A little over 15 years ago, my then girlfriend and I came home to her apartment and found a little stray kitten sitting there, a fluffy orange animal with white paws, a pink nose, and a milk stain on his nose. I wanted nothing to do with the animal, but my girlfriend was a sucker for small, fuzzy things with large eyes. We went into her apartment and started to watch some DVD that I had bought. As the movie slowly progressed, there was a quiet discussion taking place in her mind … one that gradually became a verbal plea to bring in the cat. I’m not sure why she was asking for my permission considering it was her place. Maybe it was just to humor me. In either case, I protested against the idea on the grounds that the cat could have fleas or rabies for all we knew and that, more importantly, the apartment complex did not allow pets. Well, the entirety of the discussion was purely for ceremony because the cat was soon brought into the apartment and placed in her spare bedroom. She couldn’t just leave it outside, and, after that night, the cat would be hers.
I didn’t see the animal scratching itself. It seemed generally happy and had no serious wounds or anything else observable. The next thing you know, two hours had passed, and I had completely forgotten that we even bought a movie. I have always liked cats but felt very little for this animal. I don’t know why that was. There was no reason to be so cold to the animal.
As the night progressed, one of the first orders of business was figuring out what to name the creature, as my girlfriend now claimed it as her own. The final list included such cute names as Oliver and Oscar, and then my contributions such as “Taco.” Sadly, my girlfriend relented and allowed me to name the animal, despite it being her pet. I settled on “Gooch” because, well, I was a stupid 19-year-old that still thought Jackass: The Movie was funny. Overtime, we would drift away from that rather vulgar name and simply call him “Nooch” or “Nooches.”
The first few months with the animal were a trip. He would jump on my girlfriend’s bed while we were sleeping and attack her head, biting and clawing. She wasn’t making a lot of money at the time but did save up what little spare change she had and paid to have the cat fixed, declawed, and vaccinated. He was tuckered out that day and I think that was my favorite day with him as a kitten.
Naturally, things didn’t go well. A huge ice and snowstorm hit Ohio in January 2005, so bad that we couldn’t even get our cars out of her apartment. My dad came and got us but we left Nooch in the apartment (with plenty of food and water). Well, in the two days we were gone, the apartment manager showed up to check on … something? … and discovered the cat. Sadly, we had to leave our little friend with her grandpa, who then forwarded the animal to her mother.
In August of 2006, we were moving out of town, an hour and a half away for my first job out of college. I told my girlfriend to just leave the cat with her mother, but she was having none of that. See, her mother had taken in another stray cat named “Lucky” that was not declawed and, well, he naturally had his way with little Nooches. It didn’t help Nooch that he was a runt either. We didn’t know it when we found him, but the cat was so skinny and frail that we weren’t sure he would even live beyond that year. He was half the size of the other cat and being pummeled daily so my girlfriend, this time regarding my apartment, made the executive decision that the cat was coming along with us.
Meanwhile, “Lucky” who had a very ironic name, disappeared a few months later and never returned.
Nooches had some minor complications from his time living away from us. He had worms and who-knows what else, so we had to cough up some of our start-up cash to fix him up. I remember one time, vividly, when he walked backwards across the floor, making a horrible noise before barfing up some hideous hair-log. It was like the exorcist. But, he bounced right back and was as healthy as you could expect from a little runt.
My girlfriend had already registered for fall courses that year and so was spending several days a week at her Aunt’s house, back in our hometown area. That left me, in a strange new city, by myself, with only Nooches around. For two years, I had thought nothing of the cat and didn’t care to have him around, even refusing to clean his litter box. But that time together did the trick. Going forward, he was “my” cat, as my girlfriend would say. He laid on my lap, rubbed on my legs, and play-fought with me endlessly (he would wrap his declawed paws around my arm and attack my wrist until I almost bled – it was all in fun.) Nooches grew into being my companion that year, and remained that way going forward.
The next year, we moved from our small one-bedroom apartment to a two-bedroom apartment (big time!) and Nooches was there with us. That October, I married that girlfriend, my current wife, Kristina. Two years later we had our first-born son, and Nooches never once bothered him. He was the sweetest cat with our oldest boy, despite the fact that, as a toddler, he would grab onto the cat’s back and try to pull him around.
We eventually moved into our first, starter house, had our second son, and adopted a dog. As the boys grew, Nooch cozied up with them and accepted them with loving, feline affection. Nooches was with us through all of these changes, always hopping up into bed and lying on my chest. Always slinking around the house. Always sitting by the sink looking to get water. Yes, he was a cat that refused to drink water from a bowl and would ONLY drink water from a dripping faucet.
When I changed jobs and we relocated to South Carolina, he went with us. When times were tough, he was there to comfort me. When I thought there was no hope, he would come rubbing up against me, purring with his terrible salmon breath.
Finally, we moved to Alaska and that poor little thing withstood the 3600-mile trip, meowing randomly along the way. He hated the car, but he was tough, and we rewarded him with plenty of food and headrubs after that. The Alaskan winter didn’t matter to Nooches. Not anymore than the South Carolina summer did. That little cat experienced so much of life with us, including a trip to a cabin in the mountains … he was there for every moment of me and Kristina’s 16-year relationship.
Today, October 9, 2019, my little buddy passed away. Yesterday he acted completely fine and then, when we woke up this morning, he was dragging his hind legs and unable to move around. He howled in obvious pain and at lunch time, he left us for good. This was one of the hardest days of my life, and I don’t feel sorry for feeling this strongly about a cat. Because he was more than a cat. He was one of my best friends and a part of my family before I even had a family.
From that little apartment, all alone, to a big house with kids … he saw it all through with us. Every step of the way, that little orange cat was there, tapping me on the hand with his little paw when he wanted something, or playing with his little birdie toy that never stopped chirping (it even chirped as I tossed it in the dumpster.) I miss him so much and feel like his passing is literally the end of a chapter in my life. I hope I was good to you, little friend. I hope I was everything you could hope for in an owner just inasmuch as you were everything I could ask for in a pet. I just pray that if and when I get to heaven, you’ll be there, waiting by the sink, asking for water.