I remember a sterile room with a standard metallic counter.
The veterinarian gingerly touched my mother’s arm and looked into her eyes.
Edward Matis, our white chested tabby feline, laid with his paws neatly tucked under him while his vocal chords vibrated loud enough to ruin any attempt to hear his heartbeat. His slitted eyes told us nothing as he somehow found happiness on that cold metal.
“Mrs. Matis. I’m afraid Eddie’s got…”
Her pause gave all of us pause. Edward excluded.
“Stage three tartar.”
For the next decade or so, we were haunted by that stage three tartar with every exhale from Eddie. I loved every bit of stank he forced out when his purr-engine started up.
We named him after my dad’s dad, who passed away just before we discovered an elegant, white and tabby adolescent cat in our garage in the dead of winter. To be fair, my family’s got an odd history with cats.
During his prime attempts at alpha-male-ing, my father refused my mother’s attempts to adopt a stray black cat. That winter, my mother returned from an absence to find said black cat nuzzled into my dad’s abdomen.
“…he looked cold.” was my father’s defense.
But that was Frank, our fat black cat who went on to terrorize our neighbor’s far from gentle toddler and bring back roadkill trophies during his final days.
This story is about Edward. Eddie. Named for Edward Matis, a curmudgeon of an old man who left a Pink Panther CD, newsboy caps, and a biting sense of criticism to the Matis clan.
Eddie was special, in that he had white paws and wasn’t named Mittens. Or Socks. Or something equally as lame that wouldn’t do justice to his personality. And boy did he have one.
My memory of my grandfather is hazy. Admittedly, I don’t recall much besides his Pink Panther CD and his tolerance of my adolescence. But he certainly was a Matis, with his snark and deep-seated love for his family.
Much like my cat. Frank, the aforementioned black cat, was undoubtedly my family’s. There’s grainy photos of my brother’s bowl cut nuzzled into Frank’s massive amount of fur, as well as glimpses of my sister grabbing at his fluffy tail. My father’s heart warmed to felines with Frank and he continued my mother’s love for animals. But Eddie came after me.
In the cold December of ’99, meaning it was below 80 degrees down south, Eddie showed up at our backdoor. I remember my sister and my neighborhood best friend Adam (who never knew how much I looked up to him) discovering this white-breasted bundle of personality in our dimly-lit garage.
He was probably a year old, a rambunctious teenager of a cat, and he stole our hearts immediately. I never saw him as a stray at our door. He was ours the second I saw him.
Later on, he’d disappear for a few weeks and cause a flurry of fear and sadness. Our street was growing increasingly popular with speedy traffic, and Eddie didn’t know fear. It wasn’t until he returned, smelling of mothballs and perfume, that we realized he shacked up with an elderly woman down the street for some quality canned food.
That was Eddie.
He battled every feline in a three-block radius. Every time he came home with a new wound, I’d have to pluck the foreign fur from his claws. He returned with a bloody chest wound often enough that he could’ve been called robin redbreast. It didn’t help that his stained snow-white breast amplified my constant fears of a mortal wound. His scabs were as common as his dozen decibel purring.
I can’t put his life into words. His smell, his fur, his claws, and most of all, his purr, are a part of who I am. Writing the words, “He was,” has damaged me in ways I forgot were possible. I’m 21 right now. Essentially three years of my life happened without Eddie in this world, and now more will pass without him. I don’t know how to feel or what to do. But I’m not important in this story.
Eddie was always brilliant. He hunted, he killed, he maimed. He cuddled, he nuzzled, and most of all, he purred. By god did he purr. He shook walls and he interrupted video recordings with his violent, “rrrrrrrrrrr”-ing.
It’s one thing to come home to a friendly quadruped, a family friend that’s shared home and hearth with you. It’s a whole nother thing to come back and see a part of your soul withered and weak, despite his attempts to defy his failing health by combating any disreputable cat he could find. In his prime, Eddie could kill a bear. The furball could’ve put me down if he felt so inclined.
But he didn’t. Instead, he tolerated my tearful grasps at his fur when I felt unhappy. He let me pick him up and coddle him. He let me embrace every inch of his weirdly long body. He slept in the crook of my knee and he drooled on me every time he napped on my increasingly-numb lap.
He’d knead my chest, my stomach, and my thighs with his always-sharpened claws. And I’d always accept the puncture wounds, because Eddie was mine and I was his. It’s tired and cliché, but we were just partners. When I struggled with starting with my new high school and finding new friends, Eddie and I would nap together on the warm driveway.
He loved me. And I love him far more than I’ll ever be able to express.
We still don’t know why cats purr. It helps them heal a little faster, sure. Science got us that much. But it’s always helped me heal too.
When I was six or seven, I was a huge coward. I still am, but back then, I was scared of windows. I cried into my stuffed dog, but he never calmed my fear. Bear, our family’s first dog, tolerated me riding on him. Fred, our other dog, accepted me as well. Frank again tolerated my infantile attacks on anything that wasn’t my mother.
It wasn’t until Eddie that I connected.
He wasn’t a comfort or a cuddle. He was a friend. He was my cat.
He sparked the worst fight I’ve ever had with my mom, and the worst I’ve ever felt.
I got a tattoo of his pawprint on my right forearm, because Eddie’s paw means more to me than anything else I could put on my body. My mother cried, and I fought back.
But when she called me today, telling me she was glad I had it, the fight suddenly seemed insignificant. Because we both knew who Eddie was.
He was ours. And we were his.
He was Edward Matis.
A well worn cat.