Annabel arrives in my life on a warm Saturday morning in early September in 1990.
I am the weekend receptionist for veterinarian Dr. Crenshaw. It's actually a quiet Saturday with relatively few appointments. One of Dr. Crenshaw's clients calls.
"Hi, this is Mrs. X," she says.
"Hi, Mrs. X. What can we do for you?"
"Well, there's a cat that's been living in our garage. My husband wouldn't let me bring her into the house."
Mrs. X's husband won't let Mrs. X bring the cat into the house because the X household is already full up with three dogs, four cats and a guinea pig.
"The cat had two kittens a few weeks ago and she was killed by a car last night. I want to bring the kittens inside, but my husband will kill me. I'm not sure what to do with these kittens."
"You can just bring them right to the Humane Society shelter. Somebody should adopt them quickly there," I reply and provide her the address.
Dr. Crenshaw's veterinary clinic is considerably closer to Mrs. X's home than the Human Society shelter and she arrives not ten minutes later with a very small box containing two very tiny kittens - one all grey and the other a grey tiger striped kitty, both mewling furiously and covered in fleas.
Mrs. X sprints out the door before I can say anything.
One of the vet techs and I give the tiny creatures flea baths after we close up shop. They squeak and cry piteously as they endure getting wet.
We have no overnight weekend stays and so no one will be coming in on Sunday. The little kitties can't stay in the clinic until Monday without someone coming to check on them.
"I can't take them," says the tech to me. "My dog will think that I've brought him a lovely snack."
I look at the two wet squally kitties and say, "OK, well I can take them for a few nights."
Notice that it doesn't occur to me to take them to the Humane Society?
By the time I arrive at home the two kitties are dry, warm and very sleepy. I lay down on my couch, turn on the TV and the kitties curl up underneath my chin for a long nap full of purring and just a little bit of kitten drool.
We are all content.
I decide then and there that I'll "keep just one of them" and take the other to the Humane Society on Monday.
How to decide which to keep?
Francis is clingy and needy, always wanting to be with me and mewling pitifully when I'm not willing to hold him.
Annabel is much more independent. The Adventurer.
It is Annabel who figures out how to open the glass fronted built-in cabinet doors and climb inside with my cookbooks. It's Annabel who is the first to explore my apartment. And Annabel who figures out (and quickly learns never to do so again) how to pull the shower lever to turn on the shower...while she and Francis are in the tub.
How to decide which to keep?
Francis - the tiger kitty - stays with me for nine years until he becomes very ill and has to be euthanized in 1999.
Annabel lives with me to the ripe old age of 19 years and 4 months...until yesterday when Chris and I have to say goodbye to her at the Bay State Emergency Veterinary Clinic.
Until yesterday the saying in our house was always, "It's all about Annabel."
Not because she is a demanding and terrible and cranky and grumpy (a little like our Cecil), but because she is so sweet and lovely and loving and funny.
Everyone who meets her falls in love with Annabel.
Even our friend D who is a confirmed Dog Guy and just as confirmed Not A Cat Guy seemed to think she Annabel was pretty OK...
For a cat.
Annabel fell in love with D on his first visit to our house. When he would come for game nights here at our house, Annabel would make a beeline for his lap. D is very tall and has very long legs and Annabel seemed to take great joy in stretching out to her full length along his thighs. She would close her eyes and purr contentedly.
D even gave her a little scratch or two.
"She's all right," D would say.
Part of Annabel's charm was the way she would talk to everyone. Little chirps and meows. As she grew older, her gentle "meow" turned into a louder and more insistent "Mrow!!"
When Francis was alive, Annabel was a very quiet cat. Francis did all of the talking for the two of them. He meowed often, though not loudly. For a 20+ pound cat, Francis sounded for all the world like a teeny tiny kitten. Francis liked to be the center of my world. He spent as much time in my lap as possible and talking to me as much as possible.
Annabel took whatever of my attention she could get when Francis wasn't monopolizing me.
After Francis was gone it took about a month for Annabel to fully realize that he was not coming back and that she had me all to herself. She would wander around my apartment searching for Francis all the while shooting me puzzled looks about his continued absence.
At the end of a month, Annabel discovered her voice.
With Francis no longer there doing all of the talking, Annabel realized that she had something to say. Nine years' worth of Annabel's silence came to a crashing and loud end. She began chirping and meowing and chatting...all of what she had to say that she had kept to herself came tumbling out and never stopped.
At the end of that same month Annabel discovered my lap and spent the next ten years there whenever I sat or lay down on the couch.
Often when I'm downstairs watching TV or in the living room reading a book, I'll look down and there will be Annabel sacked out in my lap.
"How long have you been there?" I'll ask.
When she wasn't in my lap, Annabel could usually be found in her bowl.
"Her 'bowl'?" you ask.
Chris' aunt and uncle gave us a beautiful ceramic bowl as a wedding present. It has sat on our dining table since we were married. And when we moved to this house five years ago, Annabel claimed the bowl as her own. It was just the right size for her to curl up in it to relax or sleep.
We have some great photos of Annabel in her Bowl.
The only "person" who didn't like Annabel is Forest.
When I met Forest in 2000, she was a very shy little kitty. Prone to hiding for hours at a time behind the couch when a new person came to visit Chris' apartment.
However, it didn't take long for Forest to recognize me as a cat person and when I would come to visit she would leap onto Chris' kitchen table, tail straight up in the air, purring like mad and wanting my attention. We became fast friends.
And then came Annabel.
Chris and I kept our cats separated for the first week that we all lived together in our rented house in Newport. Annabel stayed in the guest room while Forest and Cecil stayed in our office. We let them all out at separate times so they could get used to each other's smells and the new house. After a week, we let them all meet face to face.
There was no fighting, but it became evident that Forest felt little but contempt and dislike for the Grey Intruder.
And it became just as evident that Forest had some kind of personality transplant as a result of Annabel's arrival in her life.
Forest became the House Bad Ass.
She did a 180 and turned into a confident, outgoing and assertive cat...directing most of that assertiveness at a very perplexed Annabel.
In almost ten years' time, Forest never came to accept Annabel, who made the very occasional and very unsuccessful attempt to befriend Forest, but there was never any true cat fighting. They pretty much left each other alone except for some occasional hissing and batting at each other when they came upon one other unexpectedly.
Everyone else loved Annabel.
"She's SO beautiful!" people would exclaim upon first meeting Annabel.
As much as I loved her and thought she was the most wonderful creature on the planet (sorry, Chris), I never thought of her as "SO beautiful!" She was grey - sleek and shiny for most of her life - with yellow eyes. Pretty, certainly, but beautiful? I guess she was. It's wonderful that others thought so.
And not only would people be amazed by her beauty, but they would be charmed by her friendliness and her desire to get to know them. She was like a little dog in a cat disguise - always wanting to be around the action and with the people visiting our house. Wanting to hang out with everyone.
Annabel was also the Queen of the "Head Butt."
She would gently head butt visitors with her forehead to get their attention.
And she would certainly head butt us.
Chris and I would be sitting at the dining table talking at the end of a work day and Annabel would come to each of us in turn to head butt our shoulders or chins or hands. A "head butt" that clearly said, "Hello. I missed you today. I love you. You can feel free to give me some attention now."
Occasionally Annabel would sometimes employ the Head Butt to wake us up in the mornings. Unfortunately, she more often then not chose to employ a much more vigorous head butt right to Chris' or my forehead.
"Ow," we would say, "Annabel, you have a very hard head."
"Mrow!" she would reply.
And then do it again.
Annabel liked to join us at the dinner table. Chris sat at the head of the table. I sat at Chris' right and Annabel sat at his left on the dining bench, her little head just peeking up over the edge of the table.
Our other cats might wander around under the table hoping for the odd scrap, but Annabel firmly believed that she belonged at the dinner table with us.
(That Chris quite often hand fed her little pieces of bacon, steak, meatloaf or chicken pretty much reinforced her inclination to join us for dinner.)
Annabel's habit of joining us at the dinner table extended to those times that we invited other folks to over for dinner. We'd be just starting our meal when whoever was sitting on the bench would get a lovely surprise - little Annabel popping up between them to join us for the meal.
When it came to kitty food, as Annabel grew older she became something of a picky eater... enjoying one brand and flavor canned food for a week or two and then turning her nose up at it. As a result of suffering from IBD (Inflammatory Bowel Disease), Annabel not only got canned food, but organic, gluten-free, chemical-free, meat-by-product-free canned food.
Basically - food that cost a small fortune.
But, of course, she was worth it.
Up until the last few weeks of her life, she loved to play. Chris keeps a laser pointer on his bedside table for just that purpose.
Annabel's favorite toy.
When she was in really fine form, she'd run into the bedroom, leap on the bed and wait for one of us. Then she'd look at Chris' bedside stand and then at us. And then at Chris' bedside stand and then at us.
"You want to play with The Laser?"
And out would come The Laser...that infuriating little red dot that she could never quite seem to capture, but which she took great delight in trying to do so for almost ten years. Round and round and round in circles on the floor she'd go! Up onto the bed and round in circles there! And back to the floor! And jumping up on the wall!
Damn red dot!
Her sides would heave from the exertion, but her eyes would alight with wild kitty joy at the chase.
She had her thousands of calm and cute times, too.
"Are you the best kitty in the whole world?" I would ask her quietly as she lay on the bed. She would look up at me, roll onto her side and do that wonderful looooooonnnnggggg kitty stretch to let me pet her belly.
She was just charming and sweet.
And funny and loving.
And I can't believe that she's gone.
As I write this post, it seems so wrong to be referring to her in the past tense.
So very wrong.
She's going to live forever, isn't she?
And now I won't hear her funny "Mrow!!" when I walk into the house at night. Or look down and notice that she's in my lap and that I've been unconsciously petting her as I always do. Or be able to pet her in the middle of the night when I wake up to find her still nestled into the valley between my pillow and Chris' pillow. Or listen to her funny little purr - the soft purr that used to slip out gently through her nose. Or see her curled up in her bowl sleeping the deepest of kitty sleep. Or watch her little body tremble with excitement as I pull The Laser from Chris' nightstand. Or say, "Annabel, you're killin' me!" when she turns up her nose at her food and then joyfully gobbles down the third flavor that I present to her. Or have her company in the guest room when I have insomnia at 1:17 a.m. Or watch her greet all of our guests and select which lap she'd like to be in for the evening. Or watch her investigate the tool box of the furnace guy when he comes to do the yearly maintenance and then go to make friends with the furnace guy. Or enjoy watching her sit by the open front door in the summer. Or call to her "Annabel! We're down here!" when she's howling for us from the top of the stairs. Or see her appear groggy and rumpled from a long nap in the guest room. Or wonder at her choice to sit on the very corner of our dining table. Or say, "Annabel, you are very opaque" during those times that she would get off my lap and hop onto the coffee table for a good stretch right in front of the tv screen. Or laugh at her when she would play in her water dish or demand to drink water from the bathroom tap and accidentally snort some water up her nose. Or laugh at the way she would lick sour cream off of the spoon that Chris offered her and come away with sour cream all over her face and whiskers. Or talk to her when I'm feeling sad and have her head butt my chin in response and know that somehow everything is going to be OK. Or comment, "Annabel with those crazy long whiskers!" Or say to her, "Annabel, OK. I'm coming," as she would "Mrow! Mrow! Mrow!" for her breakfast early on a Saturday morning. Or laugh hysterically at her as she dives into the piles of tissue paper on the couch at Christmas time as we trim the tree. Or be able to scratch that favorite spot right behind her ears...the spot that makes her close her eyes and tip her head to the side for more, more, more. Or be able to ask her over and over and mean it, "Who's the best kitty in the whole world? Hmmm? Is that you? Who's the very best kitty in the whole world?"
Or see and experience and enjoy and share any of the other million and seven hundred little things that made Annabel who she was - the most special cat ever.
I'm so sad right now. Crying as I write these words and trying to figure out how to move through this tremendous grief I'm experiencing. Trying to figure out how I'm going to go through life without her.
Being with her right until the very last moment of her life after having been with her since she was 4 weeks old...Watching her take her very last breath was one of the hardest things that I've ever had to do. But I'm so glad that Chris and I were there to love her and and pet her and talk to her and adore her until the very end.
A number of people with whom I spoke yesterday said that she was such a lucky cat to have had me, but the truth is that I'm the lucky one.
I'm the very luckiest person in the world because somehow that little bundle of furry sparkling wonderfulness ended up in my life for so very long. I didn't always deserve her, but I always loved and adored her.
She will be missed.
For the rest of my life.
The Grey Bullet.