My Life With Cats

By Lydia LaFleur, a member of Get Your WordsWorth

When my daughter Ingrid returned from Wales where she spent two years at the University of Swansea and at the local pubs, she brought with her Brandy, a large yellow tortoise shell and white cat, the kind that are bred to hunt mice in the barns of Europe. She made me think of a plump German hausfrau.  Then off Ingrid went to finish her degree at Boston University leaving Brandy with me.  Since I’d never had an animal in my life, not even a turtle or a gold fish, I had never learned how to relate to them and was not too happy about the arrangement, but then neither was Brandy; since there were no mice in my apartment, she began stalking me whenever I entered the living room after midnight.  It was unnerving to have a cat suddenly leap up onto you especially at that time of night.  Sharpening her claws on the furniture became another favorite pastime.   I bought her toy mice laced with catnip and a scratching pole with ledges, but those didn’t appease her.  Maybe Brandy was lonely.  What she needed was a playmate — or another victim, so off I went to Bide-A-Wee to get her a companion.  I almost bought a gigantic black cat who greeted me with an arched back and a big grin on her face –  the very essence of a scary Halloween   She would spook Brandy out, I chuckled, but I wasn’t that mean.  I settled on a small very sweet looking  black cat with a tear progressing from one eye to her cheek who looked at me longingly.   I decided to call her Mandy from Mandisa, meaning sweet in Swahili, and she lived up to that name until the day she died twelve years later.

Brandy was furious with me; it was bad enough to have to live with me but now there was an intruder also.  She stopped eating; for five days I  went from presenting her with dishes of cat food to health foods to cooked fresh chicken breasts.  Cat dishes covered the kitchen floor.  She would have none of it.  I had heard that cats are smart and understand people so on the fifth day I took Brandy into my bedroom, closed the door and delivered a monologue to her.  “I’m sorry that you haven’t been eating any of the food I made for you.  I want you to know that I went to Bide-A-Wee to get a  companion for you. I wanted you to have a playmate.  I did it for you, for you.”  I went on like this for about five minutes.  When I opened the door, Brandy went over to the cat dishes and began eating. No problem with her appetite from then on.  But she never did get to like Mandy; she tolerated her, sometimes chased her around the apartment, but at least she no longer stalked me after midnight.  I felt badly for Mandy, because she so wanted to be friends.  Brandy did agree to play with us when I twirled string around the room and both tried to catch it or ran after a ball but unlike dogs with no instinct for retrieval.  Mandy’s favorite game was dashing under a sheet as I shook to spread it out in the living room  for my yoga exercises.  Brandy participated halfheartedly.

And so we lived together for twelve years adapting to each other .  I did enjoy being greeted  when I came home from work, and they became good company. I  realized I had grown quite fond of both of them. Mandy was affectionate and loved to nestle up on my lap in the living room while Brandy would lie on the carpet a distance away.  Often when reading I’d look up to see Brandy staring at me with her eyes shining like burnished gold.  “You can’t stare me down,” I’d say to Brandy who would just continue eyeing me.  I wondered what she was thinking. I felt sorry for her cooped up in this apartment after two years of roaming around in a large two story house and in the company of half a dozen university students.  I bought them a tall cat tree with several ledges for climbing and sharpening claws, but it never became a favorite.  In my attempt to decorate my bedroom I had my Queen Anne overstuffed chair whose cushioned seat was sinking down to the floor reupholstered in Italian damask of tiny flowers including lavender.  It was gorgeous, now my best piece of furniture.  No sooner had the upholsterer delivered it when I saw Brandy heading straight for it with her claws.  The following week I took them to the vet for the barbarous act of claw removal.  The vet tried to assuage my guilt saying sooner or later almost everyone in New York City has their cat’s claws removed.

Now that my children were more or less out in the world I began to do some traveling to Europe and to Japan where my son was working. A neighbor’s teenage son who was working for a vet on weekends was hired to take care of Brandy and Mandy.  On my return from Japan they both greeted me at the door; Mandy was as sweet natured as always.  I unpacked and hung up my clothes, turned around to close the suitcase, only to find that Brandy had peed in it.  She had made a statement. I put the suitcase out in the custodian’s hall closet and ten minutes later found that someone had retrieved it.  After Italy the couch cover in my living room was soiled, but I didn’t know  for a few days until I wondered what that smell was in the corner of my living room.  Another boy who had been feeding them had turned the mattress over instead of really cleaning it.  When I returned from Paris I found that Brandy had defecated on the bedspread near the pillows.  Ah, revenge, how sweet it is!  Or the cat lover’s interpretation: Brandy had missed me. I’m glad she had one happy experience in her life here: when my son left for a post in Paris he bequeathed to me a luxuriant green plant whose small leaves overflowed the large desk in my living room; Brandy devoured leaf by leaf the whole plant within a couple of days.

When they had been living with me for eleven years, Mandy began to be sickly and later Brandy.  I never knew coming home from work if I would find vomit or diarrhea  True to their species they had always been fastidious except when Brandy was angry at me.  Rounding them up for a trip to the vet became a game of hide and seek.  No trip for me that summer except to the vet.  The crushing news was that they might have toxoplasmosis, a parasite found in raw meat or even in cockroaches  This disease can be communicated to people through contact with cat feces.  Many people are infected but most will only suffer flu-like symptoms and not even know they have it. The danger is to the fetus of pregnant women which could contract  encephalitis, neurological disorders or affect the liver or eyes.  My daughter and my daughter-in-law were in their last stages of pregnancy; both of them had stayed in my home.    The chances of them having contracted the disease were very slim, but with my obsessiveness I became almost crazed during that month of August.  I insisted that Keiko and Ingrid be tested for the disease.  I will never forget that terrible August twenty five years ago waiting for three weeks for the results from the lab tests.  To make matters worse the Today Show ran a segment about the dangers of toxoplasmosis  to pregnant women.  The timing  couldn’t have been worse.  The good news was that the fetuses were alright, but the bad news, Mandy and Brandy had toxoplasmosis.

It was painful to see them growing thinner and weaker.  What will remain always in my memory is Mandy weak as she was still trying to play her favorite game – running under the sheet as I spread it out in the living room for my yoga exercises.  Years later when I was taking acting lessons and had to cry in a scene all I had to do was to conjure up the scene of Mandy sick as she was wanting to still take partake in her favorite game with me.

One afternoon I had friends over for drinks and to talk about plans for our community theater.  I was vaguely aware that Brandy had disappeared under the living room couch where we were seated and stayed there the whole time.  When my friends left she emerged but hardly able to walk.  I felt terrible that for two hours or more she had been suffering while we had been laughing and having a good time.  I put her in the cat carrying case – she did not resist; she was too ill to run.  In the taxi to the vet I talked to her and told her how sorry I was that I was not aware that she was that ill,  that I wished she could have been happier in my home and with me, and that I did the best I knew how. She looked at me all the time I was talking to her as if she understood what I was saying.  The vet examined her, said she should stay there; I said goodbye to Brandy; she died the next morning.   Even though Mandy did not seem as ill as Brandy I came home from work one day a week later to find Mandy had died alone.  I think she died of a broken heart now that Brandy was gone.

I’m so grateful to my daughter for initiating one of the richest experiences of my life.  Brandy and Mandy, I’m glad I knew you.

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2 thoughts on “My Life With Cats

  1. peggy strait says:

    Dear Lydia,
    I can’t begin to tell you how much I enjoyed reading this story. In addition to telling us so much about the nature of cats, in particular Brandy and Mandy, it told us so much about you. Thanks for sharing with us. – Peggy

  2. Graceful, moving, full of imagery and emotion. The cats have personalities. They reflect your personality. I love it. Thank you. Rebecca

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