When I first met Toby thirteen years ago, I wasn’t much of a cat person. Honestly, I didn’t really like cats at all. I was still carrying over some bad associations from a set of strays that my family took in briefly when I was a kid. I don’t remember much about those cats, save that their food smelled completely disgusting. All of my memories and opinions of cats flowed from that, as far as I can tell.
Regardless of the reasons, when one of my roommates at the time, Taylor, said that she wanted to get a cat, I wasn’t exactly thrilled. Fortunately, though I certainly wouldn’t have described it as such at the time, I was outvoted and, conflict-averse as I am, I decided to just roll with it. As long as the fur-ball wasn’t my responsibility, especially the nasty-smelling parts, I figured it wouldn’t be so bad.
I wasn’t really involved in Toby’s selection process, so I may never know why Taylor chose him, but I’ll be forever grateful that she did. Toby was a pound rescue, so he probably would’ve been put down in pretty short order if she hadn’t. He’d been picked up off the street, as I understand it, having lived there for quite a while as far as anyone could tell. Their vet estimated he was about three years old at the time, and it hadn’t been the kindest of three years. He had several notches in his ears as well as a few small scars. Somewhere along the way, he’d lost a good chunk of his teeth from his lower jaw along with his front claws. His brown tabby coat was quite handsome and he had a nice regal bearing about him, but otherwise he wasn’t exactly pet store material.
Despite all that, though, he was one of the friendliest and most mellow cats I’ve ever met. He definitely had a lion mentality going, and I don’t mean the fierce-hunting-female. No, he was more of the laze-about-while-others-do-all-the-work-giving-precisely-zero-fucks male lion. It wasn’t like he had to worry about one of the pride usurping his position as alpha, after all.
He had a few other oddities about him too, some endearing, others not so much. The first one we discovered a few days after his adoption, when he puked all over the carpet. We thought perhaps that this was just a phase, a sign of his anxiety in his new home. It wasn’t. In fact, he continued to do so on a pretty frequent basis for the rest of his life. You might be surprised how normal it can become to clean puke up off the floor once a week after enough time. Then again, you might not.
Far more amusing was his habit of licking things obsessively, namely people. And I do mean obsessively, too. He would keep going for as long as you let him. It would have been more amusing if his tongue hadn’t been as rough as sandpaper, though. I remember one time in particular, shortly after I’d graduated college, that I decided I would face down the legend once and for all. After luring him in with a patch of exposed forearm, we settled down into an epic battle of wills. Thirty minutes later, I just couldn’t take it anymore. My skin was raw, despite moving the arm a bit here and there to let him at a fresh patch, and he was showing no signs whatsoever of slowing down. I fared better than one of my house-guests, though. She made the mistake of falling asleep on the couch without fully covering herself in blankets; when she awoke in the morning, there was a very large patch of red on her arm, licked raw almost to the point of bleeding. To this day, he remains the undisputed champion of licking.
We learned to get along better over the years, Toby and I. Taylor mostly fed him dry food, which avoided dredging up gross memories. He was a sweet cat and loved to cuddle up next to me as I was on the couch. And when I wanted to be left alone, usually he would. Eventually I could no longer deny that I liked the little guy. This worked out pretty well, because it also eventually became evident that Toby was lonely. Between school and work, Taylor and I were spending an increasing amount of time away from the apartment, leaving Toby nobody to play with. So we decided to get a second cat and this time I got to help pick her out. I confess that I was a little nervous about the prospect; the old anti-cat sentiment reared its ugly head, trying to convince me that we’d just gotten lucky with Toby and that he was abnormally tolerable. I pushed those fears out of my head, though, and together Taylor and I found Sophie. Thankfully, the two cats got along quite well, after the always-rocky introduction phase, anyway. Her story is for another time, though.
The day came, though, when Taylor had to leave and she found that she couldn’t take the cats with her. Between the distance and the rules of her new home, there was just no way to make it work. I volunteered to take them for her and she agreed, for which I will also be forever thankful. In that moment, I completed my metamorphosis into a cat person.
Toby and I have had a lot of time together since then and the time has almost always been good. He kept me company when I was lonely and gave a helpful ear when I needed one to bend. He liked to curl up against me in the winter, to knead my leg into uselessness, and to lick my arm far more than could possibly be healthy, but at least assured me that I had a pleasant flavor. He was exceedingly polite when he wanted attention, simply sitting down next to my leg and tapping it gently, but persistently, with his paw. I won’t deny that he’s left me exasperated on more than one occasion, but that’s pretty much unavoidable when you’re dealing with a critter who has a mind of his own. The good has far outweighed the bad, and I don’t regret any of it.
Five days ago, I noticed that Toby was behaving rather oddly. He seemed unusually low-energy, as if he was depressed, and wasn’t rushing to the food bowls when it was feeding time. He’d had a few health issues lately, losing a tooth out of the blue and developing a thyroid condition, so seeing him like that made me uneasy, but there didn’t seem to be anything immediately dangerous. Three days ago, I noticed drops of blood on the carpet near him and realized that they were coming from his mouth. It was evening and so his regular vet was closed, so I took him straight to the emergency clinic.
I won’t go into detail here about the various symptoms and complications that were discovered between then and now. They don’t matter anymore. All that needs to be said is that treatment didn’t help him and, despite a few minor upswings, his condition continued to worsen. Today it became clear that wasn’t going to change and that I was only prolonging his pain by continuing treatment. Toby passed on today in as little pain as could be managed, with his head in my hand and my voice in his ear.
He was a cat of many names. The Tongue. The Lickenator. Kunta Kitteh. But to me, he’ll always be Toby. He was the cat that taught me to love cats. He filled a hole in my heart that I hadn’t known was there. He was a friend to me for almost half my life and now he’s gone. I miss him so much.
Goodbye, Toby. I love you.