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Sugar Bowl Mix: August 2009

Friday, August 14, 2009

Remembering Jasper

The first time I saw him he was sitting on the sun splashed dining room windowsill at my sister's house in Canada. She had kept him and his brother for a month until they were old enough to get the vaccines needed to enter the US. She and her family called him "The Brave One." His little three-pound kitten self was unimaginably cute. He seemed unimpressed with me, even when I told him I was there to take him home to California. He opened his mouth in a yawn and stretched out.

Twelve hours later I lay in my little one bedroom apartment in Hollywood listening to him running about, crunching loudly on food and periodically scratching, scratching, scratching in the litter box. I didn't sleep that first night. Somewhere I had read that when you first got a cat you should confine them to one room. My mistake was confining he and his brother to my bedroom.

I named him Jasper. I don't know why. It was a name that came to me and it seemed to fit. I kicked him, along with his brother Charles, out of my bedroom at night so I could sleep. He and Charles found a comfy spot to sleep at the back of a closet in the living room. Every morning they came scratching on the door at 7:30 and got into bed with me. After a month I let them sleep with me. They slept snuggled against me, Jasper usually on top of the covers, on my leg, all night long. The boys, as I came to call them, always greeted me at the door when I came home from work. Jasper insisted on being picked up and snuggling against my shoulder. If I was carrying groceries and went into the kitchen first, he would climb onto me, shouting at me.

Jasper grew bigger and bigger and by the time he was two he weighed fourteen pounds. I had moved into a two bedroom apartment with a friend and he started sleeping under the covers with me, often on top of me, his buck tooth digging into me. Every evening when he heard my car pulling into the back he would race down the hall to the back door where he greeted me, shouting and demanding to be picked up. He followed me from room to room much like a dog. He came when he was called. He stopped tearing around the apartment when I asked him to. He was amazingly cooperative. He loved meeting new people. Once I gave a cocktail party for my college's LA alumni branch. The Canadian Consular General attended with his wife. Jasper spent the whole party in between them, being petted and fawned over.

By the time he was five he weighed 16 pounds, a weight he remained at for most of his life. He was a large cat. The vet suggested he should lose weight. I moved into a one bedroom apartment by myself and Jasper was furious at the move. He didn't greet me at the door for two weeks. But he came to accept that apartment. He often sat outside on the porch I screened in for him, but his favorite spot was a little sleeper that attached to the windowsill at the front of the apartment where he had a perfect view off all the goings-ons of the eclectic residents. Every evening he cuddled up on me while I read my scripts and manuscripts for work. He attended every dinner party I gave, always amusing the guests by jumping into recently abandoned chairs and sitting upright, as though he had every right to be there. Which he did.

He was athletic; he could jump great big leaps. He caught a bird who flew into my apartment and ate the whole thing save for a few feathers. His brother helped, of course. But I know it was Jasper who really caught the bird. Once I took him to Toronto with me for the holidays and my parents had recently acquired a new Airedale puppy. Unlike his brother who was determined to get into a knock down drag-out fight with that dog, Jasper wanted nothing to do with him. In order to get away from one of his brother's run-ins with the puppy he took a flying leap that must have carried him five feet into the air and at least seven feet across. My father, a witness, said it was a "heroic leap."

He happily moved into a little house when I married Tim and then made the trek north with us when we moved to San Francisco. In San Francisco he found his happiest spot, the top deck of a cat throne in a sunny, warm, south-facing bay window on the second floor. In San Fransisco he posed for his portrait, spending a whole day sitting on the couch in the living room while the artist tried to paint him. He accepted both my girls, letting them pat him and not running away when they shrieked at him. He was an amazingly tolerant fellow.

In San Francisco he became an adventurous cat. One night Tim came home and while he was bringing a large load of dry cleaning in, the boys slipped out the door. I heard Charles crying loudly and finally found him outside the front door but no Jasper. It was a typically windy, cool San Francisco night. I called Jasper a few times and he came galloping down the sidewalk, back up the steps and into the house, meowing loudly as if to say, "what? I was out for a stroll."

 We had a sunny deck and garden in that San Francisco house and I bought leashes for the boys and we started bringing them outside with us. Jasper loved this privilege. It was the first time in his eight years that he had ever spent time outside. He seemed happy to stay on the deck. We started letting him out without a leash. Then we became a little too comfortable with the whole thing and would go inside to get something, leaving the boys outside. A few times Jasper wandered off the deck into the garden. He always came back when he was called. Once, we forgot he was outside. Caroline was not yet two and I was upstairs with her when I heard terrible cat fighting noises. I knew at once it was Jasper. I raced down the stairs with Caroline following me and out the door. No Jasper. Not on the deck, not in the garden. Someone from the house behind ours said he saw two cats fighting in the next garden over and one looked like a Siamese. I called him and called him. So did Caroline. He didn't come. And then I saw him, tentatively poking his head out from under our next door neighbor's back porch. He wanted to come but was too terrified. Tim climbed over the fence and handed him to me. The leash went back on.

He moved back to Los Angeles with us and eventually found a comfortable spot on the top deck of the cat throne in front of a breezy window. He learned to stay out of the girls' way. He spent four nights in the ICU at the vet with pancreatitis. He lost a little weight. He started slowing down. He stopped greeting me at the door. But he still managed to catch a lizard who had made its way into our house. He and his brother ate everything save the tail.

He slowly developed an understanding with the girls. They pet him on our bed. He hissed at Katie once when she was three. She bit his ear. I told her he was within his rights and she said she knew that. She liked to talk about that, how Jasper had hissed at her only once when she "bited his ear." He knew just how to handle a child who pushed her boundaries. He visited each of the girls classrooms for four years running, letting all the children pat him. He enjoyed those outings.

Katie fell madly in love with Jasper, the cat who didn't run away when she pet him, the cat who let her lie on top of him, the cat who hung like a sack of potatoes when she picked him up, the cat who came in to her room every night to say good night. The first time she slept over at a friend's house I found Jasper sitting on her bed at seven o'clock, waiting for his little girl to come home and go to bed. He was a good, good cat.

Every night after the girls went to bed, Jasper ate his supper and came to sit with us on the sofa until it was time for bed. He always followed me to bed and slept with me. It was such a comfort to wake up with his hot little body pressing into me.

Jasper didn't choose me. Nor did I choose him. He just happened to be born to the litter of cats that was available when my sister called looking for cats as a gift for me. But he accepted me, was devoted to me and provided me with sixteen years of loyal companionship. He was always there, affectionately pressing his head into my shoulder or laying his paws across my lap. He sensed when I was upset and needed comfort. He didn't ask for much but he gave so much. He lived a good life and was very loved. In the last few years when I ran into someone I knew a long time ago, they would say, "Oh my gosh! You still have those cats?" Everyone who met Jasper remembered him. He was just that kind of cat.

On the second day I had Jasper, sixteen years ago, when I was twenty-six, I made a pact with him. I told him I would always love him and take care of him as best as I possibly could if he would be the best cat ever. We both made good on that pact. I wouldn't change a thing and I don't think he would either.

April 21, 1993 - August 13, 2009

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