A sad story with a silver lining
He’s the silver lining in this story. And an awesome one he is.
But before we can admire the silver lining, first we have to talk about the dark cloud looming in front of it.
Last December two fuzzy black kitten sisters came into our lives.
Marceline, the Vampire Queen was the timid one – Ninja, her more adventurous sister. On the night I brought them home, Ninja was the first out of the pet carrier. She bounced all over the room and was halfway up the Christmas tree before anyone could stop her.
Marceline stayed in the pet carrier for a long time before finally feeling brave enough to come out and investigate her new surroundings. (By that point, Ninja had been pulled out of the Christmas tree too many times to count.)
That’s who they were: Ninja, the brave one, boldly exploring every inch of her world while Marceline, the cautious one, hung back and watched her sister venture into places she refused to go.
Once they got used to their new home, the kittens spent most of their day chasing each other from room to room, wrestling head over tail, taking turns being the pouncer and the pouncee. They would run at each other full-tilt, leap into the air, and smash off each other like cymbals crashing – then run to opposite corners of the room and wheel around to do it again.
Afterward, played out to the point of exhaustion, they would curl up beside each other on the couch or a chair to snooze with their limbs intertwined, recharging their batteries until the next major energy burn-off.
They never meowed at each other, but spoke solely in throaty chirps, using their own sibling cat language.
As the kittens got older, they didn’t spend quite as much time together. Ninja was the better climber, and after their regular morning spazz-out session she would often claw her way to the top shelf of our bedroom closet and nap in a basket of sweaters high above our heads. Marceline would look up at Ninja and chirp at her, but never made any attempt to join her, and after a few minutes would usually go downstairs to lie on my feet or sit on the couch and stare at the fish in the aquarium.
The one thing Ninja loved more than climbing was the outside world. When she got bored of napping in her top-shelf eyrie, she would come downstairs and spend hours looking out the window, chirping and meowing at everything that flew past.
When the front door opened, no matter where she was in the house, she always came running – and if we didn’t grab her fast enough, she would dash outside and make the most of her few seconds in the yard before one of us caught her and brought her back in the house.
As spring came and the weather got warmer and the birds in the neighbourhood sang louder, Ninja became increasingly obsessed with getting outside. She stopped napping in the closet and instead would lie snoozing on the stairs near the front door, waiting for her next opportunity to attempt a daring escape.
“INSIDE!!! QUICK!!!” We’d yell at visitors, waving them frantically into the foyer while trying to keep Ninja away from the door. I’m sure she saw it as a game, but it was pretty stressful for anyone else involved.
Rob and I debated whether to let the kittens become outdoor cats. He was all for it, and at first I was, too. But as they got older, the idea of letting them outside scared me more and more. We live between two heavily forested ravines where coyotes and raccoons and bears hang out all the freaking time, and I had seen way too many “HAVE YOU SEEN MY CAT?” posters taped to the mailboxes at the head of the road to feel 100% confident the kitties would be safe out there.
But Ninja was not to be denied. When the weather was warm enough for us to sit outside on the back deck, she would stand at the sliding door and meow endlessly, pleading for the chance to join us. If we ignored her, she would go upstairs and perch at one of the open windows, so we could hear her cries more clearly. If we continued to ignore her, she would push the screens out of the windows, causing them to fall clattering to the deck below, and then hang half her body out of the window as she stretched out her paws and reached for something, anything, that would facilitate her escape.
It got so that we could no longer open our windows, for fear she’d push out the screen and jump. We stopped spending time on the deck, because her constant crying at the door made us feel guilty.
Finally, in June we decided that it was unfair to her to keep her “locked up” any longer – and opened the door to the outside world.
You’ve never seen a cat so happy as Ninja was then. The outside world was everything she hoped it would be. There were bugs! And grass! And bushes! And trees and fences and other things to climb! It was so fun watching her bound through the grass, hiding and pouncing after all the small buzzing creatures.
Marceline also liked going outside but preferred sticking closer to home. She would follow her sister only so far, then crouch under a bush and watch as her sister ventured further and further afield – slipping under the fence to the neighbour’s yard, or going out in front of the house to explore the yards facing the street. Soon we began hearing from neighbours who had seen Ninja climbing on their roof or sniffing around in their garage. The world was hers to explore.
Then, one day in early August – while I was at a conference in Dallas – Ninja didn’t come home for dinner. Rob and the kids roamed the neighbourhood, calling her name and ringing the bell we used to call the cats in. But they couldn’t find her.
She never came home.
When Rob texted me that night, I knew in my heart what had happened. That cat loved her food. She loved her sister. And she loved us. Even after we started letting her outdoors, she would still come back inside to spend the evening snuggled in our laps. She might have been the most adventurous of the two sisters, but she was also the most emotionally needy. If she hadn’t come home, that meant she couldn’t come home. And with the coyote sightings in our neighbourhood and all throughout our town, it wasn’t hard to guess what was stopping her.
We were devastated. For all her wanderlust, Ninja was one of the sweetest, most inquisitive cats you could hope to meet. When people came over, she would climb them like ladders and perch on their shoulder so she could sniff their face to say “hi.” She would hop onto the arm of my chair and fist-bump her face into mine then curl up on my lap for hours. At night, she would often crawl under the sheets and insert herself between Rob and me then lie there, happily purring, touching both of us with her paws. Her absence left a hole in our hearts.
Marceline wandered around the house for days, crying for her sister. She stopped making those throaty chirping noises. We stopped letting her go outside, unable to stand the thought of losing her as well. Suddenly it was her crouching by the door for hours each day, meowing to be let outside. She wanted to go looking for Ninja, but we couldn’t bear to let her.
Then, one Sunday evening a couple of weeks after Ninja went missing, a neighbor of mine (coincidentally named “Kat”) sent me a text from her boyfriend’s place in Chilliwack. A small cat had been treed in her boyfriend’s backyard after being abandoned by a couple of homeless people who had been camped out in the woods behind his house. Kat had managed to lure the kitty down from the tree, and was now looking for a home for him. She knew we had lost Ninja, and so…?
I shook my head at the timing of it all. I didn’t think we were ready to get another cat, I told her. I didn’t really want a boy cat. And getting another cat so soon after Ninja’s disappearance seemed like a betrayal of her memory.
Kat texted again the next morning, saying she was on her way home from Chilliwack with the kitty in tow. He was so sweet and chill, she told me. He purred so loudly, she’d started calling him Harley.
I told her the boys were at the lake for the day, but when they got home I’d send them up to her place to play with the kitty if they wanted.
A couple of hours later, I heard a knock on my front door – and there was Kat with a striped and polka-dotted silver kitten walking around on a harness. He was small and thin and much younger than I’d been anticipating, not much older than four months. And he was really, really cute.
Uh oh, I thought.
Just like that, we had a new cat.
We named him Felix because he was a lucky little bastard for getting rescued and showing up in our lives right when we needed him most. (Which made us pretty lucky, too.)
He spent the first few days in my room, alternating between snoozing on my bed (rumbling like a 103 cubic-inch engine), and spazzing out all over the room – leaping from floor to bed to dresser and back again as he played with every little thing he found. At night he’d curl up on my pillow and gently knead my scalp with his claws as he kept me awake with his purring. He was clearly delighted to be in a place that had plenty of food and water and a soft place to sleep.
Marceline, who wasn’t used to being shut out of our room, scratched at the door and meowed to be let in. She was no longer interested in going outside. There was a furry four-legged something in our bedroom and she wanted to know what it was. Felix, on his side of the door, would stand on his hind legs with his paws on the door and mew back at her. His cries were so much higher and more babyish than hers.
We started swapping their places, bringing Marceline into the bedroom to hang out with me while I worked and giving Felix the chance to explore the house, so they could check out each other’s smells and get used to the idea of another animal living in the house.
Finally, about four days after he arrived, we opened the bedroom door and let the two cats come face to face.
Marceline froze. Felix took a cautious step toward her, then another. She was more than twice his size. She kept her gaze fixed on him but didn’t move. His tail began to twitch — then he pounced. She turned and ran to the end of the hall. He hesitated for a brief second then bounded after her. She bolted downstairs and hid under the dining room table, then watched from behind a chair leg as Felix proceeded to:
- Bat a cat toy across the floor
- Pounce on a Nerf bullet
- Grab the Nerf bullet in his mouth and throw it up in the air
- Jump up, bat the bullet out of the air, and chase it under a chair
- Leap onto the chair and do a whirling 360o twist off it
- Hop into a box of paper
- Bury himself in the paper
- Jump out of the box and pounce on the cat toy
- Bat the cat toy across the floor
- Rinse and repeat
When he noticed Marceline hiding under the table, he bounded toward her. She hissed. He crouched down low to the floor and lowered his tail and ears in submission. Marceline didn’t move. He rose and took a cautious step toward her. She did nothing. He jumped a foot closer to her. She hissed. He crouched back down low to the floor. They watched each other. Felix’s tail began to quiver. Finally he couldn’t stand it any longer and he pounced.
She shook him off her and ran down to the family room. He chased her. Then she chased him. Then he chased her. Every once in a while she would hiss and he would back off, then the chase would begin again.
This went on for twelve hours. Every once in a while they’d both collapse for a quick snooze, but as soon as one was moving the other would follow and the pouncing and wrestling and rumbling would resume. It sounded like we’d installed a bowling alley with lanes in every room of the house. We weren’t sure if they were playing or fighting until they finally curled up beside each other on the couch and fell asleep.
So now, instead of having two nearly identical sisters, we have two cats that look almost nothing alike. One’s big and glossy black, with glowing yellow eyes, while the other is small and gray and covered in spots and stripes. Watching them fall in love has been, no joke, one of the great joys of my life. When one of them cries, the other comes running. They lick each other’s faces and ears, use each other as pillows, and spend hours every day chasing each other through the house, bouncing off the walls and furniture.
And they communicate with each other almost entirely in chirps.
Marceline is getting more exercise than she’s had since she was a small kitten – because when Felix wants to play, he’s relentless. But our timid Marcie knows how to dish it out, too, and likes to send Felix springing several feet straight in the air with her own unexpected pounces. Watching them play is an endless source of entertainment.
That doesn’t mean we don’t miss Ninja and wish she were still here with us. We do, every single day. And it hurts. But as much as we grieve for Ninja, we’re so happy that Felix has joined our family.
Life’s messy like that.