A few years ago, I realized that I was Lyra’s person. She and her kittens had been with us since 2005 and the babies all clearly had their preferred humans, though they desperately loved us both, of course; Lyra didn’t have a favourite for most of her life with us.
She was clearer on her feelings about cats and other beasties: She hated Columbo so much, she’d punch him in the face anytime her son, Jeoffy, made any sound of distress, even if Columbo was asleep in another part of the house; she loved Jeoffy best of all, then Aoki, then Jones.
Lyra adored me and Brook but really trusting us took time; who knows what shitty breeding and/or abandonment situation eventually led to her and the kittens being on death row at the pound.
One night, about six months after we’d bought this house for our new, not-so-little family, B. and I were sitting together on the sofa watching TV.
Lyra confidently jumped up onto the couch, then walked over to us; B. and I looked at her and held our breaths; she walked onto us, her front paws on my right leg and her back paws on B.’s left leg. She looked searchingly at us awhile longer and we continued to try not to breathe, for fear of interrupting this unexpected magic. Finally, she flopped onto her back, on our legs, her tiny paws tucked up to make sure there was lots of room for belly rubs.
She spent the rest of her life flopping, stretching out, snoring, purring, and generally being happy on and with us, often holding us in place wherever she found us. This is, I think, how Brook came up with the verb, to catlock; when you’re catlocked, in a reading chair, in bed, on the floor, at the dinner table, at the desk, it doesn’t matter—when a cat has settled on you, you don’t move until they’re ready to move.
This isn’t to say that she became fully carefree that day; it wasn’t until sometime after the pandemic started that Lyra sat in my lap while I worked for the first time; and she ultimately preferred the blanketed window box we set up on my desk by the window to being on my lap.
For a couple years straight, she made a point of coming and laying on either my hip or chest just as I was trying to get out of bed in the morning. Later, she began making me spoon her at night; I often woke up to find my arms wrapped around her, her head on the pillow next to mine and my nose buried in her fur.
She also went through an especially awkward (for me) phase a few years ago: While sitting on my chest, smiling and purring in my face, she’d sometimes try to French-kiss me; there are, of course, many things not great about being kissed with tongues by a cat but a big one is that cats’ tongues are made of actual sandpaper.
It took a while but I finally put all this together and said one day to B., marveling, “Oh my god, I’m Lyra’s person!” And it made me so, so happy to know she finally had one. That poor kid didn’t have much chance and she definitely never completely got over her terrible start in life, whatever it was.
She remained terrified of and extremely aggressive towards any cats that she didn’t give birth to. Lots of friendly cats have tried over the years to make friends with her and the others through the windows to the back door and to our bedroom; Jones, Jeoffy, and Aoki either reciprocated outdoor kitties’ affections or ignored them; Lyra would try to disembowel them through the glass and then often go hide around a corner, visibly upset.
Most cats, including a massive Maine Coon with a gentle soul that we nicknamed Neko, ultimately gave up. One badass cat, our neighbour’s cat who’d lived with wild dogs in China and was named The Empress Wu, really REALLY wanted to be friends with our cats, especially Lyra; it was a failure, of course, but when The Empress Wu finally lost patience and got angry in return, Lyra ran away and never challenged her again.
We learned to encourage and console her in any number of ways after such events, and generally, because she also never got over her deep food insecurity. Her complicated relationship with food was mostly sad but also sometimes amusing as she and Jones would reject their own plates to go steal from each others’ dishes, which at least half the time contained the very same kind of food.
One of her favourite forms of being reassured was, when either sitting on my lap or chest, was this: I would over and over whisper to her that she was my little girl, my little love, and that I would love her forever.
When Columbo died in 2016, Lyra clearly felt safer and happier. We had many years of a loving, cohesive home before Jeoffy died, after which B. and I almost always had at least one cat sitting with us; Lyra, Jeoffy, Aoki, and Jones could regularly be found snuggled up together in bed. That was one of the happiest times of my life.
When Jeoffy died in July of 2021, we were all devastated and B. and I wondered what would happen next; we’d always seen Jeoffy as our home’s good, unifying genius. Fortunately, our three remaining girls pretty quickly formed a new dynamic that was, simply, lovely.
Aoki hung on for six months after her brother and soulmate died. A week after we lost Aoki, we had to rush Lyra to the vet emergency because she couldn’t use the litter box and was clearly in distress; they examined her and gave us meds, saying they thought she’d experienced some kind of major stress event. Which she had.
And Lyra and Jones, while they readjusted their dynamic somewhat again, both aged visibly, becoming obviously elderly cats seemingly overnight, once Aoki was gone.
We were still hopeful it would be okay for longer than it was, especially with respect to Lyra who, though traumatized, was also the healthiest and toughest of all our beasties. She seemed like the kind of cat who’d live into her 20s and continue to terrorize any feline or raccoon riffraff that dared to look in our windows.
But she hadn’t been so happy, generally, after Aoki died; and once we had to start giving her subcutaneous fluids for kidney disease which, as a bad bitch, she developed much later in life than all her kittens, she seemed a little less content again.
In early November, we learned Jones was dying. Lyra had a vet checkup at the same time as the one that ultimately revealed the terrible news about Jones.
B. and I were struggling to come to terms with knowing we’d lose Jones soon when, a week or so later, I sent our vet video of Lyra struggling to breathe. We lost her the next day. Maybe she’d had enough loss of her own and decided to go before she got left again. Maybe part of being strong, for Lyra, meant hiding feeling unwell even more completely than other animals do.
All I know is, I don’t know how to grieve both Lyra and Jones at the same time. My heart or brain start to come close to looking squarely at them both being gone and almost immediately shy away again. Sometimes there’s no shutting it down, though, like when our wonderful vet brought their ashes to us a few days ago. I don’t know where to put all my love for them, or how to express how grateful I am to my little girl, Lyra, for helping me soften and open up along with her over the last seventeen years.