A lifetime ago, my father and I went to the Humane Society, back when it was still in crowded, dark conditions right off Highway One. I wanted a cat, an official house cat, and we went back and forth through the cages for hours, my father demonstrating remarkable patience as we met all the cats and went through and went through again.
One cat kept reaching out through the bars at us, batting us gently and giving us curious looks. Lanky and adolescent, his shelter name was ‘Smudge,’ and while I liked the orange tabby better, we kept coming back to Smudge. We took him home with a little yellow sheet about how to care for your new cat, and little did I know that his tendency to reach out for what he wanted and take it would only deepen in his years with me.
If you didn’t take suitable action on a pressing matter, he would meow until you did. And Mr. Bell, as he came to be known, had an exquisitely penetrating meow that could quickly become unendurable. I always suspected there was some Siamese lurking in there, because he could keep up sustained meowing at a pitch that seemed calculated to fracture your ear drums.
Nothing was sacred, never, not ever, and no stone was left unturned in his quest to exert authority over the household. My father tried to keep Mr. Bell off his bed, but to no avail; every time he came home, Mr. Bell would be curled up in the exact middle, contentedly purring to himself.
Mr. Bell went with me to Oakland and San Francisco, he logged more hours on the 101 than some truck drivers, he moved through multiple houses with me and met all sorts of people and gained a loyal fan following on the Internet.
‘My cat is going to end up with more Twitter followers than me,’ I used to joke.
The funny thing about losing those you love is that the feeling never really goes away. I still miss him, every day. I reach out across the covers in the morning, searching for his head, I watch my step when I get up at night because I expect him to jump off the bed and trail just ahead of me, I look for his face in the window every time I pull up to the house. I look around every time I open anything in a can.
And every time, I remember that he’s not there. He won’t be there. He will never be there.