The last day of my friend’s life, it was a blindingly bright sunny day – the kind of February first in Portland, Oregon that makes you close your eyes and smile directly into the sun.
I moved a pillow and blanket to the sliding glass door so she could lie baking in the sun stream, one of her favorite places to rest.
Briggs, full name Brigsby, came to me in late October, 1991. A sophomore in college, I had rented the basement of a house in Havre, Mt. with my girlfriend, Holly. In typical Montana Hi-Line fashion, it was freezing that October night so I was shocked when a small Indian boy – probably 10 or younger – knocked on the door. He was holding the mini-Briggs; a tiny black-base calico (which I now know is called tortoiseshell) with an orange spot on her forehead and half a white mustache. His parents said he could not return home until he got rid of her. So, I said I’d put up signs and the college and find her a place.
But she was already home.
I laid out newspaper that first night and tried to explain that it was the bathroom. But after a day, she hadn’t messed anywhere. I called a vet who explained that cats are often litter trained early by their moms and that I should get a litterbox. The second I presented her with a shoebox of litter, she jumped in and went.
And that’s the kind of cat she was – didn’t make messes or damage furniture – despite being a hellcat for years.
In our nearly 20 years together, Briggs and I lived in 10 different places in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and Portland. She became a bit of a traitor in the past eight years as she became inseparable from my husband, Bob. In fact, her tired body might have given out sooner if Bob hadn’t been in a terrible accident this August and nearly lost his leg. Briggs spent every day of his recovery lying with him, or on him, as they watched every TV program worth muster.
It would take a book to recount all of the memories we’ve had with this cat. But some really stick in mind.
First, the name: I was very lonely my first couple years in college. I used to go to this little dive bar in Havre for the great juke box. When I decided to keep Briggs, I named her after the Beatles song often played there. I’m not sure how I didn’t notice the song is “Eleanor Rigby,” not “Brigsby,” but I didn’t. With her, I wouldn’t be lonely.
She was a spit-fire rez kitten, always wanting outside and always looking to scrap. My roommate Holly taught her the “fight game,” in which you’d hold your cupped hand over her face and shake her a little while she clawed the hell out of your arm. (Thanks, Holly. We all have scars from that one.)
When Briggs first noticed her reflection in the stand-up mirror in the hall, she threw-down, batting the “other” kitten until she’d pushed the flimsy mirror flat against the wall and it fell over on her with a whoomp; I’m not sure who won that fight. She also attacked Holly’s butt one morning as she did dishes. I can still see this little kitten hanging by the claws from my friend’s backside. (Paybacks for the fight game.)
The next year I found out how unique Briggs was internally. She’d gotten pregnant and for an unknown reason both kittens died. Since I wanted another kitten, I let her get pregnant again. This time, she forced me to stay in the closet with her as three kittens were born into my hands. They were all fine and adorable, until the next morning when the first-born was already dead. I freaked and took her to the vet. It turns out that Briggs was Type B blood – only common in other parts of the world – and it caused an RH Factor reaction, her blood’s antibodies attacked the kitten’s Type A when they nursed. The vet was only able to save one kitten, Frosty, who also had Type B blood. Frosty also lived a privileged life with us until she died 2 ½ years ago.
Briggs was the mighty protector of Frosty and my other cats. Once, I saw her and Frosty chase the neighbor’s German shepherd out of the yard. She’d go after anything that moved if it was in her territory – birds, snakes, bats and her possible favorite, chipmunks.
But mostly, Brigsby was a lover. As a kitten, she would ride around in my housecoat pocket. Throughout my life, she’d come running to comfort me every time I cried. As an old, crabby senior, she would still let Bob rock her like a baby – hold her overhead like an airplane – roll her up like a burrito – pose her for hundreds of duo self-portraits – or pretty much do anything he wanted.
Although Briggs was suffering greatly these past two weeks, she would climb the stairs every night, find the step stool next to the bed, and get in to snuggle me. (I’ve forgotten to mention that Briggs has been totally blind for over a year!) She’d whimper when I got up to use the bathroom eight times a night (I’m 31 weeks pregnant), and then snuggle against my belly.
Last night we let Briggs go. It was time to release her feisty brain from that failing body. It was one of the hardest things I have ever done. She’d been with me half my life.
I’m going to miss her for a long, long time. Yet today, I’m going to remember my “fat cat,” who was always motivated by food and could hear a package of saltines being opened across the house … and knew what T-R-E-A-T spelled. She was my talkative girl who became such a buddy to my husband that I was jealous.
It was my true fortune to have such a good friend for such a long time. Thank you for the immense joy you brought to my life. I love you forever.
(And to the many, many sitters who’ve cared for my cats when I was away, thank you for watching over my family.)