Our Cat Named Wolverine

Wolverine T. Cole. The “T” stood for “Trouble.” The “Wolverine” was in reference to his fur’s “W” pattern on his forehead, and his affinity as a kitten for using his claws. And the “Cole” was automatic because he was part of the family.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that the people you know from your past share a special sort of connection with you. They have a larger perspective of you; they know what you went through to get where you are. For me, that’s what was so special about Wolverine. Everybody only gets one childhood, and Wolverine shared my one childhood with me. I felt a tender closeness to him and his feline spirit because we grew up together; we blossomed into ourselves together. When he passed away last week, it felt like a living part of my childhood fizzled out, and I lost an old, loving, cat companion.

Writing this, I know I’ll feel disappointed with how it turns out. Attempting to reflect and honor his life and legacy the way I am now, trying to use my words to summarize the essence of this furry creature and why he matters—I know I will read this when I’m done and think, “It’s not enough.” I could describe him within a millimeter of his breath and still feel I haven’t done him justice. But yet, I need to try anyway.

My family has told our cat story a thousand times, and it goes like this: Wolverine and his four brothers and one sister were birthed on April 19, 2003 on my parent’s bed, the morning of Easter Eve. Their mother was was a neighborhood stray cat we had been feeding (aaaand occasionally letting inside, especially as we noticed she was pregnant), but that morning, we suddenly went from having technically zero cats to having six cats who were our responsibility.

Marbles and her kittens

Although we were able to find homes for two of the kittens, the rest of them ended up staying with us. As we bonded with them, it became too difficult to vote one off the island (This reference is especially relevant because during this time, Survivor was in its prime), and so by default they all stayed. The mother, Marbles, eventually and against her will became an indoor cat; it was just too dangerous for her outside, and we loved her and feared the worst.

So, fatefully, we were left with Marbles and her three youths: Rascal, Wolverine, and Olive. The three cats, once they grew up from kittenhood, gave their mother such a hard time; she was constantly grouchy at them, swatting at them for mouthing off as she passed by them. But their fighting was harmless, and because they loved each other, they always knew when to back off.

Maybe it was because we were both redheads, but Wolverine and I bonded deeply. The cats loved everybody, but somehow it felt like Wolverine and I were a pair. He liked to follow me around the house, slinking after me like a shadow. After I came home from school, he’d be waiting by the front door excitedly, jonesing to rub against my leg or massage his head against my hands. As he grew out of his kitten phase, he wasn’t much of a lap cat or a cuddling cat, but he liked to be near me, and we spent lots of time in my room together throughout my life as I did homework, wrote stories, read, or listened to music. Wolverine was especially helpful when it came to homework—he was skilled in the delicate art of “laying on your papers.” I probably would have failed high school if it weren’t for his expertise distraction methods.

Growing up, a cat was exactly what I needed. I was an introvert, very shy and angsty, and Wolverine’s tender company soothed the jagged edges of my adolescence. He was loyal and always there with me in the safety and privacy of my own sacred room, a friend who was an anchor when my other friends came and went.

He and Rascal were great brothers, and they got into so much mischief. It always seemed like Wolverine was the brains and Rascal was the poor sap to follow through with the bad idea—hence why we named him “Rascal,” a sweet yet curious kitty who loved my mother intensely. Rascal was our prize-winning cat, in that he was so large and round he often shocked visitors with his incredible girth. We joked we should have entered him in the state fair.

Mom and Rascal

Olive was more reclusive; as the runt of the litter, the only female, and the only gray kitten, she stood out. Her temperament was a little edgier, and she was always a lick away from biting—she wanted to both groom you and assert her own personal space. It was a fine line between love and bite, and she was not afraid to draw that line in permanent marker at whim.

My family was so blessed with these cats. Their demeanors, although all quirky in their own way, were easy-going, trusting, loving, social, happy. We were fortunate to spend over a decade with them, and my younger brother Timothy and I would have had a boring childhood if it weren’t for them—we loved playing with the cats, pretending to be fellow house cats crawling around with them; Timothy and I even invented a “hide-and-seek” game involving the cats, where you couldn’t have a cat look at you, otherwise you were “out,” which was especially challenging in a house with four active cats roaming about.

Olive and Timothy

Perhaps all this is slightly off-tangent, but it would be incomplete to write a tribute for Wolverine without discussing our other three cats. We were a blended family of eight, and we often discuss these cats as though they were practically human.

This is also a little difficult to write because I moved out of my parents’ house almost six years ago, so I’ve had some time away from Wolverine. I think Marbles’ death hit me the hardest, because at the time I was still living at home—right before I moved out permanently—and so I felt her absence the deepest. I remember sobbing in my room, heartbroken after my parents took her to the vet that final time. I had special bonds with all our cats, and Marbles had become the one who came to my room every time she heard me crying. I cried harder because I knew she would not be able to comfort me that time. However, I also felt for my father, who had especially loved Marbles, in that unspoken but obvious fatherly way of teasing yet protecting.

Dad and Marbles on her last day

When Rascal left us to be with his mother a few years ago, I mostly grieved on my mother’s behalf. I loved that “little” guy Rascal in my own way, but I know that to this day, my mother still misses him, and will probably ache that he’s no longer here for the rest of her life. The only downside to being vulnerable enough to love a pet is that they must inevitably leave us. I’m sure most people have that one pet—or handful of pets—that they’ve loved and still grieve over, even if the grief slightly lessens with time.

Olive is now the sole survivor, and I feel better knowing my parents at least still have her, although she—like Wolverine was—is nearly seventeen years old. Once you have the company of a loving cat, it’s hard not to crave it; my junior year of college, I adopted my own cat Juliet to fill that furry void, and her companionship has been an incredible comfort in my adulthood. (Juliet is also my primary subject on my social media accounts!)

When my mom called me last week to tell me the news, I was moved and saddened, but at the same time, there was a part of me that knew I would be fine. It wasn’t the desperate, pleading devastation of when Marbles died and I wondered, “How could things ever be the same?” This was a more reserved sadness, like knowing I would endure, but still feeling disappointed that this inevitable end came already—but it’s only been seventeen years! That’s all the time we have together? It went by so quick…

But in my five years—almost six—of living on my own, I also learned how to live without Wolverine. I’ve gotten used to being away from him, of not having him walk back and forth across my desk as I’m trying to type on the computer. I’d forgotten about how he used to sit on the bench next to my brother at the dinner table and beg for scraps of chicken, which we couldn’t help but to oblige because he sat there so cutely and rather gentleman-like. I didn’t remember until I reflected for a while how we used to put cat accessories on him, like a tiny Velcro tie or a Santa beard. And just now, I finally recalled that we used to call him “Jean Phillipe” and pretend he was a fancy French cat. I’ve seen him only a handful of times since I moved out for good, on my few trips a year to my parents’ house—Wolverine being one of the few reasons I’d be excited to go back. So now, as I go digging through my heart for all the ways I’ve loved him, the facts aren’t as clear, aren’t as forthright to me as they used to be. While my silly adult memory has let old recollections go to make room for new memories, I will never forget how real and indelible my love for Wolverine feels. The love is there even if the memories aren’t, and I still cry all the same over how special he is to me.

After I got off the phone with my mom last week, I hugged my cats and said extra words of love to them—my cat Juliet, and my boyfriend’s cat Karma (both who I’m starting to consider less as “my” or “his” cat and more like “our” cats). It’s incredible how powerful bonds across species can be, how we can not share a language yet communicate through physicality alone. I don’t know if other species “love” the way that humans love, but in their own way, cats can prove their affection, and I can love them hopelessly, abundantly, everlastingly, as best I can.

Without Wolverine, I would have still been me. I would have been fine, probably, just a little lonelier along the way, maybe more serious. But because of his existence, his heart, his compassion, I have had a better life and am a better person. He has been my greatest friend throughout all my life, a love I didn’t know I deserved yet he gave me anyway. I do feel closure because I know it was his time to go, but when I think about our time together, it will always be with the respectful, intimate fondness of having lost a great, once-in-a-lifetime friend. Even though it hurts this much to lose him, I wouldn’t change anything–feeling this much heartache is merely a testament to how much we loved each other.

Our cat named Wolverine. We will love you fur-ever and always, stinker.

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