Once upon a time, there was a cat named Crystal.
“Aw, c’mon Aunt Jen, you can do better than that!”
“OK, Crystal. Ahem…”
Once upon a time, there was an amazing pilot and synchronized swimmer named Crystal.
“Can I continue?”
“Oh, by all means. Please. Continue.”
Once upon a time, there was an amazing pilot and synchronized swimmer named Crystal. She had lots of stories to tell, and often told them out loud for friends and family.
I first met Crystal in 1996, when she lived with her dad Steve and her sister Calico. She reminded me of both my fifth-grade best friend Becky and Mog the Forgetful Cat, written about by Judith Kerr.
“Remind them that the picture above is Mog and not me, please. I am much prettier.”
I used to read about Mog (pictured above) when I was a little girl, and remember well the adventures she would have—she flew like birds and got lost in the garden and scared off a burglar.
We never learned Crystal’s first story—how she came to be wandering around Steve’s condo complex with a tin can stuck on her head.
“It was not a shining moment, Aunt Jen.”
But there were many more stories in the time we got to spend with her.
Crystal and Calico were great sisters in their short time together. They played together, they slept curled up around each other, and even cleaned each other. When Calico was leaving us, an energy healer and psychic told us she wanted a toy. But when we brought home a round white puff ball with colorful ribbons, Calico wanted nothing to do with it. Crystal, on the other hand, loved it. Just last week, actually, she brought out “Wooly Booly” and tossed it around a bit.
“That was a gift from your sister Calico so you would not be lonely,” I always reminded her.
In 1999, Crystal’s family grew to include me and my two cats, Emily and C.J., when we all came to live here in this little house together.
“Truth be told, there was no love lost there.”
We hoped the three of them would get along, but we settled for “co-exist” and life moved on.
One winter night, Steve and I raced out of the house on a family emergency. When we arrived home several hours later, we noticed a strange creature moving excitedly around our legs in the dark. It was Crystal! She’d gotten out of the house when we left and had been outside in the snow for hours. In the morning, we could see her adventure spelled out in paw prints—out the kitchen door, up the front walk to peek in the front door, around the side of the house to the back yard, up on the picnic table to check it out, and back to the kitchen door, where she sat and waited for us to come home.
It was at this home that we first learned of Crystal’s piloting prowess—one night while she sat in a cardboard box and scanned the horizon for fighter pilots. She regaled us, then, of her adventures—the near misses and successful landings and other piloty kind of things.
She told stories to anyone who would listen—Steve and I while we watched TV at night. Friends and family who came to visit. Clients who stopped by the office. She’d bounce-walk in, excited for the audience, and start off…“Excuse me?” Then tell us lots of stories about lots of things. She always had something to say about everything.
She loved pet words especially, and somehow managed to weave them into every story:
“When I received my gold medal for synchronized swimming, I got to wear a PETticoat. Ha!”
“I CATegorically refuse to sit on the couch with that big cat Emily. Truth be told.”
She was brash and sarcastic and funny. She said things I would never dare to say out loud, and had an imagination that unfurled as far as the eye could see.
When Steve moved away in 2004, Crystal pleaded her case.
“But Da-aad, I wanna to stay here. You won’t have a screen porch. And who’s gonna take care of Aunt Jen?”
“I’ll tell ya what, YOU take Emily, and I’LL stay HERE.”
I think she was very excited to be able to stay with me, because she talked an awful lot those first few months after Steve moved. She talked to me in the morning while I woke up and made coffee; she talked to me at night as she wandered up the stairs and down, up the stairs and down. She sat on the back of my desk chair and swatted her tail in my face while she asked how things were going. She’d open the door from the screen porch and poke her head in:
“Hi Aunt Jen.”
“Hi Aunt Jen.”
It was a game we played. Often.
We were all worried when, in 2009, Crystal had her first episode. She moved in slow-motion across the floor, as if her legs weren’t communicating well with her brain. It passed quickly, but she looked up at me a little startled:
Her doctor discovered a heart murmur, among other things, and in that moment we all realized Crystal was getting older. She was at least 14 at the time, which is about 80 years old for us humans. What it meant was thyroid medicine and heart medicine and extra bowls of water and kitty steps by the bed and regular visits to the vet.
“We’re on a waitansee,” Crystal would explain.
It’s that time in a pet’s life when you realize how blessed you have been. When you watch this little creature trust you, and look to you for help, and know that you’re going to “waitansee” right there with them.
And that’s what we did. We waited and watched over her with lots and lots of love.
On Thursday, Crystal was ready to take off for her next adventure. She took her time—sleeping late and slowly making her way to the screen porch for some pretty spring sunshine. Emily checked in on her a couple times. Steve came to visit. And we stayed with her until she was ready leave.
“Goodbye Aunt Jen.”
• • •
Illustration from Mog the Forgetful Cat by Judith Kerr.