The Locust (and then there were two…)

The Locust

In his prime, Locust, or Lokie as my wife nicknamed him, was a giant cat.  In fact, he was so large that I never tired of the inevitable reaction of astonishment the uninitiated would emit upon seeing him lumber into view.  That he resembled a miniature lynx didn’t help.  “That’s a house cat?” was the predictable question.  Double-takes were common.  Some people even recoiled in fear, thinking that any cat as large as Lokie would surely be aggressive and while he could be if you were, say, dangling socks in his face, Lokie was one of the gentler cats I’ve ever been around.

My wife Beth found Lokie in the woods back in 2002.  He was just there, in some woods around Pittsburgh, near an AmeriCorps site my wife was working at.  She had initially gone there to listen to cicadas in a moment of reflection only to find “The Locust” wandering around ($10 to anyone who can correctly guess the “name-origin thing”).  In fact, according to her, he looked like he’d been wandering around for some time; his fur was matted and dirty, leaves were hanging off of him and he was very vocal and hungry.  He was also declawed, giving away the fact that the person who marooned such an impressive animal didn’t have the sense to own him to begin with.

She took him in and actually came close to giving him up since she had never owned a cat.  Though she had some trouble acclimating to dealing with cat food and litter (for a 30lb cat, yikes!), she thankfully reconsidered, and he became an integral part of her life.  When said life demanded, she moved home and Lokie came with her, ingratiating himself with her mother, Carol – not a cat person – who subsequently learned to put up with him in a forced love-affair that found them sharing books together while he perched his whole frame on her chest.  That Carol became “a cat person” because of his presence speaks volumes of the impact Lokie had on anyone he adopted as friend.  And he adopted friends with some frequency, even if you occasionally had to keep your distance from his in-your-face proximity.

Fast forward to the fall of 2005 and the beginning of my relationship with my wife…on the occasions I would sleep over, it was routine for Lokie to park himself – much like he’d done with Carol before – square on my chest, without warning, as I woke up in the morning.  This of course had the effect of catapulting me straight out of deep sleep to utter panic in a feat of suffocation I hope to never feel again.

In the early days, Lokie and I had what could be best described as a mutual respect for one another.  He wasn’t real big on being pet by strangers and, because he had no front claws, he had become very effective at using his teeth in defense.  This made for a few skirmishes that normally ended with nicks and such on my hands, but, regardless, he’d still always curl up and start purring.

He also wasn’t real big on being purposefully agitated, a talent I excel in toward felines and humans alike, thus exacerbating our slow courtship.  Nevertheless, I grew to love him as one of my own.  I had actually briefly owned a Maine Coon in a past life that ended in tragedy, making my perseverance with Lokie more directed and personally important.  He reciprocated my care and love with a host of quirks that may (or may not) indicate he felt the same about me that included:

  1. Sitting – in the middle of the night – about 3 inches from my face, just staring at me, often waking me up with nothing more than his stare, causing me to react the way anyone would react when a 30lb cat is sitting 3 inches from your face staring at you in the middle of the night while you sleep.
  2. Strategically sleeping directly on top of my slippers or flip-flops beside my side of the bed so, when I would instinctively roll my feet off the bed toward them at 5 AM to go answer nature’s call, I would end up with multiple tooth-puncture wounds on my toes and arches.
  3. Pawing me in the face if I attempted to move, even incrementally, whenever he was asleep anywhere near me.
  4. Blocking my exit from the shower on a daily basis so my only options were: A) spend the day working from my shower or B) hopping over a 30lb cat to get to out.  Sweeping the leg (Johnny) wasn’t an option, see #2 above.
  5. Choosing, every day, without fail, to take his morning dump right after I got in the shower.  I appreciated this habit in particular given the box’s close proximity to said shower.
  6. Burying his head in my side whenever he went to sleep.
  7. Demanding, rather vocally, to be hoisted onto the couch as opposed to jumping himself.  Even in his younger days, I wouldn’t consider Lokie to have been spry, so I took offense to this habit whenever I saw him sitting on our dining room table, a location much higher than the couch, knowing the only way he got there was by his own, hard fought, volition.

But, of all the quirks that Lokie displayed, my favorite by far was his ability to achieve a level of photographic excellence unparalleled in feline photography.  Some of my favorite examples include:

Lokie, with our friend Alicia

Lokie doing his best Hendrix impersonation…

And, yet, I can say of my four-legged friend that he was indeed a gentle-giant.  Other than my face at night, I only ever saw him throw paw at the dog (who most certainly deserved it each and every time it happened).  And, yes, while he might have been quick to nip at your hand if you scratched his ears a second or two longer than he preferred, his purr was always strong, loud and comforting no matter how agitated he seemed.

Life does take its toll, and despite being a big, strong animal that enjoyed relatively good health as long as we had him, as his years advanced his world got slowly smaller, his body a little lighter and his purr a little softer and more muted.

With Maine Coons, unbeknownst to me until it was much too late, their bodies generally break down in very predictable ways, namely spinal problems that limit their mobility and, more crucially, the dreaded-across-all-species affliction of kidney failure.  Unfortunately, both of these problems are irreversible and, as strong as he was, Lokie wasn’t immune.

He enjoyed a very loving last month of life, a month where we knew the inevitable loomed in the very near-distance.  For a time, I still had him blocking my path from the shower in the morning and staring at me at night, but his condition deteriorated quickly, relegating him to the small bed I’d bought for him about a year ago to keep him a little more comfy while he slept under one of the tables in our bedroom.

Exposed to the early fall sun and breeze, Lokie slept most of the last month of his life under his favorite windowsill in our bedroom, sometimes eating a little tuna, sometimes eating a few cat treats and always taking his medicine without much protest (except for that one time he almost pierced Beth’s thumb all the way through – indicating to us that he still had some of his old fight).

Keeping watch.

On October 15th, we chose to put Lokie to sleep.  We said goodbye to him while I cradled him in my arms. For those who know me, this may sound a little too poetically justified, but I embellish not: as we watched Lokie fade away in my arms, “Love Will Tear Us Apart” eerily eliminated from the radio playing in the background of our vet’s office, a radio that had not-so-poetically pumped out an awful Eurythmics song seconds before.  I’m pretty confident things wouldn’t have been as peaceful as they were if Annie Lennox had been forced upon him.

The aftermath of our loss has been, as they all are, tough.  But, he’s now with us just outside that bedroom windowsill of his, free from all the pain he endured and in a better place – and still with us, right beside the brother of his we buried about a year before.

I have no doubt he’s still watching me at night, and I would give just about anything for the occasional paw to the face.

The Smoking Cupcake, November 2012

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