It was a Spring day in 1996. I was in my bedroom on the third floor of my Baldwin family home, with two new kittens that were now my babies. One orange and white, one tabby/stray that earned him the moniker “Bootsie’s Ghost” from my dad, because the kitten looked like my first cat Bootsie, minus the “boots.”
The sign on their cage at North Shore Animal League said that these kitties must be adopted together; they were family and must not be separated. I agreed, and felt they should also have coinciding names. For about a day, the kittens were named Archie and Jughead.
Archie was an immediate mush, an obvious kitty whore for love and affection, and I loved him for it. Jughead was cynical and didn’t trust anyone, even as a baby. So when I took a nap that first day, and he came over to me, jittery at first, but eventually, fully vulnerable as he napped next to my legs, I knew he was My Baby.
I don’t remember how exactly, I switched names for my new kittens, but Archie and Jughead never felt quite right to me, and the next day, I changed their names to Pumpkin and Pecan.
They were as different as night and day, though they were brothers from the same litter and loved each other with a kitty phileo love. Pumpkin continued to be a love whore who thought he was a puppy. I loved Pumpkin. He was one of the most sweethearted cats I’ve ever met — completely open and happy to give affection to anyone who’d do the same. He’d stop in the middle of the room and roll onto his back in hopes of having his tummy rubbed, while Pecan watched, raised a proverbial eyebrow, and seemed to question the world at large. A cynical cat worthy of all the bitter poets from the sixties that I didn’t quite get in my younger age. I let them roam my house after that first day (the cats, not the poets), and they paraded around, making the house their own. Pumpkin just wanted to mush with humans, and Pecan wanted to hump stuffed animals, even after he was neutered.
A year and a half later, Pumpkin got sick with a mysterious illness that thousands of dollars in surgery and multiple nights at the animal hospital with my brother couldn’t fix, and we had to put him to sleep. I was devastated for Pumpkin, and for myself, and for my family especially said brother Robb, who was a rock during that sad time, but I was most devastated for Pecan, who’d lost his brother. He and Pumpkin were so close, even North Shore wouldn’t separate them, and now here he was, barely an adult cat, faced with living the rest of his life minus his brother and best friend. After Pumpkin died, I put all of my cat-mom energy into giving Pecan the happiest life I knew how to give.
After losing Bootsie to a car who didn’t see him, I never wanted to let another cat go outdoors, and did my best to keep Pecan domestic and safe. He wanted no part of that. So my twenties were spent coming home to my Baldwin house and greeting Pecan outside. He was no mushy Pumpkin, but when I came home, he’d roll over onto his back and welcome me home, hoping for a tummy rub, scratching and biting me when I gave it to him. As warm and un-cut-out for the outside world as Pumpkin had been, Pecan was borderline feral, and I have two scars on my right arm to prove it, from the day of my 25th birthday celebration at my parents’ house, when he got spooked. I came downstairs after trying to bring him into the festivities, bleeding hard. I wore an Ace bandage on that arm for a month back at college, so no one would think I tried to slit my wrists.
That was Pecan. He didn’t mean to hurt me; he was just a Major Badass. Two years prior to ersatz suicide, we had big drama at our home. There was a stray who became our proxy-cat and whom we named Cupcake, in keeping with the baked-goods theme. It was before I knew to spay and neuter strays when possible, and Cupcake got pregnant with another stray cat’s babies. After she gave birth, my backyard turned into “West Side Story.” A possum started wreaking havoc on the animal neighborhood, and almost killed Cupcake. So while my family tried to keep Cupcake alive, and her kittens alive through droppers of formula, Pecan defended her roost, and would have died himself, were he not so badass, and showed that possum who was Boss! He was a regular Vic Mackey, problematic and possibly with Madonna/whore issues, but overall, keeping the neighborhood safer for the other cats. Protecting Cupcake, and her kittens.
And so it went. Many a night, I awakened from sleep to the wails of cat fighting, and went outside to chase away whatever animal was bugging Pecan, and open the door. “Baby! Come home. It’s okay. You don’t have to fight.”
Pecan would come home, and nap next to my legs, just like that first day when he was a kitten.
Years went on, and Pecan fully settled into the role he played best — misanthrope who enjoyed peripheral people. There was not a Christmas that went by, where he wasn’t under the tree somewhere, glaring at my entire family, yet…there. Obligatorily indignant, but happy for the community.
And when I moved back home after getting married and then getting left, with my two kittens obtained from Oneonta, Pecan welcomed me back with open arms, and quickly adjusted to welcoming the kittens too, enjoying his new position as head honcho. It had been six years since he’d had to share his roost, and while he didn’t seem to quite like his new companions, he seemed somehow happier, that once again, he was around other cats.
It was a Spring day in 2008. My family had moved piece by piece, person by person, to Colorado. And I had to let Pecan go with them. I knew that Pecan loved me, but he loved my mom the most, no contest, and that is where she was going.
So I let him go. Pecan had to go on a plane, so my mom got him sedatives, and I said goodbye to him through the cat carrier. He hated the cat carrier. I’ve never met a cat who didn’t. But he was all peaceful from the drugs, and gave me his patented look of disdain/love through the bars as I said goodbye to him, and cried.
And he went to live the rest of his life in Colorado Springs. Where there are foxes and bears in the backyard. To quasi-paraphrase Cordelia from Buffy Season 3, Ep 2: “Worse than possums!”
Apparently, when Pecan moved to Colorado at the ripe old age of 12, he still went outside. And one time, he was gone for like, a week. My father had always professed, quite vocally, that he hated cats. But he of all people suggested getting a cat to my sister and baby brother. So they adopted two cats who got named Crispin and Tommy. As Pecan was used to random, younger cats showing up, he dealt with these young brothers. Sneering, but very “Game of Thrones” about His Place In Life As An Aging Man.
When Pecan went missing, seeing as he was older, my mom thought maybe he’d gone off to do the cat thing where if you’re going to die, you want to do it in solitude. But Crispin and Tommy went on a quest, and my mom is convinced to this day that they left to save their captain Pecan. The three of them came back, together.
Back in August of last year, my brother Eric set his default to a particularly sweet one that was of him lying on the Baldwin driveway in his suit, bonding with Pecan. And that week, my mom left me a voicemail, that I didn’t return until later.
A couple of months later, on the way to my grandfather’s funeral, a grandfather who in so many ways was like Pecan himself — strong, badass, cantankerous — any and all of the ingredients for an interesting and awesome being — my mom was driving and said, “Oh, I have some bad news. Pecan died.”
She went on to describe Pecan’s losing mobility in his legs, and how he stopped eating, and how she took him to the vet, and how the vet said that Pecan had probably had an aneurism, and there was nothing more they could do. Not anything that would let Pecan live a life with dignity and badassery. That it was only a matter of time, and he was suffering. Greatly.
And as my mother drove to her father’s funeral, to bury the truly great man that was directly responsible for her life, my life, so many people’s lives…she talked about going to the vet that day with Pecan, and putting him to sleep, and how she was a mess, and how Eric comforted her when she was mourning the loss of a cat who always did love her the most.
In cat years, Pecan lived to be 84. When he was 78, in cat years, I went to visit my family in Colorado. He was there, chilling. I was so psyched to see him again, and he seemed mildly interested at my return. I will never forget kissing him goodbye. Next to my family’s new sliding door to the outside world that after all this time, Pecan didn’t need, because after all this time, he was truly happy, just to be home.
And that is all I ever wanted for him, from the moment I saw him in a cage with Pumpkin, when the sign told me that the two were a package deal.
A family waiting to be met.
Rest in peace, Pecan. I love you.