We don’t know where she came from, what her original given name may have been, or why she had come into such dire circumstances. One day she began coming to the back porch of my daughter’s house. Although her long coat somewhat hid the fact, she was emaciated. Perhaps she was able to smell the presence of other cats in the house. Or maybe she just sensed the kindness of those living inside. We don’t know. But she came asking to be fed and cared for and was taken in. They named her for her most prominent feature at the time: Bones.
As a precaution, the kids (actually bona fide adults now) took the stray to their local vet to make sure she was in reasonably good health and free of any parasites that might get passed on to the other cats, both of whom had been rescues. Bones was sorely underfed and bore one broken tooth, which the vet indicated almost surely meant she had been ejected from a moving vehicle (he’d come across those in the middle of the road before). Otherwise, she was a healthy long-haired adult cat, estimated to be about eight years of age. They took her home and began caring for her. Don’t ask me what miserable excuse for a human being inflicts harm on a defenseless animal. I have no idea, but I do know that I would love to see the punishment fit the crime when it comes to animal cruelty. Can’t you just see it? I can.
One thing became clear early on: Bones liked to eat. In fact in no time at all, she was no longer grossly underweight. But she also liked to play with her fellow housecats, Dorian and Finch, who did not share her zeal for romping and roughhousing in the least. Spats ensued and Bones had to be separated from the others. The hope had been that the three cats could become acclimated to one another over time. That didn’t happen, though, and after months of trying, much to the dismay of all involved, it became apparent that Bones would need to be rehomed.
My daughter Teresa had begun to put out feelers, including a post on Facebook that just broke my heart when I saw it. (Author’s note: I have no right to complain, as some years earlier, I had shared a post on Facebook that resulted in Teresa and her husband-to-be adopting the kitten who would become their Dorian.) My wife immediately asked if I thought it would be feasible to take Bones in ourselves. Twenty years ago, I would not have hesitated. But now? Karen had been struggling with mobility issues, I wasn’t getting any younger myself, and just keeping up with the house had become a losing battle. Then there was Leia, our large, black Shepherd/Labrador mix, who had coexisted with a cat (and even a rabbit) before but was now enjoying life as an only child. “No,” I replied, “probably not a great idea.” Although Karen accepted my answer, I don’t think either of us was too choked up about the thought of Bones being rehomed.
It was a cold, lonely night at the end of November. Karen had been hospitalized following a freak injury requiring surgery. I was home alone, doing some Christmas shopping on my laptop. I had ordered a few gifts for Karen but had not yet happened upon the one “special gift” that I get her every year. What does one get for a woman who, once she gets out of the hospital, will be stuck in rehab for weeks? I surfed and scrolled and wracked my brain but did come across anything worthy.
Well, there was one thing, an idea to which my mind kept returning. I kept on thinking about that cat and how much I didn’t want to see her sent away again. But how to make it work? Once Karen got home from rehab, she would be challenged just to take care of her own needs, let alone those of anybody else. In recent years, due to declining physical abilities, she hadn’t even been able to keep up with the dog — and I had done a piss-poor job of compensating for that. We had never cared for a longhaired cat before, but I suspected the shedding situation would be extraordinary. Despite all the reasons I shouldn’t have considered the matter any further, my mind kept circling back. Why? Because my wife had a long way to go before she could come home and having Bones would give her a good reason to fight for her recovery.
I reached out to my daughter that very night and together, we began to scheme. Bones would stay at her current home until Karen was home and settled, sometime after the holidays. The kids would wrap Bones’ vaccination record for me to give as Karen’s “big” Christmas gift. And when the time came, Tre, her husband, and their housemates (long story) would assist Karen and me in learning what we needed to know about caring for a longhair. As was often the case when I was a young boy, I could not wait for Christmas to come!
A number of long weeks later, on Christmas Day, a group of us went over to the nursing home where Karen had been placed for post-surgical rehabilitation. She was still non-weight-bearing on her left leg and had already grown tired of not being able to do so many things on her own. She was putting up a great front for the holidays but we all knew it had only been a front, nothing more. After all, who wants to spend Christmas in a nursing home?
Things played out exactly as I’d hoped they would. We presented gifts of varying shapes and sizes, insisting that she save the smallest gift for last, a number 10 envelope with a red bow on top. In all candor, Karen seemed to enjoy all the “lesser gifts” she received, too. Then we let her open the envelope. She unfolded the single sheet of paper inside and read it over, probably a few times, before that telltale look of realization crept into her face. She looked up at us and said just one word. “Really?”
We all nodded in response. Things might have gotten a little emotional for a moment or two, but by far the overriding emotion in the room was joy. I am convinced that I had made the right choice, for Karen as well as for Bones. Heck, for me, too!
The weeks that followed were long indeed, filled with the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. Karen was still in rehab when our son left for his new home in Hawaii and also when her mom passed away. We managed to break her out for a run up north, to see Mom one last time and also to Teresa’s house for a farewell dinner for our son. Both day trips were undoubtedly helpful but neither of them was capable of making everything okay, and we all knew it.
The farewell dinner gave Karen a chance to spend a little time with her soon-to-be cat. Because the name Bones was no longer descriptive, Karen was tasked with giving her feline a new forever name, an assignment that my dear wife did not take lightly. She insisted that it must be a name with ties to royalty. Me, I had already gotten used to calling her Boney, but I was open to a change.
Once during the farewell event, I glanced over at Karen while she was holding Bones and in that moment, the look on my wife’s face told me everything I had to know. First, though Bones may not have realized it at the time, this kitty was never again going to have to worry about not having a place. But more than that, this cat’s forever “place” was in Karen’s heart. Boney cat, I thought to myself, you’ll be coming home soon. For good.
Right around the end of January, the nursing home’s PT/OT staff, the insurance company, and most importantly, Karen herself decided she was ready to be discharged. So on a chilly Thursday evening, three days after I had broken her out to attend her mother’s funeral, I brought my wife home. Two days later, our daughter and son-in-law brought Bones, who had not yet been renamed, over to her new forever home. They also brought with them a supply of food and a generous assortment of new cat paraphernalia.
I felt like a first-time adoptive parent, watching Boney look around in a state of bewilderment and hoping that she would soon adjust to her new surroundings. The initial transition took a little less than a week, probably not bad by cat standards but still a little tough on her new mom and dad, who at times feared that she would never warm up to them. In reality, after everything that she had probably been through, Boney just needed a little time before she would be inclined to trust again. We gave her that time, as well as some space, and before long we began to share experiences together.
Still, one question remained to be answered: What was her name? After weeks of consideration, Karen decided that the cat formerly known as Bones would henceforth be called Guinevere Bonaparte, the latter name added so that if I wanted to, I could continue calling her Boney cat. This proved to be unnecessary. Within short order, we both began calling her Guinnie cat. Similar phonetics, same number of syllables… hey, it worked.
And the rest is slowly unfolding history. Because of the broken upper-left canine tooth, which will have to be removed altogether eventually, Guinnie sometimes appears to have a bit of an Elvis sneer, but not always. She enjoys blanket-covered laps but if you overdo the petting, she’ll let you know. Guinnie cat loves looking out of windows (I can’t wait until more birds arrive) and despite being pretty small (about nine pounds, fur and all), she is utterly unafraid of Leia, the black princess, who is many times her size.
So far, Karen does all the brushing and shares some of the litter pan duty, because these are the things she can do. I do everything else, for now, which largely consists of feedings, vacuuming copious amounts of loose dog and cat fur, and cleaning up the occasional yark. On average, this puss sheds enough fur to produce another small cat every seven to ten days. Enjoys proximity when she’s not sleeping. Does not like to be picked up and held. And she has never actually bitten either of us but will occasionally do that soft “objection bite” thing to let people know when she has had enough.
One of our favorite new things is when we greet each other by touching noses. It’s the cutest thing. A little disconcerting when I’m asleep, though, and feel this small, cool nose pressing into my arm to let me know her highness has arrived. S’okay.
Her name is Guinevere, or Guinnie for short. This is her home now and she has decidedly become our cat. The journey continues.
As always, thanks for hanging with me.
I love this story, and I areally enjoy your writing, Michael. Greetings to you all — miss you, Karen!