Daffodil: The Myth, The Magic, The Cat

As most of you know by now, my beloved Daffodil passed away last October.  It is quite honestly one of the most difficult things I’ve ever been through.  I spent many nights on the kitchen floor crying that I couldn’t bear it.  He was my partner, my best friend, my confidante and my comforter.  I loved him dearly and I miss him desperately.

The truth of the matter is that Daffodil chose me, not the other way around.  I honestly didn’t have much choice in whether or not that tiny ball of wild orange fur was coming home with me that day.  That was almost 16 years ago.

I was just starting law school up in Portland, Oregon and decided that I needed a warm and furry friend to help support me through the three years of good times I knew were to come.  I had mentioned the idea to my then-boyfriend and received a less than enthusiastic response.  He said, in essence, “fine, but he’ll be your cat, not mine.”  Did I mention that we were living together at the time?  Um.  Yeah.  Then-boyfriend and I only lasted about three months longer.  Daffodil and I were happily together for the next fifteen years.

The day that Daffy came into my life, my then-boyfriend and I were taking a drive out to the coast for the day.  We happened to drive by a pet store with a little sign in the window advertising a litter of kittens for sale.  I made a decision that changed my life.  And involved swerving across three lanes of traffic, making an illegal u-turn and incurring the annoyance of my easily-annoyed passenger.  But I had a feeling.  So I pulled in the drive and went in search of that litter of kittens.

I found them near the front of the store, an assorted bunch of fur in greys, blacks and one orange ball.  I’d previously had this idea that I wanted a black cat.  I’d name it Pyewacket, after the cat in Bell, Book and Candle and he’d be mysterious and ethereal.  (Anyone who knew Daffodil knows how far from the mark I strayed with my choice.)  So, of course, when I opened the top of the cage to take out and hold one of the kittens, I was aiming for a black one.  There were two.  The odds were good that I’d get one of them.  But this little bundle of crazed orange fur (almost as if he’d stuck his little paw in a light socket) maneuvered his way, twisting and turning and stepping on his brothers’ and sisters’ heads, to the top of the cage.  I had no choice.   In order for me to get to the black kittens, I had to hold the orange fuzz first.  So I did.  And from the minute that little warm body was in my hands I knew.  There wasn’t another choice.  He was sniffy and curious and put his little pink nose right on my mouth.  He met my eyes with his own, baby lavender at the time, later turned sea-green.  And then he crawled right on top of my head.  And stayed there.  Even my reluctant boyfriend fell in love.  I bought him a huge litterbox (later I found out it was for multiple cats, but I didn’t know any better, having grown up with Bassett Hounds), bowls for food and water, a brush and a collar.  From that moment on, I couldn’t imagine my life without his warm presence.  I still can’t.

When he was a kitten, he used to crawl up on my chest just before bed and paw at my neck, purring.  We’d talk about our days.  His often involved a great deal of sleep and some occasional stuffed-pig play (the pig was small and hot pink and round and was his favorite toy for the rest of his life).  If he’d been feeling ambitious that day he would have crawled up on the shelves in the closet and then found himself unable to get down.  That was one of his things.  Not the getting-stuck-on-shelves, but the gentle pawing and purring.  He used to put his little mouth against my neck where he was pawing.

As a younger cat, one of his favorite things was attempting escape from the house.  Because he was an indoor cat, this proved a delightful endeavor.  For him.  For me it caused many a cat-induced panic attack.  Particularly the time he jumped off of our second-story balcony and went on walkabout in the neighborhood without checking with me first.  I searched for him for hours and finally found him quite happily “hunting” a leaf underneath a nearby deck.  But the best was when he somehow jumped up from the balcony railing and ended up on the roof.  Again, I searched for him for hours.  I called my mother in tears.  She kept saying, “are you sure he’s not close by?  Because I can hearhim!”  I thought she was crazy but it turns out Linda was right on.  He was close by.  Like immediately above me close by.  I had to balance precariously on the edge of a railing and literally make a wild grab for Daffodil with one hand while hanging on to the edge of the roof with the other hand to get him down.  He had looked scared before I got him down, having realized he couldn’t get down on his own.  But once safely back on the ground, he began walking with what I can only describe as a bit of a strut.

I remember chasing him around the lawn one evening, trying to corral him back into the house after another of his sneaky escapes through a barely opened front door.  I would gently approach him murmuring words of calming encouragement.  “That’s right, Daffy.  There’s a good boy.  Now just stay still for Mommy.”  He would eye me calmly until I was literally a fur’s breadth away and then he’d LEAP into the air and BOUND off across the lawn until he was about 15 yards away.  Then he’d sit calmly and begin eyeing me and we’d start all over again.  I swear if cats could chuckle he was chuckling.  Although that may have just been my neighbors who were standing on the balcony above laughing their asses off at the vision of the crazy law student wearing p.j.’s and sporting wild “I’ve-been-studying” hair chasing her nutty feline around the grass at 9 p.m. at night.

Age didn’t calm Daffodil.  It only made him more confident.  And more of a hunter.  After we moved to the beach, I began putting him in a harness on a long lead so that he could at least patrol the perimeter.  It sounds odd, I know, but his front paws were declawed and I was worried for his safety.  If I knew then what I know now, I wouldn’t have been so worried.  My cat kicked ass.  He started hunting in earnest then.  One evening he gave a big, strong meow at the front door.  I looked outside to see an enormous mouse on the front mat.  Daffodil sat smugly over it, looking up at me for all the world like he deserved a golden mouse trophy.  I was so panicked that I brought him in and, I kid you not, washed his mouth out with soap.  Daffy never caught a mouse again.  I didn’t realize until later that I was supposed to praise him.  Some would say that perhaps I broke his spirit that day.  Those who knew Daffy, know that that’s not possible.  About a week later, he wandered into the house looking nonchalant and stopped pointedly at my feet.  I looked down to see a small green tail sticking out of Daffy’s mouth.  And flicking.  I almost vomited.  But having learned my lesson, I simply said, “wow, Daffy!  What a good hunter you are!  Now go ahead and finish that while I go into the bathroom and hurl.”  He promptly gulped the rest of what I presume was a lizard and licked his lips with pride.

Fairly soon after that, a neighbor cat made the mistake of walking past our door when Daffy wasn’t on his harness and the door was just cracked.  Daffy caught sight of him and was off faster than, literally, a speeding bullet.  I went chasing after and lost them for a moment but caught up with them just in time to see Daffy go all Chuck Norris on that cat’s ass in the neighbors’ driveway.  Daffy had him pinned and was, and I think this is technical cat-speak, beating the crap out of him.  I know you’re not supposed to do this, but I knew if I didn’t grab Daffy now, and the other cat got away (which was looking seriously doubtful) I might lose Daffy for good.  So I reached in, grabbed him by the scruff and dragged him, literally kicking and screaming, all the way home.  When I put him down (read dropped him like a hot potato) once we were in the house he looked like he was ready to kill me.  I actually left my own home to give my cat time to calm down.  By the time I came back he was calmer but still pissed at me for raining on his parade.  I checked him for injury and found blood but no cuts.  Apparently my clawless cat drew blood on a street cat.  Go Daffy.

One thing Daffy always loved was when I took care of him.  By that I mean that he loved it when I clipped his nails, cleaned his face, checked his ears and, more than anything else, brushed him.  He would get very peaceful and purr.  And all you had to do was show him the brush and he would absolutely lose it with excitement.    And he loved to be carried around on your shoulder.  If I let him, he’d stay on my shoulder all day.  When Byron came into our life, Daffodil took to him immediately and adopted him as his Dad (possibly because Byron reads the Economist and it turns out Daffodil is also an avid fan of that publication, whether for scent or for substance I never knew).  He used to jump directly onto Byron’s shoulder from the chair or bed.

He also loved to play.  All day and all night.  He was a playing machine.  And he would develop different games for different people.  He had this very complex hide-and-seek game that he played with my mom for years.  It involved many rooms in the house and much pouncing, jumping out at each other and hysterical laughter.  There was a similar hunting game that he and Byron played right up until the end.  He used to wait at the door to our bedroom for Byron to get ready for bed before they could start their regular nighttime games.   Towards the end he was even starting to develop a game with Bennett where Bennett would “chase” Daffodil (i.e. be carried by Byron or me) and Daffodil would walk slowly away and then stop and let himself be caught.  I think this was a bigger hit with Bennett than with Daffodil.  But Daffy was a good sport.  The thing about Daffodil is that he loved to play, but more than that, he had a fabulous sense of humor.  It sounds funny to say that about a cat, but he did.  He was hysterical.  And nutty.  And he always made me laugh.

He used to climb up on the shower doors while I was taking a shower and let his paws dangle in the water.  Then he’d shake them off as if he couldn’t imagine how they got so damp.  Once when I didn’t have a shower door, but instead a shower curtain rail, Daffy tried to figure out how to get on top of it.  In the end, I recall a thump, two paws clasping ineffectively at the shower bar and Daffy’s hind end coming crashing through the curtain as I was rinsing off my shampoo.  Daffy was mortified.  I’ve never seen him so embarrassed.  But he shook it off like a champ as he strutted out of the bathroom, acting like he meant to do it all along.

Daffy always liked to be near Byron and me.  On our lap (especially Byron’s lap when he was watching English football on a Sunday morning) or in our arms or on the shower door.  Just as long as he was within touching distance.   One of the things I miss most about Daffodil is when I used to climb into bed and he’d be sleeping at the foot, (he always slept on the bed with us) and I’d slide my feet under his warm body and he’d just purr a little and go back to sleep or give this little grunt.  Or when I’d wake up in the night and he’d be pressed against my back, sound asleep.

Daffodil and I went through a lot together over fifteen years.  He pulled me through law school and out of a depression.  He helped me figure out I didn’t want to be a lawyer and supported me through a career change.  He pointed out to me when men weren’t right for me and helped me to see the one who was.  He calmed me when I was nuts and made me laugh when I felt like crying.  He comforted me through my pregnancy and tried valiantly to be supportive when we brought the “new kitten” home.  He used to lie in Bennett’s doorway and guard his room as Bennett slept.  He traveled the world with me and showed me how to be at home wherever I am.  He taught me lovingkindness and how to be here now.  He was my touchstone.  There are no words for how much his presence is missed.  I love him more than words can say.May2010etc 008

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