I remember the first time I ever met him. I had just finished a performance of Carmen at the San Francisco Opera, and as I climbed into the car waiting outside the stage door, I heard a strange sound coming from the back seat.
“Look who I have with me,” my mother said with a smile. She pulled a box from the back and handed it to me.
There was something moving inside the box. It meowed.
Of course I knew I was getting a kitten. This was my gift from my mother for turning the ripe old age of eight, and I had actually visited the family of kittens a few days earlier to pick the one I wanted. When I had played with them all, I had decided on a gray striped kitten who had been very rambunctious. I knew that I was going to call him Tigger.
I opened the box with anticipation and found…a tiny black kitten.
Confused, I looked up at my mom and said, “I think you got the wrong one.”
She sighed and apologized. Apparently, by the time she had gotten to the family’s home, there was only one kitten left, so she took him. “But,” she said, “he is Tigger’s brother, so I am sure he’s also going to be just as fun.”
I started petting him and he purred loudly.
“Plus,” she added, “black cats are way cooler than other cats. Some people think they have magical powers.”
A magical cat? That sounded like a trade up to me. “But…what should I name him? He’s not striped, so I can’t name him Tigger.” My exhausted eight-year-old brain was trying to come up with clever names. All I could come up with was “Kitty,” and I knew that was just dumb.
“What about Midnight? He’s as black as midnight, after all.”
Looking at this tiny little black ball of fur, I nodded in affirmation. As we drove home, I started telling him that his name was Midnight, and that we would be friends. By the time we had made the hour-long journey home into the far reaches of Marin County, I had dubbed him Sir Midnight of Forest Knolls.
As I grew up, he was my best friend. He comforted me through convalescence after a broken collarbone, a dislocated knee, and numerous sprained ankles. He loved watching me garden, and did his best to kill any bugs, newts, or birds that got in my way. His favorite napping spots were the porch, the laundry basket, and the roof (which he reached by climbing the plum tree that grew next to our house). He was incredibly intelligent, and learned how to open the sliding glass door for himself to let himself out.
We could never teach him how to close that same door, much to our chagrin.
When my mother’s boyfriend tried to molest me, Midnight knew. After that incident, he spent more time with me, on my lap and in my bed. When I fell into depression, Midnight would come over to me and sit on me. He would look at me with those big green eyes and tell me that he wasn’t going to let me kill myself, and if he had to sit on me to stop me from doing it, that’s what he would do. He weighed 20 lbs. He was not a small cat.
When I went away to college and my mom started dating a woman who was allergic to cats, Midnight had to leave the only home he had ever known. He lived with my dad for a year, but my stepmother complained bitterly about having a cat in the house. And so after my second year in college, it was decided that I would bring Midnight back to the East Coast to live with me in my new apartment.
I know he was traumatized by the plane trip, especially since the tranquilizer we had given him had worn off by the time my delayed flight finally touched ground in Boston. The poor cab driver had to hear him yowl all the way from Logan Airport to Powderhouse Square; I tipped him extra for his trouble.
Midnight lived for 13 years. He died of intestinal cancer that I had not been able to catch early on (I was a poor college student and didn’t take him to the vet very often). I wasn’t even there when they took him to the vet, because I was at a summer apprenticeship program. When my subletter/catsitter told me what was going on, I borrowed a friend’s car and drove from Rhode Island to Somerville. The vet explained that they could do surgery, but there wasn’t a very good chance that he’d have a good life after the surgery…plus, I couldn’t afford all those expenses; I could barely afford the cost of putting him down!
It was an extremely difficult choice, but I wanted Midnight to be happy. I could tell he wasn’t happy at all the way he was, and after all he had done for me, I knew I needed to be strong for him.
I watched as the doctor injected him. I petted him and told him I loved him.
He purred loudly. He knew I was there.
And then his purrs got quieter. His breathing slowed.
And then he was gone.
I cried a lot that night. I drove over to my boyfriend’s house and spent the night sobbing in his arms. Midnight had been everything to me as I was young, and I blamed myself for not taking care of him better as we both got older. But I was still young then, and he was very old, and I know now that it was just his time to go.
I’d like to think that he’s still around, watching from afar. My husband and I now have two wonderful (and crazy) cats, Itchy and Scratchy, and I like to think that Midnight has given them tips on how to deal with me. Just because they’re not black cats doesn’t mean they don’t have magical powers, too.
(I wrote this post because I was inspired by someone who will be taking her dog in for surgery today. My thoughts are with her.)