Among his numerous claims to fame, I suppose Henry was the closest thing to a proper mascot we’ve ever had at LGM. Back in the day, when I could be counted on to write about much of anything at all, I mentioned him quite frequently, usually with gratuitous pictures of the poor guy straddling one of my daughter’s stuffed animals. Indeed, if you were to peruse our modest CafePress collection, for example, you could buy merchandise commemorating Henry’s efforts to impose himself on Cookie Monster.
Unfortunately for everyone close to him, though, Henry’s toy-humping urges were drawn from the same anxious darkness that brought him to splatter the world with urine. As a younger cat, he would from time to time enhance a pile of dirty laundry or an ill-fated pair of shoes with his own particular scent. In graduate school, I once spent 20 minutes trying to figure out why my girlfriend’s car smelled like cat piss — until I realized that the problem was not the car but rather the Cedar Rapids Kernels hat I was wearing at the time. The hat survived after a thorough dry cleaning; the relationship, not so much.
As he grew older, though — and as kids and dogs complicated his life — Henry turned his attention from the occasional pile of clothes to more permanent fixtures like walls and doors, which he struck with noxious regularity. We tried an array of pharmaceuticals and cleaning cocktails to address Henry’s personal demons and sanitize his targets, but long-term solutions were elusive at best. As most feline specialists will tell you, it’s awfully difficult to stop a cat from doing this sort of thing if that’s really what he wants to do with his time. And as the years passed, it was obvious that Henry’s daily priorities would always include a few squirts on the front door or inside someone’s shoes, or perhaps in the grating of an oil monitor stove or in the corner of a coat closet.
Always convinced that he would someday call a halt to the nonsense, I spent years accommodating it. So I spent a small fortune on Nature’s Miracle and other worthless enzyme-based cleaners; I scrubbed our stone entryway with vinegar and baking soda; I lined the walls with aluminum foil and created makeshift gutters to spare the floors as much damage as I could. Nothing worked for long. When we sold our first house, it was entirely possible that Henry’s urinary contributions shaved several thousand dollars from our initial asking price; when we moved into our current house, he wasted no time in renewing old habits. So I bought more jugs of vinegar and pretended everything was fine. My wife, driven into near-permanent state of bewildered rage, never quite understood why I would subject my family (or myself) to any of this. She quite nearly asked me to choose between the marriage — a good one that had provided us with two beautiful children who will be superior to us in every way — and the cat I’d bought for $10 in a Minneapolis apartment building in 1994. It was all very strange.
But as far as I could see it, Henry’s virtues always outpaced the troubles he’d brought. He’d been with me since I was 24, and he served all the demands placed upon him by the narcissistic psychology of pet ownership. Given that I keep in touch with almost no one I knew prior to 1994, Henry probably ranked as my oldest and best friend. He’d watched me struggle through graduate school — comprehending none of it, of course (though likely no more or less than I did) — and spent nearly all of it snoozing on a tattered blanket draped atop the filing cabinet, overlooking the desk where I would write dozens of papers that now reside in well-earned oblivion. He’d sat next to me on my shitty couch, stealing my food and drinking my beer as often as I’d consent to sharing them. He drove to Boston and back one summer, draping himself across the driver’s side dashboard as calmly and comfortably as if I were staring agape at the blank screen where my dissertation was supposed to go. He moved with us to Alaska, then ran away for five weeks to eat worms and shrews on the western slope of Mt. Juneau. He took no offense when we had children, and — rather than killing and eating them — instead sought them out each morning for tail-pulling and ear-grabbing, easing his way into their hearts and slowly training them to share their cheese and crackers and Cheerios with him.
Against all this, the lingering smell of cat piss seemed a minor irritant, and I somehow came to believe that Henry would live as long as I would allow it, or at least until my wife threatened to make the two of us homeless. So I wasn’t prepared to watch him disintegrate as quickly as he did, with the dramatic weight loss and total lack of grooming compounded by frequent vomiting, catastrophic bouts of diarrhea, and accelerated patterns of pissing in the closet and on the brick hearth next to his litter box. In all likelihood, he was suffering from acute hyperthyroidism or renal failure or something that would have broken him sooner rather than later. When the vet came to the house almost two weeks ago, he predicted that Henry’s life would have been measured best in weeks rather than months. This didn’t make the choice to kill my cat any easier, though, and I still wonder how long he could have creaked on. Maybe he would have survived to the next debt-ceiling hostage crisis, or even to the inauguration of President Perry. But holy fucking shit, who would want to see any of that anyway?
So here’s a belated bloggy goodbye to Henry: beer aficionado, plushophile, chronic incontinent, patron feline, minor internet celebrity, friend.