In 2006, I got a cat. She was the runt of the litter, the tiniest little thing.
When I went to pick her up from “Cathy” (the fake name I use to refer to the worst person I’ve ever met, who I’ve written about before), she said, “Now the other kittens can come downstairs.”
In a litter of four, the smallest one had been afraid to try the stairs. And she’d made sure her littermates weren’t going to try them, either.
I have a very strong belief in the importance and power of names. For example, if you ask me if I want to pet your German Shepherd, Loki, the answer is going to be absolutely not and I’m sorry about your furniture. You thought it was funny to name your Great Dane “Tiny,” but now that he thinks he’s Chihuahua-sized and wants to sit in your lap it’s not so clever, is it? Our children named our dog Coraline; she runs away at night. We once had a pair of kittens we named Fred and George. J.K. wrote that final book and bam, Fred died of a saddle embolism, the avada kedavra of the cat world. Names are important, so when Cathy handed me this kitten and said, “Her name is Deidre,” I was like fuck that. In mythology, Deidre brought sorrow to everyone she loved and I wasn’t keen to invite that energy into the house.
Turns out, I didn’t get a choice in what to name the cat. I brought the hissing, crying baby home and took her to my office, a room away from everything where she could slowly get used to her surroundings. I put her down, showed her where the litter box was, put food and water nearby, all while she growled and raised the hair on her back and lurked under my desk. I decided to back off, to go into the living room and give her space. I sat down and turned on the television and…
It was an angry mew, too. The tiny little kitten was standing in my hallway, loudly yowling for attention. I stood and she turned to go back to the office. I sat back down. She turned around again and angry-mewed.
She didn’t want me to interact with her, but she wanted me to keep trying.
After thirty minutes of confused groveling on my part, she strutted out from beneath my desk to wander around the house and complain loudly about everything she didn’t like. The television, for example, was scary and confusing. It had to go. The toilet was dangerous, so the bathroom door had to be closed. And there was something just wrong about where I’d put my beer on the coffee table. It looked better on the floor. When it came time to sleep, I put her on the end of the bed and got in, careful not to disturb her.
But I’d gotten it all wrong! She didn’t belong at the end of the bed like a common dog. She belonged on my pillow, on the top of my head, in my hair.
That went on for roughly her entire life. And even from that first night, my hair was never clean enough. Just washed it? Smells like shampoo. Needs to smell like cat breath. Came home from the bar back in 2006 when people could still smoke inside? Oh, my foolish, naughty human. But it was that first night, those first disparaging mews that let me know how unworthy was I to stand in her presence that I realized I would never, ever be good enough to be on a first-name basis with this cat.
So, we called her Her Majesty.
At the vet, they would say, “Oh, hello Her Majesty,” and I would sheepishly explain that it wasn’t her name, but her title, so the appropriate address was Your Majesty.
During my very last phone call with the vet, he said, “I’m calling about…Her Majesty? Is that right?” I confirmed and he muttered to himself, “That’s about right.”
Despite being in the very last hours of her life, she still demanded royal treatment.
Because of her small size, Her Majesty couldn’t be spayed before she went into heat the first time. Despite every precaution, she managed to slip past us, out the door, and it was all over. She became a teen mom to a brood of half-Maine Coon kittens from the intact tom that wandered the neighborhood. We never did manage to get him into family court.
As the birth approached, the vet told us to make a quiet, safe place for her, away from the main living areas, where she could go and be alone and feel safe. That’s what cats do, they explained. I was to check on her, but not too often, as cats often sneak off to give birth on their own, and if I disturbed her too much she might move somewhere I wouldn’t be able to monitor her.
Though Her Majesty thoroughly enjoyed lazing in the nesting box we arranged for her in my office (easily the least chaotic room in our home), when the time for the royal litter arrived she demanded a change of venue.
She preferred to give birth on the floor of my four-year-old’s toy closet. You know. Where anyone would want to be totally vulnerable.
I tried to move her, but after the third time, I gave up. I let her go into the closet and resigned myself to weeks of nail-biting terror as I tried to protect precious, delicate new lives from an affectionate pre-schooler. I brought the towels and blanket from the nesting box and got her all good and ready to ruin our floor. Then, I turned the light off and left the door half-open and resigned myself to a long, nervous wait. I knew I couldn’t disturb her further, so I turned the tv off and switched to a book.
Her Majesty came back to the living room, meowing furiously. Her cute little mew had lasted all of three weeks before it had turned into the most pissed-off sound any animal has ever made. But now, it was mad and in a hurry. She forced me to sit with her in the closet while she labored. I had to be completely motionless. If I shifted even a little bit, she would bite me. If I tried to leave, she would try to follow me.
So I had to sit and watch what was objectively the grossest thing I’ve ever seen. And I used to take people to the morgue.
She had five beautiful kittens, the care of which she found tedious at best. Our Springer Spaniel, Tucker, was selected to be the royal nanny. He didn’t apply for the job. He did not want it or anything to do with the kittens, who sent him into a state of trembling, farting terror. Which I understood; imagine you’re a dog who lives with a mean cat, and suddenly the cat multiplies. That’s a new and terrifying power. But day after day, when the kittens were finished nursing, Her Majesty brought the kittens to Tucker, who would lay motionless but for the panicked flicking of his eyelids as he signaled to us in morse code for help. And she went off and did whatever she wanted to.
The dining room window is Her Majesty’s window. As in, only Her Majesty is allowed to look through that window. If you don’t obey, you get a scratch.
When offering Her Majesty catnip or treats, one does not simply shake an amount onto the floor and call the task done. Nay, one must wait until the offering has been inspected and is indeed sufficient. Her Majesty decides what is enough.
My husband once asked why I let Her Majesty kiss me by booping her nose on my mouth. “We are best friends!” I shrieked in outrage. “I was her labor coach!” I don’t think my family truly understood why I loved Her Majesty so much because, despite their best efforts, she treated them all like garbage. She adored the kids…when they were little. Once they turned ten, she lost all interest. Though she loved to use my husband as furniture while he slept, she spent much of her time with him glaring accusingly. He referred to her as Lady Cuntington. She never referred to him, at all.
Her Majesty could talk. At least, I talked to her and she made noises back and that was enough conversation for me. We talked about a lot of stuff. Once, I tried to explain lizards to her until she walked out of the room. Another time, I asked her why the fuck she wasn’t helping while I tried to chase a bat out of the house. She stood up, stretched, made a big show of yawning, and moved to a different position to go back to sleep. Her Majesty did not catch mice. And she found the movie Cats offensive.
This was her default facial expression:
Her Majesty died on March 30, 2021, after a sudden decline in her health. On Thursday, she walked with a little hitch in her giddyup, but nothing serious. I thought I’d keep an eye on it and call the vet. She came into my room that night and slept on my head, for the first time in a long time. Friday, she was sleepy and not interested in her food. I called the vet and took the earliest appointment they had on Monday. But Her Majesty got worse. She went from not being interested in her food to not being interested in treats by Saturday night. Sunday, she sat quietly by herself all day long. I held her in my lap and Mr. Jen offered her some chicken broth to get her to eat, but she turned her head away.
She still wanted the water bowl refreshed and the surface of the food undented. And she still wanted to be offered treats. So she could decline them.
After a night at the cat hospital, I got the call. Her Majesty’s white cell count and blood sugar were through the roof. She’d been diabetic, but we hadn’t noticed the symptoms. Her dry skin, I chalked up to the fact that she’d always had acne, to the point that she’d been on steroids and antibiotics for it on and off through her adult years. As a senior cat, she put on weight. Diabetic cats lose weight. There was never a noticeable increase in her thirst, but because we have dogs, there are multiple sources of water in the house, so it’s possible that she could have increased her intake. Because she’d been hospitalized several times for a bladder issue that required surgery, I always checked the litter box to make sure she was peeing, and everything seemed like normal cat pee in usual amounts. By the time her symptoms were noticeable, it was Thursday, and it was too late.
I guess I should feel like I failed her for not seeing it. At the same time, I can’t say for sure that she wanted me to know. She’d never been shy about telling anyone anything. Maybe she just decided that she had graced me with her presence for fifteen years, and that was more than enough for an undeserving mortal like me.
It was just me and her in the room after the vet gave Her Majesty the euthanasia shots. I kissed her nose and held her and petted her. I played “God Save The Queen,” the real version, not the cool punk rock version, on my phone as she died. When I came home, I announced somberly to the dogs, “London Bridge is Down.” I bought her an urn that I hope she would find befitting of the life she lived and the legacy she left behind:
She has been entombed among the crystals and house plants on my desk, all of which she absolutely lived to fuck with. Hence the dirt on the table.
I couldn’t bear to clean it up.