Bête noire

10 YEARS AGO CRAZY KARL WAS DELIVERED TO ME IN A PAPER BAG. He had no front claws and only one fang, leaving him defenseless on the farm where he grew up. After losing one too many scraps, he needed a home and I obliged.

He was named for his crazy face splotches, but Karl’s moniker proved to be more than skin deep. You’d pet him calmly and suddenly WHAM he’d chomp you, twisting his neck to really lay in with his uni-fang. To those who love cats unconditionally, he was “playful.” To everyone else (me included), he was mean and dangerous. My sister was appalled that we kept him. We told kids to stay the hell away.

In June Karl started yowling at all hours. It was like an extension of his impressive hairball retching—gross and startlingly loud. His cry sounded human enough that Sarah and I sometimes replied, thinking the other was talking. Was Karl expressing pain? Joy? Existential angst? Whatever it was, it was then we began to talk openly about his demise.

Growing up, our pets didn’t die, they were kicked out. My dog Wrigley was wild and untrainable, and so poorly cared for that I decided he’d be better off at the rescue shelter. Instead of talking as promised, our parrot squawked disruptively day and night until one day we gave him away. As soon as a cat peed on my mom’s carpet, it was history.

Why did Karl go the distance? I wish I could say it was our strong emotional bond. But it was more like respect. Karl refused to be the cat people expected. He kept you on your toes. After he stopped cleaning himself (“negligent groomer,” the vets called him), he was like a grizzled old punk. “I live, but not for you,” he seemed to say.

Last week we got a call around 1:00 AM. Karl had been found injured and unable to walk. He was dispatched from the land of the living with an overdose of anesthetic at a St. Paul emergency clinic. Sarah was sad; I experienced mostly relief and guilt. Had we wished for this? Was Karl listening to us? Sarah said she thought it was intentional, like he was chasing one final hurrah. It’s a pleasing thought.

I continue to glimpse Karl out of the corner of my eye. For the first time in a while, I’m not annoyed to see him.

>> MC Paul Barman – Housemate Troubles

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