Sunday, January 11, 2009
Mac Daddy: A Love Story
Mac Daddy picked me.
Ten years ago, I went with my friend Heidi to the Humane Society in Seattle. She was in the market for a dog. While she was reading a book on breeds, I strolled through the cat area looking at one adorable ball of fluff after another. Toward the end of the row, a black paw darted out and signaled to me from the cage.
It was love at first sight, or maybe bite.
So began my co-dependence with a cat. Mac Daddy wasn’t just any cat. He was lousy with personality, sporting a goatee, notched ear, and more attitude than a sixteen-pound feline has a right to. If he was a dude, he’d have had a gold tooth, platform shoes with fishes in the heels, and a sweet gig as a pimp.
He was a bit, um, cranky from the start. While he cuddled with me, he also got overstimulated in short order and would bite or scratch until blood was drawn. This happened frequently. Like memories, I have scars that will never fade.
Shortly after bringing him home, I moved across the country, stopping for a week in Michigan and then living in a hotel while looking for a new home in Philadelphia. Mac Daddy handled the transition with grace and nonchalance, wandering around mom’s farmhouse or lounging under the hotel bed when the maid came in to vacuum. When we moved into a trinity house on Delancey, Mac Daddy and I discovered a new family. Nan and her brood of cats (and French bulldog Bogart), along with Janine and Barry, loved visiting with Mac Daddy, if only to chat with him as he sat in the bay window, offering up silent pink meows in greeting. He never fell down the steep stairs (unlike me) but he did manage a perfect somersault off the bed more than once. And the deep windowsills were perfect for his big-boned body.
Nan got Mac Daddy’s essential chi. This past week, when I told her of his passing, she wrote to me. “How blessed I am to have shared life with him; the many times I would walk back through our quaint little breezeway and see him basking in the window pillows…if only each of us could soak in all that is good in life as he did.”
Yeah, he was a sensualist, that’s fo’ sho’. Whenever I brought sushi into the house, he’d wrap his paw around my chopstick and try to redirect the roll to his gaping maw. If I wasn’t vigilant, he’d chew through a bread wrapper to carbo-load. When rubbed in the right spot, his purr was kickstarted like a lawnmower. While he fiercely protected his catnip cigar, clamping it between his paws if not his lips, he equally relished chasing an old phone cord to and fro.
But only if he felt like it. Make no mistake, no one could tell Mac Daddy what to do, even though my pal Jared has tried more than once to make him do his bidding. Silly Jared, tricks are for kids, not Mac Daddy.
Mac Daddy even had his own theme song. My friend Justin, a former pop singer, scatted an appropriately badass ditty that suited him to a T. “Ma Mac Daddy. Scat a wadda doodle a dee YEAH.”
When I decided to move back to Seattle, my chief concern was transporting my little guy. I medicated him and watched as his carrier was taken away to the cargo hold. I cried the entire flight, partly for my conflicting feelings about the move but in good measure in worry for Mac Daddy. My friends Kerry and Rob met me at the airport, unprepared for the tears running down my face. I was only consoled when at long last, an airport staffer lugged out the cat carrier with a smirk, saying, “Here’s Mac Daddy.”
His name never failed to elicit a smile, especially at the vet’s office. Soon after our move into an empty apartment, Mac Daddy became deathly ill, his bile ducts blocked and his bilirubin number soaring. Surgery ain’t cheap, for humans or our little critters. When I got the call about the severity of his condition, as well as the rough estimate, I was in a coffee shop with Kerry. As I sobbed, she asked me, “If money wasn’t a factor, would I have the surgery?” “Yes.” There was no question. She said that she and Rob would lend me the money for his treatment. Since then, whenever she came over to my place, I’d say, “Mac Daddy, it’s your benefactress.”
He recovered like the miracle he is. And I don’t say that lightly—during his surgery, Dr. Johnson discovered he had two gallbladders, both functioning and connected by a conjoined bile duct. Since they were both functioning, he left them in. Whether you view him as a miracle or freak of nature, he was undoubtedly a gift.
After the surgery, he became slightly diabetic and needed a couple of other meds to keep pancreatitis at bay and his liver functioning properly. Others helped out with his care when I had to travel. Thank you Liz, Jenna, Wendy, Kerry, Rob, Kerry, Laurel, and Marlena for helping him feel loved even when I couldn’t be there.
He had two other serious trips to the vet and bouts at home with subcutaneous fluids (my bedroom will forever have a saline splatter pattern on one wall) and pills, but damn if he didn’t pull through over and over. Each time, areas of fur that had been shorn away slowly grew back and he quickly put on weight, topping out at around 16 pounds. You may think he must have looked like a sickly cat. No way, José. He was a large mound of rebound and he felt like a furry bowling ball when he crawled onto my lap.
He soothed me when I wasn’t well. When I went under the knife last year, I was concerned that he’d pounce on me while I was sleeping, so I shut the bedroom door. That was ill-advised. As my mother watched from the other side of the door, he first meowed politely. He threw his considerable girth against the wood. Then he figured out that the door swung out so he slipped his paw under the door and tried to pull it toward him. Mom’s exact words? “That little shit is smart.” Yep, he was, and he probably sensed that I needed his comfort…like always.
Mac Daddy spooned me through more than one heartache. He was my true love, the one who never dabbled with cross-dressing, belittled me, or strayed. He was true. The last time he had a serious infection, I was a world away pursuing a doomed-from-the-start love affair. This week, he fell ill as my romantic allusions about a new man were unexpectedly freefalling away. He seemed to sense my roiling tumult and forced me to turn my attention back to what mattered: him, naturally.
And so I come to the hard part: I had to let him go. It was time. We both knew it. Trying to nurse him through this sickness would not have been fair to him, and I was finally ready to say goodbye, strong enough (I hope) to carry on. I can never thank enough Darcey, who went with me, or Dr. Westerdahl, who cried along with me as we watched him slip away, or the staff, who hugged me and shared stories of how they made out with Mac Daddy over the years or had been made a member of the club by receiving a not-so-pleasant love bite from my little beast. Mac Daddy was more of a curmudgeon than a cuddle monster but he won everyone over. He slayed me with a narrowing of those sea-green eyes. He calmed me by pressing his plushy body against mine. He aggravated me by waking me up each morning with a bat on the face or a nip on the nose. He amused me with his Diana Ross “I love you. Don’t touch me” attitude.
Kim called him The Perfect Gentleman. Dan greeted him as Buddy. Jared liked to say Mac the Daddy. Laurel called him Muffin. For Nan, he was her Sweet Boy. But to me, Mac Daddy was my heart.