Merlin, my cat, died yesterday as the movers were loading our belongings into their truck. I had taken the kids out to the Fairfax mall to keep them out of the way. Just as we parked, I got a text message from Amy: "Please come back. Merlin just died."
An unobtrusive (though not unfriendly) black cat, Merlin had been a part of my life for damn near 12 years. When Amy and I worked in the fan factory, the company owner had a couple of cats. After one of them (a fluffy white and quite nearsighted cat named "Mozart") met a grisly end beneath the tire of a passing car, he bought a new kitten who would come to be known as Merlin.
Merlin wasn't the first "Merlin" to rule the company roost. The original Merlin had succumbed to some kind of heart failure, and had been replaced by Mozart. The boss had a thing for black cats named "Merlin," so before long the newest Merlin became a part of the warehouse staff (which, admittedly, consisted of Amy and myself).
Coincidentally, Merlin's arrival at the fan factory corresponded to the death of my own cat, Polly. Polly was an inbred calico with extra toes, and I'd been very close to her. She died suddenly of kidney failure (an autopsy showed that she'd only been born with one kidney to begin with). I didn't want to get attached to the new kitten at work; I was still mourning Polly's death. But I couldn't help it.
While Merlin was also an office cat, he was most definitely a warehouse cat from the beginning. He spent much of his kittenhood atop our workbench, sleeping, eating, playing, and cuddling. It made an otherwise unpalatable employment opportunity acceptable, and in time Merlin came to view me as his person (with Amy running a very close second).
As much as I loved Merlin, he wasn't my cat. He belonged to the boss. However, the boss being who he was, Merlin didn't see the kind of veterinary care that he really deserved. His teeth were in dire need of cleaning, but the boss wouldn't spend the money required to get the job done. Amy and I ended up taking Merlin to the vet, and we paid something in the neighborhood of $300 out of our own pockets for a variety of tests and to have his teeth cleaned.
When the boss heard about the vet bill, he did something that we didn't expect: He gave Merlin to us. We were all too glad to have the little guy, given that the boss permitted the factory cats to wander outdoors in a very busy industrial park (which is what led to Mozart's death). The cats were very much property items to him, and though I figure he liked them in his own way, I doubt he really respected (or viewed) them as living, breathing individuals.
From that point, Merlin came to live with us in our apartment. He adjusted rapidly, for an apartment has creature comforts not typically had by warehouse cats. Sofas, beds, pillows; all were his for the having.
He was my shadow, always looking for a quick cuddle (though he would likely cuddle for hours on end, if I'd let him). He was vocal, too, and we had a lot of conversations ... mostly about food, I reckon. At night, he would invariably curl up next to my head on the pillow, and if I was taking more than my share he would touch his cold nose on my cheek until I made room for him.
The night before he died was our last one in Virginia. He didn't seem particularly nervous or worried as the movers packed our stuff on Saturday. Mostly, he sat on the bar in the kitchen and watched as things happened around him. Later that night, I shared some left-over roast beef with him as Amy and I, devoid of internet access, watched Anthony Bourdain on television. That night, like many others before it, he slept next to my head.
On Sunday, when the movers came to load the truck, we put the cats in the bathroom to keep them from escaping out the front door. My last interaction with Merlin was scooping him up and depositing him in the bathroom with Amy's cat, Hastur. Of course, I didn't realize it'd be the last time I'd see him alive.
Amy found him later on, laying dead on the bathroom floor. From the looks of things, Merlin passed swiftly and without any real muss or fuss. He was about twelve years old, I reckon; maybe a little older or younger. Since our move to Virginia, he'd developed a cough which I suspected to be asthma or allergies. Despite a number of trips to a cat specialist and hundreds of dollars in tests, we never figured out what was wrong with him.
My hope was that the move to Massachusetts, as well as a new house, would alleviate Merlin's symptoms. Now I suspect the problem might not have been with his lungs, but with his heart. Still, it doesn't look like I'll ever know for sure. Though he seemed as calm as ever, perhaps the stress of the move was too much for him.
I'll miss you, Merlin. You were a good friend, always there when I needed you. I'll miss you sleeping near my head at night, sitting nearby as I wrote for this freelance project or that one, and staring at me, annoyed, while I devoted my attention to Warcraft or some other video game. I'm sad that you won't be here to share this new chapter in my games career with me, but I will never forget you.
Happy trails, little buddy.