I first made his acquaintance on the Marblehead Animal Shelter’s website, through his picture and accompanying bio, which was as follows:
“Active, playful, curious, fun, and entertaining are the adjectives to describe Eli. He is a long, lean, black and white domestic short-haired cat with a wedge shaped head. Eli is in the range of three to five years old. You would think he is three to five months old because he acts more like a kitten. Eli was a stray, and is in perfect health. If you are looking for a cat with mucho personality, Eli is your guy. He even likes fetching a little ball.”
The thumbnail photo of him was of poor quality, and showed a regal, handsome tuxedo cat sitting in the tackiest leopard-print pet bed you’ve ever seen. You could see the disdain in his eyes. He looked pissed.
There were three or four cats whose pictures caught my eye, but I wanted to see what a cat with a wedge-shaped head looked like. I pretended that I wouldn’t care all that much if Eli had been adopted by the time I strolled into the shelter, but I had already bookmarked the website and shown all of my coworkers his photo and asked everyone what they thought about that wedge-head.
When I first met his acquaintance, he lay on his side at the far end of his cage. I snaked a finger through the bars and he flicked a whisker and ignored me. I visited Mango, who loved me, and Mac, who was suffering from a cold but was still so sweet, and a bundle of kittens with a crowd of families around them, but still I kept wandering back to visit Eli.
I knew months beforehand that I wanted an older cat. I had just moved into a nice little place, my first time living alone, and I wanted to find a creature who had been through a lot in their life and just wanted to finally settle down in peace. We could curl up and read together at night on the couch.
The first night that I had brought Eli home with me, I woke up at 4:00 a.m. to find the screen popped out and the cat gone. I opened my front door and there he was, trotting across the street towards me, meowing a hello, rubbing it in my face that I had weak screens and a strong-willed cat. He spent the rest of the morning indoors (I’d rigged the screen closed with string and thumbtacks, though very quickly realized that this cat was meant to go outdoors, peroid), balling up my rugs in sudden bursts of hyperactivity and carrying my stuffed animals from one room to the next. I found Kermit over by the litter box, having been dropped so that he lay spread-eagled with one arm dramatically thrown over his eyes. And the shelter was right; he did like fetching a little ball. He never showed any interest in any cat toy, ever, except those little foam balls.
Eli was vivacious, dauntless, and full of odd little personality quirks: he was obsessed with licking plastic grocery bags, but only the fresh ones I’d just brought home. He spent about 1/4 of his life sitting in sinks. He didn’t like it when I was home and was on the other side of a closed door, and he’d use that wegde-head, and a sneaky paw, to get in. Every time I left for more than a day, he would go and find my stuffed zebra, George, and leave him threateningly by the front door, although I never once witnessed him interacting with George in any way whatsoever. If I left for a weekend, he’d do the George-thing and also chew all the leaves off of one particular plant of mine. And the most unforgettable of all to me was that he slept under the covers with me every. single. night. He spent his days marauding the neighborhood, terrorizing other cats and breaking into people’s homes, and his nights secretly sleeping like a baby in my arms. I’d lay down and within minutes, that little wedge-head, with the white blaze down the nose with that little black spot on the end, would appear right in my face, purring and snarfing at me until I lifted up the covers and let him in. He wasn’t a cat that you could lovingly manhandle (you were only ever allowed to pet his head, unless you wanted your arm ripped off) but he always let me hug him to my body every night. He’d kill me if he knew I was telling people this.
Eli’s personality was one big quirk. I loved this cat so utterly from the very first day he came home with me. For our entire life together, he followed me from room to room and climbed right up on any sort of a lap that I made. If I was trying to read, he’d rub his face against the book to the point where I couldn’t hold it. If I was trying to check my email, he’d sit ON the keyboard and glare at me until I paid attention to him. He greeted me when I got home from work by climbing into the car with me, and he’d often follow me for the first hundred or so yards of any walk I was taking down the street until I had to shout at him to go home. I never took any of my time with Eli for granted; he simply wouldn’t let me.
Eli and I moved together a total of eight times in eleven years. And every place we moved, he immediately set out to make sure that none of the neighbors would ever forget him. He bullied his way into every house on the block by using the oldest trick in the burglar’s book: he walked in the front door with them. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard a distant “Oh, hi there. What are you doing here? No, you can’t–hey!—” and gotten there just in time to see a startled neighbor, keys in the door and groceries in one arm, with Eli walking right between their legs. I’ve had to apologize to many complete strangers as I went into their house to fetch my cat, who was just about to murder theirs. Eli was not very polite.
Surprisingly, many people didn’t seem to care when Eli adopted them. There were people who let him in when they got home from work and then out again when I did. There were people who fed him. There were upstairs neighbors who would laugh when Eli was sleeping in the hallway outside their door again, and there were my downstairs neighbors who became so close with Eli, I’d receive the occasional text saying “If you’re looking for your cat, he’s asleep in our tub again.” Lots of people knew and loved my cat. He had more personality in that little tuxedo-cat body than a lot of people I’ve met.
One summer I took a picture of Eli, when we were down on the Cape visiting my parents. I had gotten worried that I hadn’t seen him in a while, and was outside calling for him. And I heard him calling back to me, and sure enough, there he was, trotting across the lawn towards me. You can barely make him out in the picture–he’s just a tiny black and white speck in the center. But I loved the picture, and put it on my fridge. I noticed later that the magnet I’d used to hang it was an Arthur Conan Doyle quote saying “the little things are infinitely the most important.” From then on, I always used that magnet to hang that picture on my fridge. Indeed, 11 pounds of that drooling, biting black and white cat was infinitely the most important to me.
I never did ask why Eli was brought to the shelter in the first place. I meant to, but I forgot. I suppose it doesn’t really matter now. There are a hundred reasons why someone gives an animal away, but there is really only one reason why someone takes one home.
I hope, Eli, that you have found the best sink ever, and that you have an endless supply of foam balls to fetch and houseplants to destroy. I am comforted knowing that we will find each other again someday. Thank you for everything.