When Cameron was 19, he left to serve in the Marines. I was never too keen on the military, but it was one of the few goals he’d ever had that he stuck to. Ever since he was a young boy, he’d wanted to join the Air Force and learn to fly. In high school he joined the Air Force ROTC. It was touch and go because his grades were poor, but somehow he managed to keep his grades just high enough to stay in the program. Then, when he took the ASVAB, his scores were too low to qualify for pilot training. So he decided to be one of the few, the proud, the Marines. I think he just loved the macho image.
At 17 he pre-enlisted. I signed the papers with mixed feelings. It wasn’t long after that, that things started going to hell in a hand basket. He was ditching school, failing classes, hanging out with gang bangers. I’m sure, looking back, that he was already doing drugs at that point. He nearly didn’t graduate. But graduation was a requirement to be a Marine. They won’t take you with a GED. And he really wanted to be a Marine. So he finally went to an alternative night school and managed to graduate about a semester late. Then, off to boot camp.
Just before he left, he came to me with his cat, Cheech, begging me to take him. He said he couldn’t find anyplace else for him, he couldn’t take him with him to boot camp, and he didn’t want to have to take him to the pound. I already had two cats and I really didn’t want another one. And this was a male (I had females). And yellow (not my favorite color). And not quite a kitten, but a gangly half-grown thing (much harder to fall in love with than a tiny purring ball of fur). And not yet neutered (here come the $$). And he had a kink in the end of his tail that made him look like he’d got caught in a door at some point (who could love a cat like this?).
Cameron swore he was born like that, but I wasn’t sure I believed him. Cheech’s brother Chong had met with an unfortunate demise (the details of which were not disclosed to me) way too early in life and I figured that Cameron and the guys he lived with had probably not been the most conscientious of pet owners.
Sigh. What can I say? I’m a pushover for cats. Reluctantly I agreed to take him in.
It took me about five minutes to fall madly in love with him.
Cheech was the coolest cat I’ve ever had. He was very affectionate and loved it when I turned him on his back in my arms and scratched all those sensual places around his ears and under his chin and on his chest. That cat had a purr motor that would put a Harley to shame.
I took him to the vet and had him neutered and brought him up to date on vaccinations. Very quickly he became part of the family. When Cameron got back from 3 ½ years of service (not 4, it ended badly, but that's another story...), he wanted him back. No way. Cheech was mine and that’s all there was to it.
When Cameron died in 2004, Cheech was going on nine years old. Both of my female cats were now gone, and Cheech was my only kitty. In a way, I felt like he was my one remaining connection to Cameron, too, and I dreaded the day that I would lose him. A couple of years later, I got a new kitty, Scooby, because I didn’t want to have a house empty of feline company for even a day, and I knew Cheech was getting up in years. Plus I figured when the day came for Cheech to leave us, getting a new kitty at that point would feel too much like I was trying to replace the irreplaceable. So, Scooby was a kind of insurance package – a pre-emptive strike against grief.
Scooby is a great cat in his own way, too. He’s very long-legged and has extra toes on his front feet. He towered over Cheech, who had a shorter, stockier build. And his tail seemed to be about three inches longer than Cheech’s crimped and broken tail. They got along pretty well, but I think Cheech knew that soon it would be okay for him to go. I think he knew how important he was to me, and he knew that Scooby was an indication that I’d be okay when the time came.
In August 2007, I finally had to have Cheech put to sleep. He was 12 years old and his kidneys failed. The poor thing couldn’t even get his feet up under him. It came on very suddenly. The vet didn’t think there was much that could be done. There comes a point where medical intervention becomes too much like doing something to them rather than doing something for them. I held Cheech and stroked him and told him I loved him while he gently took his last breath. I looked up at the ceiling in that empty, sad examination room and I said, “Ok, Cameron. You wanted him back. Now you’ve got him. You’d better take real good care of him!”
Some months later, I had a dream.
I’m upstairs in the bedroom and Cheech comes walking in. “Oh, Cheech!” I exclaim. “I’m so glad you came home.” It seemed like he’d been gone an awful long time, and I wondered why I hadn’t realized he was missing. Then I remembered putting him to sleep and burying him in the backyard. I got a little puzzled, but I went to pet him and talk to him. Scooby went to see him, too. I called to my husband, “Look who’s here!” But my husband couldn’t see him and didn’t know what I was talking about. I realized then that Cheech was dead, but his spirit had come for a visit. I was so happy about that! Then I noticed he seemed a little taller. And his tail was straight as an arrow.