I’d never thought of her as fragile.
Delicate, yes. And uncommonly beautiful.
She came to us a foundling, having spent her kittenhood in New York. And life on the streets of that crowded and noisy metropolis tends to engender resilience and an instinctive caution.
For the first weeks, she withheld judgment about us and the established felines of the household, withdrawing for occasional privacy to secret refuges she managed to discover — a box below the telephone table in the kitchen or a cabinet whose door was left carelessly ajar.
A little gray tabby, she weighed just under 6 pounds at her most robust. Though slight, she was impressively athletic.
Quite early on, she spied a small wicker basket on a desk in a room off the main traffic. The desktop was 37 inches from the floor, and the basket — 9 inches long, 7 wide and 5 deep — held a cushioning of wadded plastic bags.
Effortlessly she levitated up there and settled in. From that moment on, it was her favorite nesting spot, from which she emerged only sparingly to eat from a plate of food, then choose a ball or a pink stuffed mouse from the assortment on the carpet below.
Tip was her name — given to her by the Brooklyn daughter who had the luck to rescue her. And why Tip? Because of the whiteness of her four small paws and the last white inch of her restless tail.
I loved her as I have all the creatures who have shared our lives. More of them than I can legally speak of in this jurisdiction. The special hurt, I believe, is because — young as she was — we thought we’d have her many more years.
Tip had seemed listless that day and not at all herself. So my daughters, who have had ailing cats from time to time, are alert for troubling signs. With a friend, they took Tip to a clinic in another part of town — one where they’ve had wonderful luck before.
I was away at an evening meeting, and immediately after the meeting ended I telephoned home for a report.
“Tip’s gone,” my daughter said. The news struck me like a blow.
They’d hardly gotten on the road before Tip had lost any capacity to move. On examination she was found to be not only unconscious but also completely blind.
The exact nature of the fatal episode could not be known.
“The vet told us it could have been an aneurysm. Or possibly a stroke. We just couldn’t let her suffer.”
“No. You did the right thing.”
On the long sill of my office window — on the side that faces the morning sun — there’s an arrangement of 16 small, ornamented tin and wooden boxes. On the bottom of each of them is inscribed a name. And each contains a precious memory.
Tip’s was the last box to join those others in the window. And I can’t go in her room, with the desk and the small wicker basket, and not hope, somehow, that I might still find her there.
For more of C.W. Gusewelle, go to gusewelle.kansascity.com.