Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Passing of a Little Mischief in My Life


Sometime in the year before we were married, one of our roommates came to us asking if it would be alright for her to cat-sit a pair of kittens for a few days.  Her friend was moving, she said, and she was worried about the tiny kittens getting lost or hurt.

Paul and I laughed. Our roommate didn’t understand that she had just adopted two cats.

Time passed and the kittens stayed. The roommate would mention from time to time that it would just be a few more days. Paul and I would laugh because she still didn’t understand that she had adopted 2 cats.

Sometimes the roommate would leave for the weekend and we, I mean Paul, would feed the kittens. “Don’t get attached.” I’d say. But who was I kidding. At the time we already had four cats between us—we each came into the relationship with two. So obviously we are the type to become attached.

Time passed some more and the kittens, as they do, became young lady cats and went into heat. The roommate asked who our vet was so she could get them fixed. Paul and I laughed because once you pay for surgery, you have definitely adopted the cats.

Our wedding was fast approaching and the roommate announced she was moving out. She was going to put the cats in a shelter if she couldn’t find a home for them. Paul and I stopped laughing. We had just adopted two more cats.

The cats were sisters from the same litter, though you could not tell by looking. One was calico, the other had the coloring, but not the build of a Siamese. Their original names were Suga and Honey but we felt those names didn’t suit them. Paul dubbed them Houdini and Frankie. Not girls names but appropriate none-the-less for a cat (the calico) who could open doors and her sister, whose startling blue eyes would put local legend Sinatra to shame.

Houdini and Frankie immediately staged a bid for power. In the long guerilla war to follow, they would eventually wrest the power in work ceaselessly to wrest the alpha spot in our pride of little lions from Rosie.  Working together, as they did, we dubbed them Mischief (Frankie) and Chaos (Houdini).

Having two humans in the house to supervise, Frankie and Houdini divided the responsibilities. Houdini adopted Paul. Frankie adopted me.

She was my constant companion. Paul called her my familiar. She’d climb on my lap for tummy rubs, paw at my face and nibble at my chin. I was hers.

To say she followed me around the house would be inaccurate. What she really did was precede me. Rushing down the stairs ahead of me and skidding into the living room to announce, “Mommy’s coming!” with an shrill little meow. If I was heading downstairs and she didn’t move, I’d say “you don’t want me to get there before you?” She would jump to her feet and trot down the stairs with an impatient trill.

Three years ago, Paul and I went to Ireland for 2 weeks to visit family. While we were away, Frankie took over the house. By the time we returned, she had put on several pounds and Rosie was a nervous wreck. We soon discovered why.

Frankie had a new game. She would wait till Rosie was asleep on the couch, raise herself up on her hind legs like a Meerkat and bop Rosie on the head!  I think it was one of her favorite things to do in life and she did it well and often.  If we caught her peering over the side of the couch, paw raised, we’d say. “Frankie!” Then she’d look us straight in the eye, slowly lower her paw and bathe as if she had never had any nefarious intentions.
Two seconds later, if I looked away, she’d be at it again.

It was her bulk that gave her an advantage over our petite but thorny Rose and she was a formidable arch nemesis. To see Frankie trot off was a sight to behold. After the coup, when she put on so much weight, she developed a tummy that would swing in the breeze as she went. We called it her waddle and you could see it from behind as she always had her tail up like a victory flag.

I think this was all very good for our one male cat, Biggles. Rosie usually picked on him. Now she had Frankie to contend with.

Frankie liked to have her way. If she wanted my attention but wasn’t getting it, she’d find a perch on a desk or counter. She’d look me straight in the eye and slowly tap at whatever object was nearest her. A swat would be too obvious and could be construed as an emotional outburst. Frankie wanted me to know my punishment was well thought out and deliberate.

Without breaking eye contact she would slowly tap, tap, tap—moving the object, be it a glass, a pencil, or whatever ever so slowly to the edge. Then when she was sure she had my full attention—and only then—would she swat the object off the precipice. 

People don’t give cats much credit when it comes to emotions, but I can tell you this was done with intent and forethought. Nothing got knocked down unless we were paying attention.

Frankie as Ceiling Cat
She showed just as much intent in cheering me up and watching over me.  She was Ceiling Cat, peering from the landing, meowing till I came upstairs or told her  I was “down here!” Then she’d scurry down, chirping her annoyance at my obstinance while her tail said, “I’m happy I know where you are now.”

Here is something I didn’t realize till recently as Paul and I reminisced, she would search the house for me if I went out. I worked from home the last few years so I was usually around. But I went out, Paul has told me, she’d look for me and then sit in front of Paul and yell at him till he explained I had gone out. Then she’s trot off with a frustrated huff.

I love her.  


At the beginning of this year, I noticed she didn’t want me brushing her sides. I thought something might be wrong, but I wrote it off as more likely me being a little too rough with the comb.

In March came a day when we noticed she’d lost weight. She wasn’t moving. Something was wrong. A month earlier I’d lost my job. I’d been caught up in that personal drama. But this was worse. Frankie had lymphoma.

The vet felt the tumor right away. Test showed it was cancer. An ultra sound showed it was inoperable. Since then it’s been a roller coaster of chemo and blood tests. I’ve measured time according the medicine schedules and vet appointments.  The object of the game was to give her the best quality of life we could. Shrink the tumor with drugs. Keep it small and try to kill off. All the while trying to keep her fed as the treatments killed her appetite.  I fed her everything under the sun. Recently she developed a love for pulled pork. We gave her subcutaneous fluids to keep her hydrated—especially in the heat wave.  Any time I got her to eat something it made me happy. 
Frankie also liked Corned Beef

and Vanilla Häagen-Dazs®

Even while she was sick she still caused mischief in whatever ways she could. Pilling her was very often like the battle of Waterloo. It took a lot of planning, many people were involved, and ultimately it ended in defeat.  Our vet once told me that it took her and three other people to get a pill into Frankie—by then she weighed only six pounds. She didn’t bite or scratch. She just refused to swallow.

I am grateful that she was always Frankie. Stubborn, beautiful, Frankie. I rejected the urge to call classify her in my mind as “Chemo cat” though I am sure that slipped out on occasion.  Even as her weight dropped and she lost the advantage of her size, she still took great pleasure in annoying Rosie.  She had moved to living in my office upstairs, which is where she lived as a kitten when it was the Roomate’s room. 

I think her favorite thing was going into our room, where our other cat CutiePi lived alone. Frankie had lost most of her teeth but somehow she could loudly crunch CutiePi’s  dry food as if to say, “Yes I’m eating your dinner!”  I’d let her in for a few minutes at a time and before scooping Frankie up. Her purrs were so loud as I carried her out of the room that we vibrated. We call it “OPCs” short for “Other People’s Crunchies” taste better.
OPC's are delicious!

About a week or two ago, the vet commented that she was amazed at Frankie’s endurance. She’d done well over the last three months. She was pleased. I couldn’t believe that it had been only three months. It felt like an eternity.  I had been getting tired. We never wavered in our care, but I was having the thoughts and feelings I knew came with being the caretaker of a chronically ill person. A bit of Depression. A feeling like it would go on forever—though I would have gone on just happy to have her with me.

Last week her blood work came back with a change. She had an infection. We treated it with antibiotics. Three more rounds of blood work after some confusing symptoms and I thought we might be in the clear.

On Saturday she had a burst of energy. We played. She purred. She ate. I was suspicious but I had been allowing myself a sense of optimism.  Sunday she could barely move. I spent the morning with her, a good part of it lying on the floor, telling her I loved her till I could get her to the vet. 

It was time to say goodbye. The tumor had ruptured. Now she was hurting.

I’ve put fire out with my bare hands. I’ve gone to work with sciatica so bad that I couldn’t stand up straight and could barely walk. I’ve said goodbye to people I love. I’ve never done anything harder or more painful than making that final call with Paul. Giving her the last gift we could and saying goodbye.

The last few days have been a blur. We said goodbye on Sunday. Yesterday I had to go to Jury Duty.  I was still physically in shock. I kept myself propped up with Excedrin and caffeine a 5Hour Energy Shot. It’s only today that I feel like I can think again. I still miss her terribly.

We both do. And I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about Paul’s role over the last few months. Paul is an EMT and a Search and Rescue Diver. Search and Rescue divers work in pairs. One diver goes in the water and the other holds the line, making sure the diver doesn’t get lost and always has a link to the shore.

While I was Frankie’s primary caretaker, Paul held the line for me.  He made sure I took care of myself. He helped me interpret what the vet said. He helped me with Frankie’s care when more than one set of hands was needed—and that meant he held the needs when we gave her fluids, which I know was hard.

And now…we’re a family of six.  Two people, four cats. She was the smallest of them by the end. But the silence of her absence is enormous.

She taught me to lighten up--to enjoy a little mischief. She reminded Paul and I that we should still enjoy ourselves even though things are so terribly hard right now with us both being out of work and bills piling up with no end in sight.

She’s always going to be part of our little family. Her stories will always be told.  Paul reminded me that as long as we live, she lives in us.


  1. Saying goodbye is never easy, especially to sweet and mischievous companions like Frankie, who truly brightened your life. She will always live on in your memories, and in your hearts.

  2. What a beautiful tribute. Frankie was truly a remarkable cat. My thoughts and prayers are with you.

  3. What beautiful tribute to truly a family member. Frankie knew you took great care of her and I believe that the last burst of play and energy was her way of saying "Thank you, but I must leave you now. I trust you know what to do." I have a similar situation with my 17 year old Siamese who is certainly on the downside of renal failure. We've introduced two new kitties to our family to make the loneliness not seem so looming. Pretty Girl has asserted her "queendom" and the new kitties know their place. All the kitties were told of Frankie's pending vet visit and I know we all were praying for your family members, furred and otherwise.


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