My cat Helen turns 20 years old today. She’s not doing as badly as she might be, given her age, but she’s not doing all that well, either. (I’ll spare you the details. Just imagine what might be wrong with you at the equivalent human age, which is approaching 100.) I know that I’m going to be writing a blog post in which I eulogize her sooner than I’d like to be, so I thought I ought to take some time before then to talk in plain human terms about what she means to me: not as her companion, but specifically as a writer.
As I believe I’ve mentioned before somewhere on this blog, I write in an old brown leather recliner that used to belong to my brother. (It, too, is on its last legs, and I do not look forward to replacing it.) My laptop sits in my lap, of course; on the right arm of the chair sits my coffee, if there’s any still in the cup; and on the left arm, every single morning, sits Helen, just as she has for years.
There are times, I must admit, when having her there is annoying. If I want to eat a bowl of fruit and yogurt while I work, I don’t have anywhere nearby to set it between bites… because no matter how old and achy she gets, she’ll raise her brittle body up and try to steal it from me. She often lays herself across my power cord — which means that if I need to get up for any reason, I have to unplug my laptop — and while she sits there, she slowly wriggles her butt down the arm until she’s resting against me in an awkward position that doesn’t let me move freely. Worst of all, I’m allergic to cats — yes, you read that correctly, I’m allergic to cats — so if I don’t wash my hands almost immediately after giving her a scratch, I end up rather miserable and have to take a break from writing to recover.
On the other hand, she’s a constant, living presence that accompanies me into the worlds I imagine, never letting me fully disconnect from the real world around me. She’s a sort of lifeline in that way. And when the inevitable slings and arrows of outrageous playwriting fortune come my way, she reminds me that I’m needed and (in a feline way at least) loved… and that it’s not all about me.
Thank you, Helen, and happy 20th birthday. I wish every writer had a companion like you.