In Memoriam Basil

My cat Basil passed away in 2017, a year ago from posting this.

Halloween 2014 was special for me and Chrisse. My cousin and I had just bought property in San Diego, we spent the month of September preparing it, and had just moved in. Neither of us had lived in a house since we moved away from home, and in years of apartments and dorms there’d never really been any trick-or-treaters. So we bought a bunch of candy at Costco, left our lights on, and waited eagerly to meet the neighborhood and hand out candy.

As the night wore on and only a single little girl and her parents dropped by the house, Chrisse sat on the porch, a bit disappointed. I was probably playing video games or something to while away the time. When we were thinking about closing up shop and going to bed, a handsome grey and white cat walked by and noted my then girlfriend’s presence with a meow. Being Chrisse, she meowed back. The lad turned sharp and trotted straight towards her to meet the new neighbors.

Five minutes and some leftover ground turkey later, he was sitting in her lap on the front porch, purring and eating out of her hand. He had a handsome face, a great strut, a perky little meow and an ear with a little tear in it from some fight on the streets—my favorite of his features. And his eyes were incredibly bright and expressive, letting you know immediately what he thought of any given situation. She didn’t stand a chance. But all my life I’d been allergic to cats, and we were both pretty clear that adopting one was out of the picture. She’d made me agree that eventually we’d get a dog, “When the time was right/the yard was fenced/the house was ready” etc etc. So even though she had me come out and meet the friendly stranger, she knew at the end of the night she’d have to shut the door on him.

He stayed there meowing forlornly to be let in for what felt like hours. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen someone’s soul being disintegrated right in front of your eyes, and I’d recommend avoiding it. Chrisse was crushed and sat up all night thinking about him.

She was distracted for the next few days, at home and at work, and moreso when he came by again. Once more she meowed at him and he made a beeline for our porch, to receive more food and adoration. That’s when she looked at me with the weaponized sadness face, and after leaving him to cry outside again, she hesitantly floated the idea of adopting him. I was sympathetic, but memories of sneezing fits, headache and mental fog at the homes of friends and family with animals held out. Our health came first. But eventually she made me agree that if she could catch him, we could try keeping him around for a month, and if the allergies were too bad, we’d find him a good home.

I agreed, because she was so sad, and because I figured that was enough ifs that we could change course if it wasn’t working out.

Also because I was an idiot.

Anyone who knows my wife knows that no power in creation can stand between her and an animal in distress. Since that night I’ve lost count of how many times our evening plans changed because she saw a stray dog in the alley and wanted to try and bring it in, or because a cat had kittens in our back yard, or because something vaguely fluffy was in some vaguely distressing circumstance. Her compassion is matched only by her relentless determination to help every critter she can. So when I thought “Well, it’s only if she can catch the cat,” that was a dumb thought.

The next week was even more sad, because she sat on the porch with turkey and treats and love and eager eyes, which grew sadder as each night went on with no sign of our friendly guest. She’d come back to bed with her head slumped and shoulders sagging. I wasn’t sure whether I wanted the cat to live with us or not, but I did know that I didn’t want her to be that sad. And yet night after night passed without a glimpse of him.

During the course of the week I came down with a raging fever. I think it was one of those twenty-four-hour flu type things, that knocks you on your ass for a day or two. In the middle of its throes I lay in bed, sweating and thrashing and threading the line between dreams and fevered hallucinations. She’d put me to bed and gone out on watch what felt like hours before, so when I heard her voice and felt her shaking me, it took a moment or two to find my way back to reality. I looked up at her face in the dark bedroom, dazed and delirious, and she was absolutely beaming, a manic grin that wouldn’t look out of place in an Elmira cartoon. I mouthed a silent “Whaaaa?” but before I could properly respond, an indignant and chirping “MOW” bubbled up from the closet door. My eyes got wide—she’d caught the damn cat.

I wasn’t much use the rest of the evening, but she sprang into action, and once I’d recovered enough I helped her out. We were a bit lost—she hadn’t had a cat in her house for years, and the only feline family member in my history was an outdoor cat we called Mowgli when I was in kindergarten at most. Do we need a license? What vaccinations does he need? What kind of food should he eat? It was a flurry of vet visits, calls to friends, insanely diligent internet research on Chrisse’s part, and an electric excitement from sharing the house with a new friend.

One of the first calls we made was to my best friend Mat—he’d done some time as an animal groomer, and after we got the cat to the vet to get tested for FLV and all the other diseases that threaten a street cat’s life, he came over to give the poor bastard a bath. That’s how we learned that Dawn is basically a panacea—not only does it save seagulls from oil spills, it kills fleas, and our new cat was covered with them. I should point out that Mat and Chrisse braved the perils of the shower with a very, very unhappy cat—I didn’t want him to hate me, so I lurked outside like a useless chicken and to withstand the tragic yowling. It sounded like he was being boiled alive in oil. As it turns out, once he realized resistance was futile, he mostly just stood there, wiggling and expressing his extreme displeasure.

The cat being incredibly vocal was a sign of a trend that lasted his whole life. After we picked up a crate to take him to the vet for the first of many checkups, vaccinations, operations and so forth, he spent the whole cart ride making little sad and annoyed sounds. It was like someone had weaponized meows to stab humans directly in the heart. He already had us wrapped around his little paws, and we still hadn’t given him a name—after all, he was on a probationary period, to see if the allergies were too bad, and if we name him we’ll be weak and won’t be able to give him up if that’s the right thing to do. So when asked what our new pet’s name was, we went with “Mr. Meow” for a placeholder. He was a big hit at the Banfield hospital that became a practical second home, with more visits than I can count over the last three years.

At last it was time to start settling him in to our home. We needed some ground rules—since allergies were still a concern, the bedroom was off-limits. No going up on the counters. Limited access to the rest of the house while we’re out. A bunch of others I can’t even remember, none of which last a single week.

For a while he would paw at the door and meow sadly, eyeing us with a clear demand to be let back out. It was sad to say no, but everything we’d read said that indoor cats live longer and safer lives. We stayed strong on that rule at least. He did the same damn thing at the bedroom door at night, scratching and singing the same lonely song he used on our porch to weasel his way into our hearts. I don’t remember if he first got to sleep in the bed when I was gone, or if it was when he cried so sadly and distressingly that we thought something was happening to him. Nope—he just wanted to be with us.

From then on out, Basil told us when it was time to go to bed. If I stayed up too late on the computer he’d sit beside my desk, staring expectantly and chirping until I stood up. Then he’d dash to the bedroom, wait for me to climb in, then spring up top and wait for me to hold out my arm so he could curl up and use it as a couch, my hand as a pillow. He’d swap sometimes from me and Chrisse, curling up on one side or another, but his favorite place was right between the two of us. He did that until he died, almost every single night.

Mat helped us pick the name, too—Chrisse can tell the story better, but Mat mentioned it, she immediately thought of The Great Mouse Detective, and the name stuck. Then, as anyone with pets knows, the name underwent countless permutations. Mat calls pets “Bubbas” when he’s soothing them during grooming, I somehow changed that to Boobah, which turned into Boodily Bah, which in turn made “Boodily” an adjective (pronounced boo-duh-lee), meaning “In a fashion or attitude like unto that of the Boobah.”

I don’t know if I’ve just grown to deal with the allergies or if my body just needed time to adjust, but before the month was up I’d admitted defeat. I loved the new member of the family as much as Chrisse did. Chrisse fell into his trap, suckered into taking him in, and I fell for hers, agreeing to give it a try if she could do it. Of course she could do it. Every morning we’d wake up with our new friend asking for his breakfast, give him a hug and head off to work. Throughout the day we’d IM each other like idiot kids. “Guess what?” “Cat?” “CAT!!!!” At the shift’s end we rushed home, incredibly excited to see him again, to have him chirp and trill at the door to say hello and welcome us back home.

Basil always did some strange things. He’d get up at night and wander the halls, yowling like he was lost. Maybe whatever killed him in the end was something inside him from the day we met, some quirk of his brain, part of what made him so special, so bright, so loving and full of attitude. Even after we had him neutered he kept us up at night by straddling our blankets, biting them and humping them while yowling the song of his people. We started to wonder if he was bored or lonely during the day, and whether we should get another cat. Basil decided for us—Chrisse was watching some video with kittens in it, and the moment Basil heard them he started searching the house and meowing inquisitively, trying to find them. Chrisse started looking at adoption agencies and options, spent weeks researching, calling, applying, and nobody ever got back to her.

As fate would have it, some of Nick’s friends had a litter in their back yard and lived nearby. We went over to meet the kittens, tiny and frightened and romping around in the tomato and pepper plants. Chrisse picked out the shy elegant gentleman with the huge mustache—our Salvador—but I fell in love with a fluffy ginger. From being the one saying no to having a single cat, to begrudgingly accepting a trial run, I was now the fiance arguing that it would be heartbreakingly cruel to separate a little kitten from its mother without bringing along a sibling to keep it company and make it feel safe. So we eventually captured them in the pepper patch and brought them back.

The first time Basil saw them he froze. We kept them separate in the office for the first few days, placed towels Basil slept on in their room and vice versa, and only had supervised visitation. It took him a while to adjust but he settled quite happily into the role of grumpy old boss cat, keeping the little monkeys in line.

From bringing in our smallest cat, Tali (aka Buggle), to introducing a dog to the family, Basil was always closest to us. The kittens had each other, Buggle likes to cuddle but only on her terms, but Basil ran the house. When he wanted attention he’d come and get it. When he was unhappy with something he let us know. Of all our cats, he was the happiest to see us, has the most personality, the most attitude. During D&D he always came out to be the final boss, getting in our way, saying hello to everyone, making it clear who ran the place. There are more stories and more pictures than Chrisse and I have ever shared, because we know we’re crazy cat people and we wanted to spare everyone our madness. He was the closest.

The last few nights, he’d been up late, fighting, yowling, acting lost. Three days ago he plopped on my lap and snuggled in—not unusual for him, but always welcomed. When Basil wants love you stop doing what you’re doing and love him. The next day, I woke up to the sound of Basil having a seizure under the bed. I had to keep the dog and other cats at bay while trying to get him out. With my wife on the phone from the East Coast we figured out which hospital would see him, and I wrapped him up in a towel and put him on the floor of the car—there was no way I could get him into a crate. Even after the seizure passed he was shaking, stiff, and panicked. I brought him to the hospital where they gave him anticonvulsants until he relaxed at last. After making sure he was ok and making sure he knew I was there, I drove back home to…I don’t know, clean up, see if he ate something that made him sick, take care of the other animals, just do anything.

I got a call in the afternoon that his blood pressure had dropped and they were administering CPR. They managed to get his heart going but he still wasn’t breathing on his own. I asked them to keep him going until I could get there. When I got there he was on life support with no real prospect of recovery. I gave permission for them to put him to sleep, and I got to tell him goodbye and that I loved him. I got to pet him as he went, and they brought him to me when he was gone.

I still have my wonderful wife. I still have the rest of our little fluffy family. I have a home, I have opportunities to chase my passions. We are safe. We are loved. My life is full of good fortune, good friends, loving family, and blessings both deserved and undeserved. But Basil coming into our life was more transformative than I can properly express. He picked us. We were his people as much as he was our cat. I know he was “just a cat,” but we loved and treasured him. He was our Boobah. He’s left a spot in my heart that will heal but never fill. We’ll never forget him and we’ll always be thankful for how much love he brought us both. Rest in peace, buddy. It’s ok now. I’ll miss you forever.

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