Walter Mencken 11 a.m., May 24
Everybody loves somebody sometime, except when your cat and Dean Martin die on Christmas Day
She was a full-grown Calico who couldn't have weighed more that 4 or 5 lbs. Aria was adorable, shy, but not so timid that she'd hide the second company came over. She became mine when her owners realized they could no longer give her the love and attention needed for the cat to have a good home.
Aria was a year old when she became my master. She was the only cat I ever met who — with the exception of a "purrrrrrrr" and an occasional squeaky "mew" — never uttered a sound. Her favorite game was to stretch out on my chest and use it to simulate nursing. The technical term for it is kneading, when a cat alternately pushes out and pulls in their front paws to produce mother's milk. I loved her and gladly played along.
Did it hurt? Aria had claws — only a Dr. Mengele would have a kitten's nails surgically removed. It's what I envision getting a tattoo must feel like. Standing shirtless before the mirror, I looked like a goalie for a dart team, but you never once heard me squawk.
If you raise a cat like a dog, you'll have a cat the fetches and greets you at the door. Aria sat at the front door, frequently with a ball in her mouth, waiting to rub up against my shins every time I walked through it. Every time, that is, with the exception of December 25, 1995.
I spent Christmas Eve at my girlfriend's house and saw to it that I arrived home early the next morning to feed my frisky lil' pal. Not only wasn't she at the door to mew a hello, there was no response when I called her name.
(What the hell is wrong with me, writing this on Christmas morn? The tears are flowing at such a rate that I need windshield wipers to see the keyboard.)
Under the bed, in the closet, behind the TV...I looked everywhere. The poor little thing was in the kitchen, her head wedged between a table leg and the wall. In trying to extricate herself, she cut off oxygen to her brain. Her heart was still beating when I brought her to the emergency room, but it wasn't meant to be and I had to put her to down.
I spent the early part of the afternoon digging a hole for Aria in a nearby Forest Preserve.
The apartment felt empty and I sat in silence absorbing the shock. The quiet finally got to me and I reached for the TV remote. The set popped on in mid-story, the news anchor reciting the following copy off their teleprompter: "One-half of a legendary comedy team has died..."
"Oh, no," I trembled. "Please, dear God, not Jerry. Not today."
Dean Martin was 78 when he died that Christmas Day. Aria was 4. Sadly, I don't have any photos of Aria to share, just beautiful memories. All except the one that's haunted me for the past 17 Christmases.
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