A tribute to Moby, my Perfect Cat
Moby had a purr like epic poetry. It was deep, soulful, resonant, and so big, you’d wonder how it came from such a small cat. It was loud, too – you could hear it rumbling, smooth and efficient, from across the room. I’d lay on the couch and he’d get under the blanket and curl up next to my belly or stretch out against my chest with his head beneath my chin, and that purr would massage my anxiety without mercy.
I remember my wife Stacy plucked him from a mess of kittens at the Humane Society. I was courting a different little furball, and she convinced me that this little black cat was a good one. He was so small, he could stand on all four paws in the palm of my hand. At the time, the musical artist Moby was popular, and although I was a casual fan of his at best, I thought that sounded like a great name for a cat. I’d subsequently fib a little and say his name was inspired by Moby Dick, because I liked the clever irony of naming a small black cat after a giant white whale.
That was the spring of 2001, a different world ago. Last Wednesday, we lost Moby. He was 18, a hearty age for a cat. But you’ve no doubt read about the ones that live to be 22 and 25 and 27, and there were times when I’d hold Moby up to my face and tell him he’d better live to be 30, because I don’t know what I’d do without him. And he’d purr.
Of course he’d purr. He was easy. We’ve had a few cats, and always handled and pampered them so they’d be social. But Moby took to it exceptionally. For me, he was a black belt ninja kung fu master of affection. I used to carry him around the house, tucked under my arm like a football, my hand under his chest and his legs dangling down, and I’m convinced he didn’t just tolerate it – like many cats do in response to human sentiment – but loved it. To his dying day, I could cradle him in the crook of my arm and rub his tummy, and he’d look up at me with eyes that were big, wide, innocent and kittenish, but that also told me he was a king in that moment.
He’d purr when I did that, of course, although on that last day, the purr was harder to coerce. Whatever malaise was slowly consuming him had worked around the medication and continued its course. His back legs would sometimes get wobbly, and we had been managing his incontinence. I rubbed his jawline and massaged behind his ears and stroked his back, now bony from weight loss, and the purr just wouldn’t manifest, and that’s when you get a catch in the back of your throat and your cheeks and temples feel swollen and you know it’s time.
For 18 years, I was Moby’s primary heat source. To say he was a lap cat is to say the Pacific Ocean is a damp hole in the earth. He’d work his way into a lap like a professional gambler bellying up to a poker table full of tourists: he’d throw a hand or two, then before you know it, he’s bulldozing you. A plateful of food, an open laptop, another cat – nothing would stop him until he had pole position and could shift into sixth gear, revving up a tectonic purr that could raise an eyebrow of a geologist a thousand miles away.
Moby’s temperament is legendary in our house. He wasn’t too demanding, at least until he hit his mid-teens and knew he could get away with being cranky and yowling three times for a sticky inch of his sugary joint medicine. We used to call him The Perfect Cat because he was so easygoing. He knew his name and would come when we called it. He’d meet me at the door when I got home. He’d chase the red laser pointer and get a little goofy over some catnip. I honestly don’t recall him chewing on or destroying anything beyond one of those kitty-torture toys with catnip sewn into it. Anyone could pet him or pick him up; sometimes, he’d charm a visitor with a nuzzle, a lap-sit and a purr.
As the best of us are bundles of vexatious contradictions, Moby was also a tenacious, stubborn cat. He had a conqueror’s will. I’d be wrestling a snorting deadline and trying to gin up a sentence out of raw sweat and desperation, and Moby would make his 17th consecutive attempt to wedge himself between my belly button and keyboard. He once lugged open an unwieldy cabinet door, freed a dead mouse from a recently sprung trap and batted it around the kitchen floor until it went under the refrigerator. When the vet needed to draw blood, he’d dig in, and motorists on the street would pull over and check the rearview for flashers.
Both Perfect Moby and Stubborn Moby came into play when our son was born. He was 13 when we brought the baby home, and by the time Henri was crawling, Moby had decided he’d subtly assert his territorialism. He didn’t bite or hiss or attack; he just wouldn’t budge. Our other cat, a big-boned Russian blue named Gus – now eight years old and 18 pounds and, I’m pretty sure, a little bit lonely – decided he was fine with the basement (he’d eventually warm to the kid). But Moby just curled his paws beneath his chest and got heavy: grab my tail, I don’t care, but don’t expect me to move from this spot. Before we knew it, Henri knew the meaning of the word “gentle,” and would pet and hug and say good night to Moby, or fill his food dish or give him treats.
And then I was faced with the task of telling the boy how important it was to say goodbye to Moby, because he’d never see him again. He understood his cat was sick and weary, but Henri likely was too young to comprehend the larger issue as to why Moby would be gone. Because who ever really understands it, or wants to think about it, or acknowledge it when it’s right there in front of you? Why must life’s finite quality be so fundamental to its value?
Now, I think I’m seeing Moby out of the corner of my eye, or hearing his vociferous meow from the other room, but know it’s just grief, and the psychological residue that’s left when a pillar crumbles from beneath the main beam, and you’re straining to hold it up, refusing to believe that it’s just a cat, just a pet, and not something – someone – you saw every night before bed and every morning after waking up and every time you tossed kibble into a bowl or sat down with a book or the remote control, and with whom you shared something intense, sincere, instinctual, perhaps impossible to define. I used to slouch on the sofa and draw Moby up to my chest and wrap my arms around him, both of us drowsy, and his purr was Milton and Homer and Shakespeare, hands and feet, warmth and breath, friendship and family, monumental, weighty, supple, sentimental, quixotic love.