We soon discovered that perhaps we had not thought things through when we decided to get a cat who demanded so much attention. "Mreer, mreer, mreer, mreer," became the soundtrack of our house. Ditko was constantly clamoring for one thing or another. If it wasn't food — and while Crango was a picky eater, Ditko was a glutton who ballooned up into a little feline manatee — it was entertainment. We used to keep all the cat toys down in the basement, and no matter how much we played with him, it wouldn't be long before we would hear "mreer, mreer, mreer," from the bottom of the basement steps — Ditko would sit in the one spot where he could see the door to the first floor, and when we stuck our heads in to see what he wanted, he would go "prrrt" and hurry over to the pile of toys and meow some more. Once we tried to play with him until he was finally tired, but even as he was literally panting like a dog, he kept meowing for us to keep swinging the feathery-thing-on-a-string. It was such a complainy meow, too. I used to translate for him and one of his translated refrains was "No, no, it's not what I wanted!" I suggested to Jennifer that next time we pick a cat who just liked to chill.
But when I was looking at the reviews on "Review of My Cat," I found that Ditko stacked up really well. Here's what I would say about him, using that site's rubric:
Certainly Ditko gets an A here.
Maybe an A– insofar as obesity is not a good look, but I've often
marveled that we found a tuxedo cat with such an ideal balance of black
and white just by luck of the draw.
And beyond his markings, he had an attractive, intelligent face, with
long luxurious whiskers and eyes that were 99% dilated 99% of the
And his fur was very soft.
As noted, this was not a cat you would find hiding under the futon.
I guess I'd give him a B+ because, as noted, he tended to demand that
others be sociable with him and that could get annoying.
One habit he picked up in Oregon was that he wouldn't eat unless Jennifer
stood there and watched him — and, as you might guess, he
wouldn't silently go hungry either.
I for incomplete.
We didn't have any mice around the apartment, so we didn't really need
Ditko to make himself "useful" in the manner of a 19th-century cat.
I'm sure he would have been excellent had the need arisen, though.
For such a blob, Ditko had some elite athleticism.
He used to prowl along the second-floor landing, and we would toss a toy
mousie up to him, and he would make these acrobatic catches, snatching the
mousie out of the air with his claws and stuffing it into his mouth.
Then he'd take it to his designated area for the sake of closure.
(Crango was never any good at this game — he would just let the
mousies bop him in the nose.)
- Huggability: A. I felt sad when I read review after review from people saying that their cats refused to be picked up and would occasionally consent to a few seconds of petting and then only from their owners. I guess I was spoiled — Ditko would sometimes grumble about being picked up, but only as a pro forma thing. And when I think back on what my years in Massachusetts were like, one of my keystone memories is lying on the bed in my work room night after night, working on Narcolepsy, or Evil Creatures, or a Calendar article, or one of my many abortive attempts at a second book, and Ditko would generally saunter in around 3 a.m., grumbling that Jennifer and Crango were sleeping and therefore being insufficiently entertaining, and he would wedge himself in between my body and my keyboard and purr, until daylight started to peek around the edges of my burgundy blackout curtains, signaling that it was time to go to sleep. And of course when I got up to go to the bedroom, Ditko would complain about that before following along.
Put it all together, I told Elizabeth, and for all the jokes Jennifer and I made about what a corpulent fussbudget Ditko was, he was a fuckin' great cat.
Two days later I got an email from Jennifer saying that Ditko had inoperable stomach cancer. The vet gave him weeks to live. Making a good decision for once in my life, I figured that I should go see him sooner rather than later and drove to Portland on Thursday. By the time I got there things had already taken a turn for the worse. He was still able to interact normally with Jennifer and me for a few minutes at a time, but it was clear that he was losing the battle.
Ditko died the next day.
This wasn't the first time I'd had to say goodbye to Ditko. Before Jennifer and I got the cats, we'd made a deal that she would be the one to clean out the litterbox and, in exchange, she would get to keep both cats if we ever split up. We split up in 2005. The night before I left for California I bought Ditko and Crango a bag of treats, and instead of giving them one apiece as usual, I let them eat the whole bag. I also bought them a rainbow assortment of mousies, though these were pretty much entirely for Ditko's benefit — he was the one who spent hours chasing mousies around while Crango looked on bemusedly, unable to see the appeal. We usually only gave him a new one when he had turned his last one into an unidentifiable lump of stuffing, but this time I threw him all five, one right after the other, and his head kind of exploded. The number his claws did on the hardwood floor as he chased those mousies around pretty much guaranteed that Jennifer wouldn't get the security deposit back.
This time I knew better than to get Ditko a mousie he wouldn't be able to chase. I did get him another bag of treats, and he ate a couple of small handfuls, but pretty soon Crango was doing all of the eating, while Ditko sat there looking frustrated that all these treats were right there but somehow he couldn't work up more of an appetite. At first no matter what Jennifer and I did we couldn't get him to stop licking at the sarcoma and meowing with discomfort, but eventually he calmed down and let us hold him — he even purred a little. ("Attention! All for me! The world is finally as it should be!") After a while he started agitating to go outside. Jennifer's new house has a pretty substantial yard for a place in the city, and there was a chair out there that Jennifer said he was especially fond of; sure enough, when we went outside he made a beeline for that chair. That's the last place I ever saw him. Once these sorts of circumstances would have indelibly fixed this image in my memory. But it's been a long time since I remembered things very well. It's only been a few days and already I can't remember anything about the chair. Everything slips away so fast now.
Chief among the things that slip away so fast is time. I don't know when exactly I noticed the passage of time beginning to accelerate. Definitely not in high school; those four years lasted long enough for galaxies to form and disperse. Even in college every week felt like an epic saga. But certainly by the time I got together with Jennifer, the years were whipping by. In Massachusetts I would mention to people that we'd been together for four, or five, or six years, and they would give me a weird look and ask, "So why haven't you gotten married or broken up?", and I'd be like, what? We just met! We did finally split up in 2005, as noted, and in retrospect, yeah, we probably should have done so years earlier. Right from the start there had been clear signs that the relationship was unworkable. The clearest came on the night of 2003/November 9-10, and it forced me to articulate in pretty bald terms why I wanted to stick it out in spite of all the problems. Look at my life, I told her. I spent my childhood in a loveless and mildly abusive family. I spent my adolescence years younger than and developmentally out of sync with everyone I went to school with, internalizing the lesson that I was not a member of the class of creatures anyone could conceivably think of as a love interest. And then I had spent my adult life totally alone, until I met Jennifer. So no matter how rocky things were, I said, I knew that if we split up, things would revert back to the way they had always been, and years later I would look back and see this time in Massachusetts as a golden age. I'd be coming home every day to a small, empty apartment, remembering what it was like to have someone at home to greet me. I'd be far enough into middle age that my prospects of finding someone else I would want to be with would be virtually extinguished, remembering when being 29 meant "Oh, no, where did my 20s go??" instead of "Oh, man, I was still in my 20s!!" Undoubtedly I would be spending all my energy trying to get the rent paid, and any projects of my own I did manage to finish would reach only a minuscule audience. But for some reason the part that made me break down was this: I wouldn't be able to just walk out of my bedroom and see Ditko doing his acrobatics. He would be old and decrepit, maybe even dead, and all I'd have would be memories. Remember when Ditko was young? Remember how he used to chase the mousies?
To a great extent I was right. Yes, I have come home to a small, empty apartment every day except for those scant few when Elizabeth was visiting. Yes, my 30s have flown by even more quickly than my 20s did. And, yes, I've spent them doing work for hire and sinking even further into obscurity. In another sense, though, I was entirely wrong. My life in California has, on the whole, been better than my life in Massachusetts. So much so that I've repeated that same pattern. I haven't been leading the life I want to be leading, and yet I have clung to the status quo because it's been better than what came before. And the years have flown by. So many years. Enough of them for a fussy, demanding, and extraordinarily lovable little creature to be born, live to old age, and die. I've reached the landmark I set out a decade ago: the future I imagined is now the present, and Ditko is chasing the mousies only in the rapidly receding past.