This past weekend saw the passing of The Countess, who had been my cat for more than 14 years. She was found on the street by a friend on Harlem and spent her life living in Inwood and Queens. She spent her entire 14 years as a resident of the five boroughs. I would contend that she represented New York City better than any living creature and was the most New York cat in all of New York.
I was unemployed and looking for work in early 2002 and spent a good bit of time playing music with my friend Christian, who at the time lived on West 135th Street in Manhattan. His roommate found a small kitten underneath a car and brought it home. When they had to vacate the apartment, Christian asked if I could take the cat. I had been considering getting a cat anyway, so I was happy to have a pet, the first of my very own.
I named her The Countess for Countess Constance Markievicz, an Irish revolutionary. An uncompromising and rebellious fighter for Irish freedom, she is believed to have fired some of the first shots of the 1916 Easter Rising. Spared the firing squad because of her gender, she told her jailers, “I wish you had the decency to shoot me.”
Though I didn’t realize it at the time, the name would be perfect for my cat. The Countess was violent and uncompromising in every respect. She was a calico—a cat that is multicolored and splotchy in appearance. All calicos are female and are also known for not being very social or friendly. They typically only bond with one person. For The Countess, that was me and no one else.
While I always saw my cat behaving indifferently towards most of my guests, she became an outright terror for friends and neighbors that agreed to feed her while I was traveling. One Christmas while visiting family in California, a neighbor called to tell me she was afraid to go into my apartment again because my cat attacked her. Others were able to feed her but not allowed near her litter box. I sometimes wore unpleasant scars myself. I once tried to picker her up only have her curl into a ball around my arm and sink her claws into my forearm. I didn’t notice until later that I was bleeding through my shirt as I waited for a bus.
I took a certain pride in the fact that The Countess was mean and cold towards most of the world. That made her more exclusively mine and made me one of the elite few who was worthy of the cat’s love and affection. She was sit with me and purr when I pet her. She showed me great affection and would sometimes leave dead mice for me as tribute. A dead mouse once sat on the floor of my apartment for several hours, mistaken for one of her cat toys.
Some of my friends and family came to have at least a gainful coexistence with the cat. She warmed to some of them but not others. Sadly, she never became friendly with my children, and m two older kids were justifiably afraid of her.
It was hard to make the call when it was time for her to go, but my cat’s health took a steep turn for the worse after many vet visits to aid her declining health. The Countess, who once prowled my apartment striking fear into the hearts of even hardened combat veterans and experienced cat owners, was no longer able to stand or walk on her own. I thought she had more time and that things were on the path to improvement, but it was not to be.
I went to a 24-hour veterinary clinic with The Countess and came home with an empty cat carrier. The cluttered apartment I share with my wife and three kids feels a bit empty. Every time I got into our kitchen I see where the cat’s food bowl used to be and I’m reminded of her loss.
The Countess was the most senior family member of my own choosing in my life. She was mean and a terror to most but she was mine and I loved her. RIP Countess.