Lil Bit died this past Friday. We called her Bitty and she had hyperthyroid disease. She was twelve years old and all black, save for a little white tuff on the front of her neck. She was sleek and lean and yet, like her birth sign Taurus, as heavy as a Bull.
She was a lover and she was a biter, drawing blood when she wanted your attention or to wake you up when she demanded to be fed. Those needle-sharp teeth would also sink into your ankles when she wanted you to throw a post-it-note for her to fetch.
We found her under a bush when we lived in Florida. We had been looking for a new cat after our two cats died within months of each other, but none of the felines at the shelters clicked with us – and then, we met Bitty. She was the perfect combination: all black, like one of our newly deceased cats; a Taurus, like the other. Some pets take a while to adjust to your home or to work their ways into your heart. But with Bitty, we soon forgot what life was like before she crossed our path.
She had a penchant for climbing high up on the tops of cabinets, armoires and any space just out of reach, meowing loudly until you’d notice, biting you while you tried to get her down. I soon realized that if I ignored her, she’d descend on her own. Her hi-jinks were simply a way to get attention, and demand attention was what she did best.
Bitty was ten months old and our daughter, Sydney, was three when she came to stay forever. She moved with us to Virginia in 2003, settling into hotel life for the first five months after we arrived. As long as she was with us, she didn’t care where we laid our heads. Still, she was grateful to leave those cramped quarters when we finally found a home.
One afternoon, a few months after moving in, I realized that I hadn’t seen her all day. We tore the house a part looking for her, until it became apparent that she must have silently sneaked past me when I opened the front door to pick Sydney up from school. She was gone all evening and despite my best attempts at biking the entire neighborhood, she was nowhere to be found. On into the night I searched, but finding a black cat in the dark seemed an impossible feat, and I finally had to return home without her.
That night I put Sydney to bed and we said a prayer for Bitty’s safe return. It seemed odd to me that Sydney didn’t seem upset that Lil Bit was lost. I put it down to her being only six years old and perhaps unable to grasp that Bitty might not ever be coming home.
We had a motion light on the back deck and around nine o’clock I saw it go on and off and then on and off again. I raced outside, but no one was there. I went back in and the light flickered again, and again I bolted out into the yard. “Bitty!” I called into the dark, and then a faint meow came from off in the distance. “Bitty?” and here came Lil Bit, sauntering up to the deck as if nothing had happened. I grabbed her and brought her inside and shouted, “Sydney, Bitty’s home!”
Sydney came out of her bedroom and stood waiting at the top of the stairs. I handed her the cat and her tears turned on like water faucets. “Bitty,” Sydney said and I realized that up until the moment, she had been holding in her feelings and fears about Lil Bit being lost. Her tears were of relief that her beloved Bitty was finally home.
After that, we tried to make sure we looked around whenever any of us would come in and out of the house. We didn’t always remember – there were a couple of times when I would take the dog out to do her business and there would be Lil Bit chowing down on some grass. Even when we were paying attention, she would still race out the back door each time it was opened, making us chase her down to bring her back in.
Lil Bit was also a clean freak and would spend so much time covering her pee and poop that we’d finally have to yell, “I think it’s covered, Bitty!” Then she’d saunter out of the bathroom, leaving litter all over the floor with none of it left in the box. She also loved to drink from the faucet, eschewing any bowl of water over the tap. And she had a penchant for small places, squeezing into the smallest basket or box to sleep. “You look ridiculous,” I’d say when I’d find that she had defied the laws of nature of what a cat her size should be able to fit into.
When we got our three-legged blind cat, Hattie, Lil Bit showed no mercy. She’d hide around corner and pounce on Hattie, who would then sit back on her two good hind legs and claw with her one good front paw. I often found Lil Bit sporting bloody wounds on her ears and head, evidence that she and Hattie had once again gone into battle. When Hattie died three years ago, Bitty seemed lost, even though she didn’t like her much. I’d find her wandering the house and looking around corners, as if she was searching for Hattie. Still, she took it in stride when two more cats and a dog joined the fray – perhaps she was glad for the company.
Now she’s gone and I’m going to miss her high-pitched meow and that little black birthmark on the roof of her pink mouth. I’m going to miss her bites waking me in the morning and her nonstop meowing from the window whenever one of us was outside. Maybe most of all, I’ll miss her ability to turn on my alarm clock radio in the morning, if I slept later than her usual feeding time. She always knew which button to push on the clock, biting my hand if I tried to stop her. Still, I swear I’ve seen her out of the corner of my eye, bounding up the stairs in search of a soft bed or into the bathroom for a quick drink from the faucet. And I still wait for her to snuggle between my legs at night, or to race into the kitchen when it’s time to be fed.
In fact, when I went to feed the other pets the first night after she died, I reached for her plate and then cried as I put it back. It won’t be the same without her antics, like racing out the back door or leaping in a single bound on to the top of one of the bookshelves. Suddenly our other cats just seem ordinary, sweet but nothing exceptional.
Looking through photos after Lil Bit died brought home the realization that she was there in our lives for so long, through all of the holidays and birthdays and every day experiences that make up a life. Bitty grew up with Sydney, but now Sydney must grow older without her.
We buried Lil Bit under the dogwood tree, right next to where we laid Hattie to rest three years before. Other cats may come and go and even be special in their own ways. But Lil Bit was some cat, the kind that owns a huge part of your memories and forever a piece of your heart.