I got the call from my mom yesterday telling me my cat Magellan is dying. It wasn’t entirely unexpected news since he’s the ripe old age of 17, but it’s still so hard to get. The idea of going back home and not having him sneak attack my ankles is tough.
Magellan and I go way back to Washington, D.C., where he was dropped off in his carrier by his former owner, a young girl who was moving into an apartment that didn’t allow pets. Thinking back on it, I’m not exactly sure how I found her or she found me — these were pre-social media days so this might have been an arrangement stemming from a sign on a telephone pole — but when she dropped off Magellan, all was right with the world.
Well, actually, not really. About three days later, I broke up with my terrible boyfriend and went to stay at a friend’s house while he was gone on vacation that week. Magellan and I roamed around that empty two-story while I tried desperately to find an apartment to rent, which was no easy task in D.C. at the time. About a week after that, after thankfully securing the perfect place to live in the heart of a Latin neighborhood, I quit my job at the Canadian Embassy and started graduate school.
Needless to say, “in flux” would be one way to describe my life at that time. #flyingbytheseatofmypants would be another.
But Magellan was there. Once he settled into our apartment, he spent most of his free time sitting on the windowsill overlooking the back alley and listening to mariachi music. Though just 1 year old at the time, he always looked so aristocratic perched up there, with his regal grey- and white-splotched coat.
I can’t say he’s ever been a pretty cat, because frankly he has a really big nose, and I can’t say he’s ever been very friendly because he’s very particular, but he was mine and we got along great. Usually around 10 at night, right around the time I was getting cross-eyed from studying, he would get playful and we would spend long, fun minutes with me hiding my hand under the bed sheet and then walking it slowly out until he would pounce on it.
Let’s just say I didn’t have a lot of friends in graduate school.
After D.C., I moved back to Winnipeg to my mom’s place in the country and Magellan got his first taste of outdoor living. I remember being terrified he would get lost so tied a long line of dental floss to his collar and attached it to the garage door so he could find his way back. This was obviously ridiculous and lasted about 20 minutes when everything got tangled and I became worried he would choke.
Anyway, Magellan loved my mom’s place and loved Winnipeg. The first time he bounced around in snow, it was a romp we all watched from the frosted windows. He’d hunt. He’d fiercely protect his territory. He’d scratch on the sliding glass door to let us know when he wanted to come in.
After a while, I found an apartment downtown and my mom and Peter moved to a house in the city. Magellan moved back in with me, but apartment living was a tough adjustment on him after being outdoors. This also coincided with me long-distance dating my then-boyfriend-now-husband William, and I was in Kentucky as often as I could be. So I’d cart Magellan back to my mom’s, where he had established an ornery identity with the other urban cats.
When it came time to try things out with William and move to Kentucky, Magellan stayed behind. William is allergic to cats and the dogs in our neighborhood wouldn’t have given him much peace. So he stayed with my mom and Peter, officially becoming their grandcat. My mom got him pretty nicely hooked on catnip, he got all the soft food he wanted, and he’d spend nights outside traipsing through the neighborhood before sleeping all day.
But every time I would come home, he’d come right up to me and playfully wrestle with my hand. Then at night up he’d hop on my bed to sleep.
I’ve gone through this twice before with my cats Applesauce and Atticus. But losing Magellan is going to be the hardest, in large part because of all the formative years he’s been with me and my parents. Thinking back on all that time he was quietly there, following me through all the changes in my life, that’s heartbreaking. They’re so at your mercy and they’re so all-enduring.
The coming weeks are going to be hard, especially for my poor parents who are witnessing the decline. But he’s 17 and he’s had a good, full, surely interesting life. And I’m so thankful that mine has been all the richer for him.