knew something was wrong with Henry when he started peeing all over the house.

That’s not something he normally does. Oh, he’ll bite your earlobes while you’re sleeping, and he’ll scratch the holy hell out of your shoes. Actually just my shoes. For some reason, Henry only scratches up my shoes. But Henry Whiskers, my cat, is not one to pee all over our stuff. My grandparents had a cat like that once, Tiger Lily, an orange tabby that my grandmother, who harbored a Calabrian tendency toward superstition, swore was out to get her. Sometimes, when my grandfather would forget to feed her, she would piss on his pillow. But Henry was always a gentleman, except for the shoe thing, ever since we adopted him and his sister down in New Orleans almost 10 years ago. He’s a long-haired tuxedo cat, with a ruff like a bowtie, white feet that look like spats and a delicate tuft of white at the very-very tip of his tail. He carries himself like Fred Astaire, though he was named for Clarence “Frogman” Henry, the R&B legend who falsettoed, “I ain’t got a home….” He became Henry Whiskers after his sister, Blaze Starr, named for the most famous paramour in Louisiana history, held him down and chewed off his whiskers, also white, making them look like a bristly mustache. I suppose I’ve become pretty attached to these cats over the years, but I’m a practical man. I understand that pets are perishable items, and that we should treasure the time we have with them and so forth. But when it’s time for them to go… well, you know, we have humans in the house to take care of. I always figured, when the time came, I’d treat a sick cat as a mathematical equation. Then Henry started peeing on the kitchen floor. And on the furniture. And in our bed. My wife scooped him up last week, boxed him and brought him to the vet. She called in tears a while later. The little fella had kidney stones — kidney stones! — and would require surgery and an overnight stay at the kitty-cat hospital. The price tag would be the rough equivalent of a week-long vacation at Disneyworld. And I’m like, Are you freakin’ kidding me? I called my father, whose fondness for cats extends to the point where he genuinely believes he can decipher their language. Even he saw my dilemma. “I guess the days are gone when you can tell the kids that you brought him to a nice farm to live, with lots of other kitty cats,” he said. But it’s not so much the kids — the boys have never been particularly interested in the lives of our feline boarders, though Babygirl is quite fond of them; sometimes she’ll corral one of them in her room, close the door so there’s no escape, and emerge minutes later with scratches on her arms while the cat streaks in a blur to the cat door which leads to the garage. I guess I kind of like them, too. We brought them to our home in the New Orleans Garden District in the fall of 1998, a couple little furballs, brother and sister. We thought Blaze was the male after the whiskers thing, but then Henry got bigger and started fighting back. He also became something of a daredevil, performing long leaps and mad, clackety dashes across the hardwood floor. With a running start, he’d cannonball across the room and climb the curtains of our glass doors, settling in the upper fenestration about nine feet from the ground, surveying the rooms from his perch. The cats traveled with us to New York one Christmas, and to my father’s delight stayed in the basement of his house for a week. They were kittens then, and by the time we flew back, they were too big to share the travel box. They fought and crapped all over each other the whole time, in this travel box I held in my lap. After they started to stink up the cabin, I had to clean them off in the airplane bathroom. When we brought home our first child, both cats disappeared for a couple days. We couldn’t find them anywhere. They’ve lived with us through three kids, four homes, a major move and eight North Carolina winters, to which these Louisiana street cats are still unaccustomed.

Blaze is big as a basketball now, and Henry still sleeps in our bed every night. At nearly 10 years old, the vet told me, these cats are considered “seniors,” which really blows me away. I brought Henry home after his surgery yesterday; my wife saved the stones — jagged, nasty little things that look like glass, one of which was lodged in his urethra. The pain must have been incredible. He slept on our bed last night, nestled between our heads, wasted on Special K and purring like he was a kitten. The mortgage will be a little late this month, but it’s good to have him back.

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