An edited repost for what would have been Charlie’s 36th birthday.
For my 8th birthday, my father brought home a little black cat. We named her Familiar (we kids were all into witch craft then). Familiar was pretty, sweet, and very smart. Like most of our animals, she grew very attached to my mother.
Before we could get her spayed, she left the house. She stayed out overnight. A husky grey tiger-striped male cat walked her home (my mom nicknamed him Charles Atlas, after the body builder). We soon found out that Familiar was pregnant.
She gave birth in the middle of the night, next to my mom, who had fallen asleep on the couch. She had three kittens, the first of which was a grey tiger-striped boy with a pink nose. We named him Charles Atlas after his dad. The other two did not resemble Charles Atlas at all; one was sleek and black like their mom, the other was a brown tabby.
Of the three, we kept Charlie because he liked my father, and that was unusual (my dad loved animals, but they didn’t always return the feelings). We found good homes for the other two.
Later that year, my father killed himself. August 14th, 1976.
My mother, my younger brother and I went directly from the police station to my grandmother’s house. We spent the night there.
I am sure I do not need to tell you how dazed we were, what kind of a mess we all were. When we got home the next morning, Familiar, Charlie, and our dog, Bullet met us at the door and they gave us some comfort, knowingly or not.
I began sleeping with my arm wrapped around Charlie.
As years went by, Familiar went to live with my oldest brother and his then-wife (a/k/a “That Whore”, “The Bitch”, and “The Woman He’ll Eventually Go To Prison for Killing”). Bullet ran away the day we moved in with Grandma; we never saw him again.
Charlie became an outdoor cat. My mother figured it was safe for him to go out and play, now that we did not live on a busy city street.
As it turned out, Charlie was the only male cat in our neighbourhood that was not neutered. As my mom put it, “he propagated the neighbourhood”. Female felines flocked to our yard.
This did not only result in hundreds of grey tiger-striped kittens with pink noses. It also ended up costing us a lot of money. Charlie was exhausted all of the time and had to be treated for scratches and bites, almost on a weekly basis. Once the vet extracted a female cat’s tooth from Charlie’s neck, my mom said, “Enough, already,” and had him neutered.
Charles the Neutered was basically the same cat as far as humans went. He was still playful with us, and as affectionate as ever.
But Charlie did something I had never seen or heard of a cat doing before: Charlie got married!
Someone new moved in up the hill, a young family. They had a sweet fluffy little all-white cat named Polly.
Polly would come by every afternoon and scratch at the storm door. My mom would get up and open the inside door, see Polly sitting on the front step, and call Charlie. He would pad out to the front door and he and Polly would exchange a few meows before my mom let him out. Sometimes we would watch them walk off together, side-by-side, kind of bumping into one another a little as they walked down the street.
We would hear from neighbours about how they saw the couple walking along the beach, pestering the fishermen on the pier (Charlie was known to steal from them), and hanging out at the golf course. There were certain houses they’d visit, sometimes just for a quick hello scratch behind the ears, sometimes to lay out and work on their tans.
Charlie began bringing Polly home with him and sharing his food with her: cats don’t typically share their food, especially male cats. So we all decided it must be love.
Other female cats still came around, but Charlie yawned, disinterested, while Polly ran them off.
Polly’s owner/”daddy” would often come to our house looking for her. If the two were out for the day, we’d tell him which direction they’d gone off to. Usually he’d just say, “Well, just send Polly home when they get back,” and we would.
When I was about 17, I had a boyfriend who wanted to go to the beach one summer afternoon. He drove over to my house and we walked down the road. We got to the beach and began looking for a good spot. I remember thinking it was kind of crowded for a weekday. We noticed a clump of people down closer to the water, like they were gathered, watching something. We walked down to see.
There was Charlie with his Polly, curled up together on someone’s towel. Everyone was “awww”ing and making silly little jokes about true love. My boyfriend said, “Hey, isn’t that your cat?”
And suddenly, I was popular. Everyone wanted to know his name, her name, were they BOTH mine… It was funny.
We put our towel down next to “theirs” and ended up on a double date.
Charlie had a reputation in our neighbourhood as a dog-butt-kicker. I never believed that until I saw it for myself, because I had only seen him around dogs that he liked, apparently.
One of our neighbours had a Siberian Husky named Nikki, a great big beautiful dog. Nikki was always ripping her chain out of the ground and taking off. One day she decided to walk onto our property. Charlie had been napping in the sun on our front walk. My mother and I sat watching from the picture window as Charlie got up, yawned, stretched. Walked up to Nikki with a kind of slow swagger, like he was going to give that dog a piece of his mind.
He didn’t make a sound as he hopped up onto his hind legs and laid the smack down on Nikki. She whimpered and backed away. From that day on, whenever that dog broke free, she would cross the road to go past our house.
Charlie was a thief. He stole large amounts of pot and hash from Brother #3. He didn’t sell it, though. Charlie liked to get high and give my brother a good workout, running from room to room. Whenever I heard Brother #3 yell, “Hey! Give that back to me!” I knew he was chasing the cat.
The fishermen at the pier wanted Charlie, dead or alive.
One day, I walked down to the beach with a friend. As we walked over the wooden slats onto the sand, we could hear one the men at the pier yelling. It sounded like gibberish at first (we even thought maybe a shark had been sighted), but as we got closer, we heard, “Stop that fucking caaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat! Sumbitch took another fish, dammmmmmmit!!!”
And then I saw my Charlie, that big, brawny, grey tiger-striped cat, with a HUGE fish in his mouth, soaking wet, running like the devil was after him.
Two fishermen chased him while my friend and I yelled, “Run, Charlie! Ruuuuuuuuuuuuuuunnnnnnnnn!!!!!!!” and blocked the two guys (I was really afraid they would hurt him).
Charlie was a member of our family. My younger brother and I often referred to him as our youngest brother. He loved to play with us, and he enjoyed conning us (at one point, we discovered that Charlie was having about three breakfasts a day). He was with me on nights when I cried myself to sleep (and there were TONS of those back then!). He knew all of my secrets. I suspect he knew every secret of my family.
I was at work the day he was euthanized. I had a feeling that something was wrong with him the last time I had seen him (I was no longer living at home at that point). His “new” fur hadn’t come in and it was already November. He had feline leukemia (this was back when they knew next to nothing about it).
My brothers did not tell me they were taking him to the vet’s that day to have him put to sleep; they had not told me he had Leukemia. They (Brothers #1, #3 and #4… #2 was already living in Florida by then) brought him down together and they got to say good-bye. I did not get to say good-bye. They called me afterward. Part of me is still angry and sad about that.
Because he was Familiar’s son, and Familiar was the last birthday present I ever got from my father (and I never got to say good-bye to him, either), losing Charlie hit me harder than the loss of any other pet, before or since. Charlie had sort of been a last piece of something connecting me to my dad.
His ashes, along with those of Nappy and Puddin (the brother and sister kitty act that came to my mother’s house a few years later) are buried with my mother’s ashes, per her request.
Sometimes Sam does something Charlie-like; he steals something or sits in front of the fridge praying to the god of milk until someone opens the door… or sometimes, I see something Charlie-esque in the way he plays or the way he climbs into the crook of my arm when I go to sleep, or the way he gives me Eskimo kisses.
It makes me smile.