Feed on

I  had planned to write a tribute for Tristan when he turned 15, but he had other plans, took a sudden dip in health this week that we hardly noticed with all the Percival drama, went into total renal failure today, and had to be put down at age 14 years, 3 months. I wrote this today while awaiting lab results and very much fearing the worst:

Tristan is the baby in the house, an orange bundle of joy and trouble we brought home to our Ann Arbor apartment when he was three months old in August of 1996. Whereas Percy’s angst and constant vocalizations made me worry that my own anxiety was contagious across species lines, Tristan, like many second children, has been much more laid back.

When I first got Tristan, it caused some strife in our household. Matt was justifiably furious with me for going out and getting him—not because he didn’t agree to getting a kitten to keep Percy company (he did), but because we were supposed to go and pick out a kitten together. Instead, shortly before my dear friend Cindy was due to move away from Ann Arbor, I convinced her to take me to the Humane Society to drown my impending sorrows in a kitten.

The first little guy who caught my eye was a mouthy little brown tabby.

“Are you kidding me?” Cindy all but yelled. “He’s just like Percy! You can’t have TWO like that; Matt will kill you. Look at this happy little red-headed guy just sitting in his cage purring. Take him home.”

[Reader: I adopted him.]

Cindy, being a red-head, is understandably partial to orange fur. And I, missing Cindy before she actually moved away, saw the advantage of bringing a red-head into my house. The first several hours, we had to wander about with my new baby, as he had fleas and couldn’t go inside anyone’s home before getting to the vet. So he ran around the UM law quad, affording me many visits with student admirers, and then I took him to my friend (and Cindy’s brand new husband) Tim’s place for a bit.

When I arrived, Matt was already there. He clomped over to where I stood with my box, glowering at me. He continued to glower as he approached the box and had no patience for my “but I was sad!” excuses. Then he looked down and took in Tristan, with his half Himalayan/half tabby moon face, his petite pink nose, his huge golden eyes, his exuberant coat, and his broken engine of a purr, and his face immediately softened and transformed.

He was in love. And how could he not be? After much deliberation, we settled on the name Tristan. We thought the name went with Percival, as both appear in the Ring cycle and in Arthurian legend. But in truth, he’s named after the character Tristan in All Creatures Great and Small. That Tristan, the brother of James Herriot’s senior partner Siegfried, was a young red-headed lad who was constantly getting into mischief but whose sweet heart and good nature prevented anyone from staying mad at him for long.

The name suits him. He is the cat in the house most likely to get his head stuck in a Kleenex box, to get entangled in my knitting, and to eat fake plants. You cannot wrap a present anywhere near him. Nor can you cook Indian food, as the little guy is mad for garbanzo beans. I kid you not.

He is also a one-cat argument for declawing. We didn’t do it, and we won’t with our next cats either, but Tristan might just be one of the great scratchers of his time. None of the positive or negative reinforcement in the world can dissuade him from scratching, and I have the shredded chair and suspiciously covered couch to prove it. He will stoically take his punishment and resume scratching immediately. For him, a squirt or clap is a small price to pay for such joyous abandon.

In his own little way, he can be as demanding as Percival. It’s just that whereas Percy would meow, pace, and stomp on my head for food, Tristan’s preferred modus operandi is to shove his face into my hand while I try to use the mouse. We call it “demanding affection,” and while it’s cute, “demanding” is the operative word. He would, if he could, have his cheek rubbed for 10 hours a day. And while he’s pretty hard to resist, no one has that kind of time.

His sweet nature and happy face has led to a lot of silly nicknames over the years. I’m (almost) embarrassed to type these all out, but he’s been “kitten”, “kitten caboodle”, “kitten dreamsicle (for his coat color) caboodle” and even “boodaru” over the years. In fact, we use his nicknames so much that I’m not sure if he ever properly learned his real name. Which is somewhat ironic, as his paperwork from the Humane Society led us to joke that we had rescued him from a life of illiteracy. (The person who surrendered him misspelled Himalayan, had actually named him “Zachery [sic] Todd”, and listed as the reason for surrender that “my three year old is two [sic] rough.” Yes, we are mean.)

Tristan is something of our secret joy. He’s shyer than Percival, more likely to stay upstairs when company comes over, and the one to generally hide his light under a bushel. He is choosy about who gets to see his uninhibited self, but if he likes you, he really, really likes you. And for the record, he has consistently shown immediate affection for those who end up being the best people I have known: This cat is a great judge of character. If Percival’s mouthy, needy extroversion is all me, then Tristan’s mellower, choosier brand of affection is a lot like Matt.

He has been, for fourteen years this week, a source of constant joy and balance in our home. He is the feline embodiment of mirth and whimsy, a living breathing smile, and—like stars in the sky—has brought more grins and laughs to my life than anyone could ever count.

I can’t even begin to imagine my house without him. I missed him all day today before he was even really gone.

2 Responses to “Boodle: May 24, 1996 – August 25, 2010”

  1. bethnbobinnc says:

    What a beautiful tribute to your Tristan. We’re thinking of you…

  2. tlalbaugh says:

    Oh, Jessica, I am so sorry. He sounds like a wonderful kitty, and I approve heartily of his name. I just reread (probably for the 100th time) All Creatures Great and Small this summer when Kira took naps in the car.

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