Recently, Rigel (rye-jel) has thought up a new way to get me out of bed in the morning when she’s hungry. If you are reading this, and you happen to be a cat owner, then you are aware of the lengths that cats will go to in order to have their food dish refilled. The strange thing about Rigel is that she does all the dirty work for her big sister, Sirius (sear-us), who stands by the wayside and waits for us to cave (i.e.: drag our asses out of bed and fill the bowl.) One of our favorite techniques in Rigel’s repertoire was the period when she would climb up on the television on top of this like entertainment case we kept in our bedroom. She would stand up there for a while, and look down on us in judgement, or something, knowing that we knew why she was up there, and when we would turn over to go back to sleep, she would leap down from this perch right onto the bed. On a good morning, a morning when Brie or myself would refuse to budge, she would go through this routine a good 3 or 4 times, and to be honest, we would often fake sleep so she would do it again. That phase passed after a while and she went back to her old stand-by: scratching relentlessly on one wall or door or another. But recently, Rigel has upped her levels again. We’ll be fast asleep, still dark out and the whole nine, and all of a sudden I’ll feel a creeping down around my feet–then a tap tap, and a pat pat, and then: CHOMP!–she’ll bite right into my big toe! Not like a gentle nibble or anything like that either. I’m talking about a serious bite, all teeth and no remorse. That’s just the way Rigel rolls, and we love her for it.
The reason I am writing this post is because Brie and I will be leaving her, and her sister, behind soon, and basically my heart is breaking in despair. We originally drove Rigel and Sirius down here to Georgia back in May (’08) a few weeks before we left Rochester for the first leg of our bicycle trip. I won’t embarrass Rigel by rehashing the horrors of the drive down; suffice to say that it was not a pleasant car ride for her. We spent a few days down here with them while they became accustomed to the new apartment and . . . the dog (Harper.) At one point Harper had his jowls wrapped around poor Rigel’s backside, and I was ready to call off the whole trip right then and there, the thought of her being devoured enough to call off anything, really. Rigel resignedly sat staring out of the bedroom windows for hours at a clip, not watching birds or leaves fall or anything, just zoning-out. You could tell she was having a hard time. I kept on getting the impression that she thought we were punishing her for something, and whatever it was she did, she just want us to forgive her, take her back to her old life, and every time she would hop up onto my lap, look me in the eye, and send out the most pleading meow she could summon, it almost worked. However, as the days passed it became clear that both of the cats would be able to endure the changes and take care of themselves fairly well, although decidedly not as happily as they had a few days earlier.
Rigel is asleep right now in our bed here, just behind me. In our apartment back in Rochester she would rarely sleep in our bed (especially if Sirius was there first,) or even come into the bedroom because, we figured, something about the whiteness of it spooked her. She would really only come in to wake us in the morning. In the evening as we would turn in she would come in and mill around the bed, sniffing and creeping about; she would put her two front paws up like she was going to jump right in with us, the whole while Brie and I imploring her to join us, promising her everything you can promise a cat, I guess. She would never stay, and we always felt entirely teased. After years of this, last winter I solved the riddle, and actually, I am slightly embarrassed that it took me so long to hit upon it. One night as she stood on her back paws surveying the bed, I lifted the blanket and invited her beneath the covers. Like a bolt of lightning, she was in and snuggled up for the night. For me it was a revelation, like in Xmas Vacation when Ellen Griswold flips the switch that lights the house! Ever since then she has continued to sleep with us, albeit under the covers, but very recently she has begun sleeping openly on the bed. One of the interesting things about this whole idiosyncrasy was her absolute unwillingness to be in the bed at the same time as Sirius, a total alpha-beta struggle. However, a short time ago Sirius had an allergic reaction to something that curbed her dominance a bit, and allowed Rigel to set a new precedent, that of being in the bed whenever she pleased. This shift opened the door for our most sought-after and now coveted time together: the quadruple-cuddle.
Brie and I plan to set off again about Jan. 3rd. Not surprisingly, the hardest thing about leaving will again be the cats. I am sure that they miss us as much as we miss them while we are apart. When we first saw them again, after 4 months, Sirius was totally blasé, and basically snubbed us for the first few hours, while Rigel found the highest perch in the apartment, on top of the cabinets in the kitchen, and decidedly glared at me for hours before coming down. Now I was pleading with her! The tables had turned, and now I was indeed begging Rigel to forgive me. And I am not proud: I begged. She eventually forgave me, and we have rebuilt our relationship; perhaps it is even stronger now than it has ever been. I know that she is not content, though. She wants to get back to the way it used to be, when it was just Brie and I, and her and Sirius. I also think she senses that we are leaving again, as she sits and watches us pack up boxes and get things organized. It must seem familiar to her. This time we’ll be leaving her for at least 5 months as we ride from Gainesville, Georgia to San Diego, and then up the coast to Portland, OR. During the first part of the trip, I was scared the whole time that they would forget us, but surprisingly, I believe the time apart has indeed brought us closer together. My girlfriend thinks I’m crazy to go on so long about a cat, but I say it’s our relationships that matter most in life, and I can’t imagine what life would be like without Rigel.