The week Watkins came to live with me I took him to the vet for his shots. He was eight weeks old. As I filled out the forms I left the Name field blank, because I had not decided what to call him yet. The office manager was not pleased. Once I handed her the clipboard she proceeded to write, in all caps, GRAY KITTY GILLIS in every blank that called for a name. She glared at me. I felt so ashamed that I named him in the car on the way home.
We were stopped at the intersection of Lakeland Drive and Riverside in Jackson. He was sitting in his carrier on the back seat. I was two years out of high school and had just received a postcard from a high school friend of mine, whose middle name was Watkins. I’d checked the mail heading out the door on the way to the vet and the postcard was sitting next to me on the passenger seat. I turned around and looked at him peeking out of the carrier, his cute little face pressed up against the door’s metal crosshatches. “What do you think about Watkins?” I asked. The light turned green and it was settled.
I got Watkins by accident. I worked at an answering service in college, and the front office manager was a woman named Martie, who bred her Siamese and Persian Smoke and sold the litters for exorbitant amounts of money. One evening Martie showed up during the night shift with kittens she was trying to give away. A couple of clients had backed out at the last minute and left her with two adorable little kittens who needed homes. I told her to keep the cats away from me – I knew that if I played with one of them I would want to take it home, and for various reasons I didn’t feel like I was in a position to get a cat right then. I went back to answering the phones.
I did my best to ignore all the oohs and aahs as people passed the kittens around and played with their little tails and faces and ears and feet. I was in the middle of a call when Martie walked up behind me and plunked one of the cats down on my left shoulder. I was heart-meltingly furious. I was wearing a headset and continued the call, but got distracted when the kitten started licking my earlobe. I tried not to laugh. The call went on and on and eventually the cat got bored with trying to get my attention and lay down across my shoulders and went to sleep.
I picked him up at Martie’s house the next afternoon and he came home with me.
Watkins and I covered a lot of ground, and a lot of years. We started out in Jackson, MS when I was twenty years old. We had a lot of good days together, but today was our last. Watkins was sixteen years, six months, and thirteen days old – and he was with me for all but the first eight weeks of it. My parents took great care of him off and on over the years, when I was in France and then again for the first few years that I was in Boston. But mostly he lived with me, in Jackson and Memphis and then later in Boston and eventually here, in Washington, DC.
I never knew how much I would miss him until today. I will miss the way his dark gray fur was solid white underneath, so he changed colors when you rubbed him backwards. I will miss the cutest, loudest purr I have ever heard. I will miss rubbing his chin. I will miss his little goatee, and that face, that impossibly squeezable face that I have rubbed a million times. I will miss the way he woke me up in the morning when he was hungry, not by meowing or running around or breaking shit, but by crawling up in the bed and nuzzling my face and purring so loudly it woke me up.
He greeted me at the door every day after work. If I closed him out of the bathroom in the morning he would scratch lightly to get in, or would otherwise be sitting just outside the door when I opened it. Watkins could not abide closed doors. He would go around the apartment sticking his paw beneath a closed door and yanking it open just a crack before moving on to the next.
Watkins loved Christmas (by which I mean, Watkins loved ribbon and shiny ornaments).
He loved sitting on stools;
And helping in the kitchen.
Watkins loved boxes;
His scratching post;
He loved shelves.
He had a sophisticated appreciation of unconventional seating options.
He always helped me read;
He was good at filing;
And he always rode in style, in his custom Watkins carrier.
Watkins was very sociable – he loved people.
And he adored Jeremy.
He was a lot of work the last couple of years, as he lost his eyesight and developed primary feline hypertension and had to take a stream of meds. He was a trooper, though, through all of it. I won’t think about his decline so much as I will think about all the fantastic years that I got to spend with him. I’m heartbroken; I feel like I might split open. But mostly I’m grateful.
Thank you, Mr. Watkins, my sweet gray kitty. You were an amazing cat, and I was lucky.