And our mutual friend Amy gave Shelly that moniker before I ever laid eyes on her. Amy had paid a visit to Chicago a few months before I first came to visit Jeff (both Amy and I were living in California at the time), and she brought back stories of the quickly growing kitty who had a crazy streak a mile wide. And she did, there’s no denying that. She had an attitude. She also seems to have been a tad mis-wired (especially after she was slow to come out of the anesthesia after she was spayed). But Amy’s assessment came before the spaying. And Jeff’s landlady’s little daughter who came to play with Shelly when she was but a tiny kitten also used to claim she could turn evil in the blink of an eye. Yep.
Even so, Psycho was just the last of her string of names, and really, we rarely appended it.
According to Rachel, who picked her out of a litter of kittens offered by her cousin’s neighbor in south suburban Lansing, IL, Shelly began life as “Snowball.” That’s fitting—she was a little white fur puff. Rachel brought her home and, with the help of little brother Greg, named her “Purr-cy” (get it?) because she purred so loudly. This was a trait she retained for her entire life. Alas, Rachel was not allowed to keep Purr-cy, so, being the tenderhearted dad he is, Jeff agreed to take her in.
Her first act as his kitten was to run under his car, garnering her a big black oil spot on the top of her snowy white head.
(Just for perspective, she's perched on--and about ready to jump off of--Jeff's tiny rocking chair from his childhood.)
He took her to the vet for her routine kitten checkup, and the vet asked him what her name was. Jeff blanked on it. Suddenly, a name surfaced: Shelly. You know, as in Shelley? Percy Bysshe? And rather than Purr-cy, he blurted out “Shelly! Her name is Shelly.” The vet dutifully wrote the name down. A few minutes later, Jeff remembered the name the kids had given her. He told the vet. The vet just looked at him, and looked at the cat, and looked at him again and said, “That’s not a Purr-cy. That’s a Shelly if I’ve ever seen one.”
And so, she became Shelly.
I met her when she was about seven months old and about seven pounds or so. That’s about a month or so after this picture of Shelly and Greg was taken. Active, friendly, seemed to like me just fine. Of course, I was high on allergy meds during my whole visit to Jeff’s place (soon to be my place, too). You see, I’m allergic to cats. Always have been. And it was, at that point, not a sure thing that I would be able to live in an apartment with a cat. But I managed the visit, and I went back to San Francisco to pack for my move to Chicago.
When I showed up about a month and a half later, Shelly seemed happy to see me. She was sweet and affectionate… that is, until the movers came, and I started unloading boxes. At first, she loved the boxes. She could play in them. She could climb on them. And she could hide in them. But then it dawned on her teeny feline brain: She is staying. This person is staying!
That is when she started stalking me. All around the tiny apartment. She tried to trip me up. She did the hunch dance at me. She stood in the door of the bedroom, growling and yeowling and hunching and daring me to pass her. Of course, even I knew I could just step over her… which ticked her off even more! Finally, Jeff and I decided to leave her alone to decompress for a while. We went to a movie. When we returned, she was fast asleep. And when she awoke, she was all lovey-dovey again! Ah, P. Shelly, indeed.
As you can tell, she was not the most affectionate or social of felines. Oh, she had her moments! She could snuggle and purr with the best of kitties. She seemed especially attuned to my moods, and when I was very sad or worried, that was when she would seek me out and want to sit with me and snuggle and purr. But usually, the dynamic at our house was that I was her servant (I fed her, brushed her, administered her compounded medicine and her hairball remedy), and Jeff was her god. Still—she would let me pick her up, while she rarely allowed Jeff to do so.
She also did not like company much. When Beth came to visit, she slept on the futon that Shelly claimed for her own. Beth woke up in the middle of the night to find the fluffy white diva planted at the end of the futon, staring interloper Beth down with the most disdainful and threatening glare.
She was not the smartest cat you’ve ever encountered—for example, we started making sure the lid of the toilet was down at all times it was not in use the day we returned home to find her drenched. Tell-tale wet paw-prints around the toilet and a bit of litter in the bottom of the bowl told the tale: she had fallen in, apparently while playing in the water! But she sure was beautiful. So beautiful. And she knew it.
Sometimes she surprised us with her antics. Several times we came home from work to find that Shelly had unrolled one or the other of the toilet paper rolls, but somehow she always rolled them back up again. Badly, as you might imagine. But she never left any reams of toilet tissue puddling on or strung across the bathroom floors.
She also liked to play fetch with little wads of paper. This was a bed-time ritual for a couple of years: I would go to bed, and she would hop up in the bed with me, paper wad in her jaws. She would drop it, and I would toss it off the end of the bed, into the hallway. She would bound after it and bring it back, hopping up into bed again, dropping the crumpled paper at my side, and sitting expectantly for the next toss. This went on three, four, sometimes even five times before she would return empty-jawed. But still, even though she had not returned with the paper wad, she expected me to throw it. Hmmm.
She liked my shoes. And since I have a bad habit of kicking my shoes off just about anywhere around the condo, she had many opportunities to drag them around and fashion them into little shoe nests. She did this most often in the dining room. And Jeff tells me that when I would be out of town visiting my mom or on business, she would sit in the midst of my shoes and look forlorn. In fact, this picture of her amid my shoes is her last picture ever.
She loved the Christmas tree. She never tried to climb it—I think even she knew that her zaftig frame and a spindly tree would not mix. When we had live trees, she always drank the water. And no matter what kind of tree we had—live or fake—she would park herself under it, as if reliving her collective unconscious past as an alpine cat. She also loved Christmas paper, because it was always wadded up and tossed for her.
Although she was a tiny thing when Jeff first brought her home, she grew and grew and grew. She liked her kibble, and she was not the most fastidious of diners. This, by the way, is the very first picture ever taken on my digital camera.
She weighed more than 15 pounds at her heaviest. And as you can see, she liked lounging much better than playing.
But she did love her sock toy. Jeff got it for her to comfort her when he moved to the apartment on Elmdale, where we first lived together. She dragged the thing around with her—sometimes cooing at it as if it were her kitten, and other times tossing it up in the air and catching it or flinging it away from her so she could run after it and attack it. As you can imagine, it got pretty dirty over the years. It really wasn’t something you could wash, and I never had the heart to take it away from her. We had her cremated with it, she was so attached to it. You can see it off in the corner of this photo of the strumpety gal.
We miss her. Almost every night I catch myself heading to the back bathroom to get her compounded Atelonol to administer her nightly dose before I head off to bed. Most nights, she would just give in and hop on the bed and wait for me, much as she disliked the goo in the ear routine. I keep thinking she’ll hop up on the bed in the middle of the night and cuddle up. I keep hoping she’ll strut into the living room each night when we practice our Irish repertoire. But she’s gone. She lives only in our memories. And they are fond indeed.
Oh, and the allergy? While I could never pet her and then touch my face or rub my eyes without a reaction, I tolerated her allergens very well, thank you. And now I do pretty well among other cats, too. We’ll be servant and god to more felines, I’m sure. But there will never be another Shelly. And she was ours.
Labels: memories, Shelly, sorrow