He is balding in many places, and no amount of elaborate combing-over can hide the telltale glow of pink skin underneath. Over the years, his once-musical voice has been reduced to a plaintive croak. If we watch a movie together, he falls asleep and snores so loudly during the most sensitive and touching love scenes I can barely hear the dialogue. His table manners, once so meticulous, have now become truly atrocious, with food scattered willy-nilly in every direction so that it crunches under your feet when you walk through the kitchen.
And let’s not even talk about his bathroom habits, which have grown so shamefully lax I hesitate to invite anyone over any more. It’s too embarrassing to have to explain why my entire house smells of bleach.
I remember him when he was young and beautiful. I can still vividly remember the day we went to choose him from the animal rescue shelter. He was the prettiest and healthiest kitten at the shelter, snoozing peacefully in his cage with his silky black and white fur highlighting perfect pink ears that flicked gently in the soft Indian-summer air.
We had gone there to ease the heartache of a now-empty nursery that had been intended to welcome home our greatly anticipated second child. Our Christopher died in my arms within minutes of his appearance on earth, and I ached for something small and warm to hold. Although I could not imagine how a small kitten could possibly be expected to fill the void left by a son I had hoped to raise to adulthood, I wanted to demonstrate to Katie, my firstborn, that our lives must keep moving forward, no matter how badly our hearts were broken.
That was more than 18 years ago. In the intervening years, our Mozart has helped us welcome our youngest child into our midst. As far as Emily knows, there has always been a cat who is part of our family. Mozart was here for their first days of school, the endless round of sleepovers and birthday parties, their first crushes. He has seen Katie graduate first from high school, then college. He has seen Emily sail through her entire 10+ years of school with straight A’s. If he continues to hang in there much as he has, he may well see at least one young woman in her wedding gown within the next few years.
And, if our veterinarian has it figured right, he may even still be around to usher in the next generation. At our last well-being checkup, the vet looked into Mozart’s crystal-clear green eyes, nodded, and announced, “Yep. I think this cat’s going to make it to 22.”
As for me, I’m counting on it.