In Memoriam: Cramer, 1992?-2008
I have no rituals for death, and don't want any. It would be my preference if death were exceptional, not universal, transitional rather than final. 21-gun salutes routinize tragedy and minimize personality, and better, it seems, are the flowers planted and picked than bought professionally arranged.
When I met Cramer, his name was Latte, which we considered a misnomer, one surprisingly ill-applied. We could see an inherent ferocity, even a dominance, in the essential nature of the beautiful, long-haired, all-black Maine Coon despite his neutered status. I was skeptical about Latte's arrival or continued presence; my girlfriend C. had a co-worker whose new boyfriend did not get along with her cat, and she asked me what I thought of taking it in. I provisionally assented, knowing her long history of cat-keeping, smiling on her intentions and figuring it might be innocuous enough. But I maintained a right of first refusal. If I didn't like the creature, it could look elsewhere for a home.
Being an itinerant creature myself, I'd had no pet of my own since a small turtle, George, crawled under the refrigerator or went lost down an air vent when I was 4, seeking shelter from my clumsy inspections. C. was a "cat person," but I had limited patience or understanding for animals who generally seemed rather stand-offish, entitled, having too high an opinion of their own intelligence. All true, from a certain perspective. I envisioned one day getting a dog, a big loyal one, possibly a Golden Lab.
Cramer arrived in a cat carrier, complete with his own supply of cat food, deposited by a bureau while we discussed his presence. As a stealth bomber confuses radar, so does his fur confuse light, absorbing almost all of it but for his green eyes, so it was impossible to get a good look at him in the carrier. Finally his owner opened the carrier's door, and a black torpedo instantly made its way low and fast across a dozen feet of floor, hopped up on the arm of the couch with alacrity, climbed my shoulder, and started nuzzling, purring, licking, and biting my left ear. He had made his decision, and mine, and there wasn't much way of backing out of it. I was his human from then on, and he was my familiar, to the extent that C. was hurt and later expressed jealousy. When we broke up, there was no debate over the fate of the luxuriant long-hair, he who shed so much over the years I could have made a sweater, a blanket out of him, whose fur once dragged along the ground. Such hair, it would've been possible to harvest his wool like a sheep every spring. To wear him like he wore me, so often drooling on my shoulder.
The reason Cramer and his former owner's boyfriend didn't get along was clear. One night after their closer acquaintance, Cramer shat into the boyfriend's jeans while they were crumpled on the floor. In the morning, said boyfriend hopped into his jeans and pulled them up, with distressing results. A variation of "He goes, or I go," was bruited, and the cat lost that battle. Later, on helping that boyfriend move his stuff to her apartment, I realized Cramer was right about him, and that appropriate summary action had been taken. Before moving, due to his girlfriend's apartment contract, he had his Golden Lab put down, dismissing her as "just a dog."
My new companion was highly individuated, eccentric, intelligent, and prone to a certain clownish exuberance when not murdering prey, so I named him Cramer in recognition of the Seinfeld comic known for exquisite pratfalls, and also for a benignly rich venture capitalist I had recently met with, last name Cramer, The spelling was intended to be less derivative, and to allow for fortune in life, a position which he soon achieved. We kept him on dry food until he moved us on to smoked salmon, cream cheese, shrimp, crab, etc. He had a gourmand's nose for good food, his tastes running from tuna to vindaloo, from spaghetti to tortilla chips and salsa. He tried to like caviar, knowing it was a delicacy, but it just wouldn't take. My house, its location on a relatively quiet street, its ready access to its yard, its trees, was bought with Cramer fully in mind. I didn't take a waiting job in London because of England's quarantine policies, and somewhere along the way, I gained a healthy appreciation for the intelligences which dwell in cats, and learned that they were the only animals to ever domesticate themselves.
This cat manipulated his media. I once jumped in front of a van to save his life while he lolled in the street. The driver jammed on the brakes, the cargo collapsing like falling buildings inside. Cramer loved Japanese maple trees, there were two big round-full ones off the sidewalk in front of our house. He would climb up in them to wait for us or to ambush passers-by, the only warning of his presence a curious shaking of the red pointy cover of leaves. Then out would pop his head to trill or meow, and sometimes he would just leap onto my neck. He terrorized a large swath of neighborhood, a hard-nosed soldier who never lost a fight to another outdoor cat (yet restrained and reticent indoors). I once saw him leap five feet into the air from a stationary position to land, all-star wrestling style, on top of his tackle-sized orange tabby opponent. His only misfortune came by one or more crows when he was 4 or 5, always checking eaves and trees for the presence of crows thereafter.
He hated going to vet clinics. They hated having him. The last occasion, he had to be held down by two assistants wearing chain-mail gloves, with one very wary vet giving shots, each one precariously contested with a couple of violent near-escapes with ear-rattling, threatening, vengeful howls. So we got a house-call vet from then on, who came today at 1PM to mercifully end a grand life.
The weather was kind today, the winter sun full rare and shining, so Cramer's last hours were spent mostly outside. I carried him around the perimeter of all his former territory, pausing at each square, and when we got back to the property line he asked to be set down, where he defiantly marked his redoubt one last time. Then he basked with the sun's warmth in his favorite spots, surveying all that was his, purring, his head occasionally drooping down to a rest on a window sill or welcome mat. And then my old friend drifted off on a ketamine high, to a death more merciful and gentle than many of us humans are likely to find, held in the same place I met him, next to my left ear.
Death is unfortunately natural, and fully appreciating life is unfortunately not. Both are things I struggle with. Over time, I began to more appreciate the surprises one is thrown, and the lessons in them. So it is here. To a mere feline, I owe a debt of profound gratitude, a thing I never contemplated nor thought possible. Yet I was Cramer's human, and he changed my mind about not just himself, not just about cats. He changed my perspective about life and individuality amongst all creatures, be they great or small. He makes me think the Lord God made us all.