I met her on Easter Sunday in 1997. She was just a few weeks old. Someone had left her and nine other ten-day-old kittens at the Clifton (NJ) animal shelter, and the shelter fostered them out to various vets in the area. My downstairs neighbor’s daughter was working for one of them, and she took two kittens home to foster: An all-orange, fluffy male, and an orange-and-white striped female. She gave them incredibly stupid names, like Nargle and something equally dumb (I’m not kidding; they’re on the adoption certificates buried somewhere in my papers). The female was ratty-looking and dirty, covered in milk and crying. The male was cute and fluffy and bouncy, and I decided straight off that I’d take him. Didn’t want the female. Two cats were too much for a small apartment. Two cats would be annoying. Sibling rivalries in cats? Ridiculously annoying. No, I’d just take the male cat to replace the orange male tabby I’d lost the month before.
By the end of the afternoon, I had guilted myself into taking them both. I realized they’d be together for another six weeks, and I’d feel awful about tearing them apart, since they’d already been taken from their mother at too young an age. So I called my neighbor’s daughter and told her I’d take them both.
I don’t believe in naming cats right away. I wait and see what their name is before I give it to them. Well, except I was pretty sure I was going to name Tigger Tigger, because that was the name of the cat I had lost, and I was desperately trying to replace him in my life. But for a while, I pretended I wasn’t, and because I couldn’t call them “Male and Female” or “Hey you,” and because there was no way in hell I was going to call a cat Nargle or Urgle or whatever stupid name the girl had given them, I called them George and Gracie until I could figure out what their names were.
Tig became Tig relatively quickly. But Gracie? She was a puzzle. She was gorgeous, and sweet, and sensitive. She was timid. She ran if you moved too quickly in her direction. She frightened easily. I discovered early on what a crybaby she was when I heard her screaming like she was being savaged, and went quickly into the living room to see what big brother was doing. He was trying to play with Gracie, but he hadn’t even touched her. He was literally in midair, and she was crying before he landed. She ultimately stopped doing that, but boy, when Tig bothers her now, she growls like he’s tearing her leg off, even if all he’s doing is scratching on the kitty condo because she’s lying in the tube and he wants to bug her.
But no name came to me for weeks, and one of my coworkers of the time started to chastise me. “You have to name her, ” she said. “It’s not right to name one but not the other.” She accused me of favoritism. I started thinking, and finally, the reason I couldn’t name Gracie came to me: I’d already found her name. She was Grace itself.
Gracie is a Cat with a capital C. She is poised. She is graceful. She doesn’t walk, she places her feet carefully in position, slipping quietly through the house. She doesn’t sit, she poses. She is breathtakingly beautiful. She is royalty. One of her names is Princess Gracie. Another of her names is Sweetness. I have plenty of scars from Tig. Gracie has never once scratched me in the nine-plus years I’ve had her. Tig will roll over and let just about anyone rub his belly. Gracie will permit you to pet her, if she decides you are worthy. She’s gotten friendlier and sweeter in the last few years—she lets Sarah’s twins pet her, which is huge—she’s normally afraid of children. She’s taken to Sarah in a big way lately, too.
Our morning routine has developed to the point where Gracie waits anxiously outside the bathroom door while I shower, and meows as soon as the water goes off. She wants me to come into the bedroom, where she’ll leap on the bed for her morning chin-scratches and petting, with perhaps a bellyrub thrown in. It’s our time, the morning. Her purrs are deep and throaty, and she kneads her paws in contentment, especially when I ask, “Who’s my girl? Are you my girl?”
I said those words over and over again on the day I watched her fight for every breath, while she was recovering from a seizure brought on by a severe asthmatic attack. Even though she was in a plastic case with oxygen feeding into it, she kneaded her paws, purring, as I said those words. They’re her words, and she knows it.
My girl is going into surgery tomorrow morning, and she may not come out of it. There is possibly some kind of mass in her intestinal tract. I am hoping beyond hope that it’s a mass of fur and grass and other objects that she simply can’t pass, or, failing that, that it’s an operable tumor. Because nine and a half years is not long enough with my Sweetness.
R’fuah shlema, Sweetness. Come back to me tomorrow.