He was a procession of one as he crossed the cat room at the shelter. His coat was dusty white with black and brown tabby splotches, his face ruggedly chiseled like some feline comic book detective. He was ready for a home, and he knew what to do. He marched over to my wife, put his front paws up on her legs, then sat down and purred. The only question left was, “Where do we sign?”
He must have had a home before, because he also knew what to do when he reached ours. Within the hour, Chester was in charge.
* * *
I formed my own bond with Chester a few days later when we finally surrendered to his pleas to go out. On a late autumn evening with a light coating of snow on the ground, I escorted him onto his new turf. My job: make sure he didn’t get lost, and did get back inside. It was only supposed to be a few minutes, but Chester had other plans. Each time I approached, he growled and moved a little farther from the house. He went under the deck next door. Noticing a shadowy figure with a flashlight on his lawn, my neighbor came outside with a fireplace poker to make sure everything was OK.
The odyssey went on, around the house, down the driveway and across the street. Finally Chester found a cap from the back of a pickup truck and hopped onto it. This gave me a better angle. I seized the moment and seized the cat. Hugging him tight, I turned and ran for the house, now a football field away. I promptly face planted in the snow, felled by a log hiding in all the whiteness.
Panting, I got up and found Chester sniffing the tires of another neighbor’s truck. I scooped him up and set off again, more carefully now, and got home without incident. In the kitchen, Chester gave me the shelter treatment, front paws on my legs, as if to say, “No hard feelings?”
* * *
My wife always said Chester was a cat’s cat, and he was. He could fix you with an indignant stare that would send you running for your scarf and mittens. Or he could love you to pieces.
The best times were on the sofa, where he would bypass your lap. In his prime, 13 pounds of resonating purr would settle on your chest, and then inch upward. With his hot, fishy breath in your face, he would extend a paw to each shoulder. And if you stroked him just right and his bliss was perfect, he would gently nip your chin.
Chester wasn’t frivolous, except at the change of seasons. The first mild evening of spring or the first crisp night of autumn, he would dart randomly across the yard and scale tall trees for no reason. Otherwise, a brisk walking pace to the dinner plate, and a swat for the foolish cats who would leap over him to get through the door.
* * *
Near the end, I was outside with Chester again on a late autumn evening, making sure he didn’t get lost and did get inside. It wasn’t hard this time. Weakened by the cancer in his right cheek, he had no fight left as I picked him up and carried him to the house.
Not that he hadn’t fought. From the day he was diagnosed in early September, Chester took his shots from the vet, ate like a king, was doted upon, gained half a pound and beat his life expectancy by two months. He made a dignified exit nine days before Thanksgiving at the wonderful Dr. Andy’s office.
* * *
I’ll wade in over my head on all kinds of questions. Human suffering, the origin of the universe? I’ll give you a theory. Just don’t ask me about pets and the afterlife. For one thing, I don’t type well when my eyes are wet. All I know is that Chester was a gift I would happily receive again, and I’m thankful to God for the 11 years we had with him. RIP, big guy.