Handsome Jack came into our lives on a brilliant October morning. I remember it crisply: my dad and I were in the driveway working on my car. My dad grew up on a farm, and we were having a lively discussion about who would win in a fair fight, a pit bull or a farm-bred tom cat. This is the moment Jack chose to saunter into my life.
We didn't feed him to the pit bulls to see who would win.
I didn't even think of it . . . Honest.
I did do all the right things: contacted local vets, cruised craigslist and petfinder, called animal control, but no one was missing a sweet but skinny little boy kitty. One of the distinctions I make between mentally unstable self and one of those mentally unstable hoarders is that I know my limits. My limit is four cats. Jack was number five. Five cats is like . . . suicide. Every time turned around, I was tripping over one of the little basta - ahem, buggers. Sooner or later, one of them was going to trip me down the stairs and kill me. Still, I couldn't very well put Jack's butt back out on the street (damn ethics). So I called in a few favors and got Jack vetted and neutered and began the hunt for a new home.
In December of 2009, one of our cats died in an unexpected, violent, and entirely preventable accident. My family was devastated. My own guilt and grief was compounded by the suffering of Keagan, my favorite cat (they're not children, I'm allowed to have favorites). Keagan and the deceased cat had been best friends; we adopted them on the same day as kittens, and they had been inseparable. After the accident, Keagan wandered the house, puzzled. Keagan has always been a quiet cat, and he didn't stop eating, but for a week, I never saw him sleep. He traveled from room to room, never stopping, looking out windows and under couches as if he could figured out where we'd hidden his best friend.
Until one morning when I came home from work and Keagan was passed out cold in a chair, Handsome Jack curled next to him, licking his forehead. I emailed the Powers That Be the same day: "Take Jack off the webpage - we're keeping him."
I never once regretted the decision. If the Voice of Reason and I ever split up, Jack is the only animal we'd fight over. He's just that cool. Introducing a new animal to a house full of animals - let alone a critter as sensitive as an adult cat - is always a dicey proposition, but Jack handled it with aplomb. Every time one of the other cats would cop an attitude with him, he'd stare at them for a moment as if wondering what bug got stuck up their butt, and then he'd turn casually and walk away. Jack handled new dogs in the house with the same laconic chill: a dismissive look and a talk-to-the-butt. If they got uppity, he wasn't above a good smack, either. You couldn't ask for a better cat with other animals.
When Jack first came to the house, he was a bit untamed. He didn't like to be held, but he loved to perch on my shoulder as I did dishes or cooked or folded laundry. He was obsessive about food, probably because he clearly didn't get enough when he was where ever he was before he walked up my driveway. Jack would literally steal the food off your fork if you weren't paying attention - his balls were that big. Part of Jack's huge appetite no doubt came from his total lack of physical coordination. There is no way Jack was catching any food on the outside. It wasn't uncommon for him to try to jump on the kitchen counter and miss two or three times. When he'd finally get up there, he'd fall in the sink. Even when it was filled with water. He was stubborn about it, though. He never gave up once he decided he wanted something.
He let me dress him up in funny costumes. He wouldn't even give me dirty looks for it.
Jack has left us as unexpectedly as he came into our lives. Handsome Jack passed away from lymphoma today at the age of four. Only the good die young, right? Wisdom and faith tell me that Jack is happy now, having gone to where ever it is that good kitties go when they've lived a great life and always used the litter box. He's free in that land where no one tries to shove pills down his throat or dress him up as a reindeer for Christmas. In this place, kitchen counter tops are only two feet high, and they always have raw steak sitting out unattended. I know this; I believe it.
But I still wish Jack were here with me, to ease my grief once again.