The first cats I ever met lived underneath the massive pine tree in our backyard. Two tuxedo cats. My brother and I would go out and try to play with them when they’d wander into our plastic play house. My mother cautioned us never to touch them because they might be diseased.
The next cat to enter my life was a little white cat with orange blotches across her back. She would visit my friend’s garage, two doors down from my grandparents’ house. Sometimes we’d close the garage door and feed her milk and ham with the help of Gracie’s grandparents.
One day, when we were riding our bikes by the end of our cul-de-sac, we were stopped by a man in his early 20s. He was on his driveway carrying a backpack. He said, “hey, you know that little white cat?”
“No,” we lied, too smart to talk to strangers, too worried we’d get in trouble for feeding a stranger’s cat.
“Well, she’s dead,” he told us with a weird smirk. “Roadkill. Saw her completely splattered on the road over there.”
He motioned beyond our little street, to the rest of the neighborhood that was completely off limits. I felt sick to my stomach. He had to be lying. That sweet little cat couldn’t be dead. Couldn’t be splattered. He probably just made up that story so we wouldn’t play with her anymore. We nodded politely and rode our bikes back to Gracie’s. We never did see that cat again.
My first boyfriend had a Siamese cat. Cloud had fluffy beige fur, a darker face and piercing blue eyes. Although Cloud and I got along just fine, I was always wary of him because my ex warned me that, “he could go crazy and attack you at any minute.”
A few years later, my brother texted me that he’d adopted a kitten. My parents had no idea, and he needed me to feed it. The cat was in the spare bedroom in the basement and his food was in the wardrobe.
When I ventured down there to meet this strange animal for the very first time, I wasn’t even sure I liked cats. Between diseases, gruesome deaths and unprompted attacks, I was worried that this new housemate wouldn’t align with my current lifestyle at all.
“Burnsy?” I whispered as I turned on the light and pushed open the basement bedroom door. I flinched as I expected something to attack my feet or hiss at me. But the room was still. There was no sign of a living creature anywhere. I scanned the room, until I spotted a tiny tuft of fur poking out between the two pillows on the bed. Burnsy looked up at me with his kitten-blue eyes filled with panic equal to my own. It was love, and mutual fear, at first sight.
On that first day I met him, I swear, he wasn’t much bigger than a bar of soap. He fit in the palm of my hand. He was soft and docile, but happy to eat the food I set up for him. When he finished eating, I gingerly placed him back on the bed and lay down beside him. He climbed over my legs, into the crevice behind my knees and curled up. He began to make the most heavenly sound. His little body rumbled as he spread out his tiny paws and almost instantly fell asleep. My heart grew three sizes.
When we told our parents about Burnsy, my dad was less than thrilled. He wasn’t an animal guy. He refused to even meet him and demanded that he stay down in the basement. At first the arrangement worked. It took Burnsy a few more weeks before he was able to jump on and off the bed freely. It took him another few weeks before he was brave enough to venture outside of the bedroom. He’d been living with us for a few months before he decided the basement wouldn’t be enough for him. One evening after I fed him, Burnsy darted up the stairs and straight into my father’s study.
They locked eyes and my father’s rules were instantly lifted. Within a few more weeks they were best friends. My dad would bring home toys and treats, and Burnsy would greet him at the door. He’d sit on his lap and on the back of his chair, best friends forever. My father even suggested on a few occasions that Burnsy could be the reincarnation of his own mother, who’d passed only a few months before Burnsy arrived.
For the first seven or so years of his life, Burnsy was the scardiest cat you’d never meet, because he’d be hiding from you. Plush toys with large eyes, pop cans opening and small children all sent Burnsy running for cover. He hid from my little cousin at all family functions, which fueled her desire to even catch a glimpse of him. Her father would joke that if it weren’t for the cat toys in the house, he wouldn’t even believe we had a cat.
All that changed when my maternal grandparents moved in. Burnsy warmed up to them right away. He even won the approval of my grandmother, an old woman who claimed she hated animals. But not Burnsy. Burnsy she’d give treats to on an hourly basis. Though she refused to touch him, Burnsy kept her entertained as she began her descent into dementia.
On one horrible night in December, when my grandmother lost her footing, fell and smashed her head on the kitchen tile, Burnsy didn’t run scared. My grandfather said Burnsy circled her and wailed, making noises he’d never before heard a cat make. When my grandmother moved into a wheelchair permanently, Burnsy wasn’t afraid of its wheels. He’d sit by her chair protectively. When personal support workers began coming in and out of the house to tend to her several times a day, Burnsy decided all visitors were friends, not foes. He really grew out of his shyness and anxieties as he got older.
Some people don’t realize cats can be as loyal and devoted as dogs are. Whenever my parents or brother were away on vacation, Burnsy would sit on their shoes by the front door and cry. Whenever I’d go back to my parents’ house to visit, Burnsy never forgot me. Not even after I got my own cat. We were still best friends. I’d enter the house, hear a small thump from within, and in seconds he’d appear, happy to see me, no matter how much time had passed.
Burnsy passed away a few months back, leaving a gaping hole in my family’s heart. In his short time in our family, Burnsy became the favourite, thrusting his love and head butts on even the most adamant cat non-believer. Burnsy managed to create a special relationship with every person he encountered and loved them forever, indefinitely. He’s left behind so many memories. He’ll never be forgotten. He’ll forever be missed.