One morning back in the late summer of 1995, I woke up determined to get a kitten of my own on that day. I had just started my junior year of college. I was living in a tiny efficiency apartment. It felt empty without a cat. I had never in my life been without a cat until I left home to start college. Two years without feline companionship was enough for me.
I quickly realized it was a holiday; Labor Day. The humane society was closed. No, I couldn't possibly wait one day more. My friend, Julie, and I found a small pet store that was open. We were on a mission.
There was one kitten left from a litter. He was completely black with just a whisper of white hair on his chest and in his armpits. He had brilliantly shining golden eyes that didn't miss a thing; they never did. He was small, long-bodied and scrawny with giant ears and a extra long tail. He was almost two months old.
He was mine. I knew it immediately.
He was spirited from the git-go; pushing his head through the cardboard box they gave me to transport him home. He established right away that he would not be held back; his strong will would prevail.
He may have been scrawny and terrified of missing a meal, as if food had been withheld from him at some point in his short life, but he was always sleek and beautiful.
I named him Jazz. Over time, Jazz was also Joe, Joby, Jazzy Joe, Jazzbo and eventually yaz by the baby boys.
My Jazzy was a complicated soul. He was a difficult kitten; erratic and moody. Jazz had the broadest range of emotions of any cat I've ever known, and I've known a lot of cats. But, he was also sweet and cuddly. I knew with patience, love, tender care and companionship he would grow into a fine cat.
And I was right.
He was smart; very smart. He knew how to get what he wanted and to communicate his wishes to the "dumb humans" in his life.
One night while I sat studying, Jazz found a scrap of discarded paper that I had crumpled into a ball on the floor. He brought it to me and dropped it into my lap, standing and waiting for me to act. I instinctively threw the paper for him to chase.
I was surprised when he brought the paper back to me and dropped it in my lap again. This became our game. It was easy for me to throw paper balls for him while I studied and he got to run and chase and play.
It became the norm to find balls of crumpled paper under the couch, the fridge, the bed and in piles on the floor. This went on for the rest of college, all of law school and beyond.
Not long after I got Jazz, my sorority big sis gave me a little plush red devil for Halloween. Jazz immediately befriended that red devil. He wrestled him, slept and cuddled up with him and dragged him around the apartment. Red devil was almost as big as Jazz back then. He loved that red devil.
Eventually, red devil lost his cape, his leather-looking boots, his plastic pitchfork and the stuffing from his feet, but Jazz never stopped loving his friend. Until the very end, Jazz carried his red devil around when he was lonesome or bored or worried about something. His little red buddy was a constant comfort for him.
There are so many interesting, poignant stories about Jazz that I will treasure always.
Jazz grew and grew and grew. He was a big, fat, sleek cat. So beautiful; so faithful; so cuddly. He loved his cat sister and brother, teaching them the rules of the house and was always watchful for their safety. He tolerated the dogs joining the family and grew to love them too; sometimes even sleeping on his dog sister, Abby. Jazz was endlessly patient with the human baby boy that came along when he was 11 and accepting of the second baby boy when he was 13.
He slept on me in my bed most of the nights of his life. He loved human contact, especially with me, his mommy. He was my first baby.
They say that cats have nine lives. Well, Jazz was out to prove it. He came close to death numerous times starting with a bad reaction to the drugs when he was neutered; then there were several bad urinary tract infections; then a stroke four and half years ago.
I thought I had lost him then. After a middle of the night emergency vet visit and a $500 vet bill, he came home unable to walk, but without any answers from the vet. I did two things I do well. I prayed and I got online searching for answers. I tearfully begged him to hang on; and he did. I was not ready to let go yet.
I deduced he'd had a stroke. My research assured me he could recover. I fed him water and chicken broth with a baby medicine syringe for days; I changed his bedding several times a day, as he was unable to stand. Little by little he came back to me. Within two weeks, he was himself again.
Then, in the last year, he began to lose weight; he got wobblier and wobblier; and a bit leaky. But his eyes were as bright as ever. He was still determined.
Our new vet said he'd probably have another stroke; one worse than before. Well, he did. Last night he suffered a stroke, rendering him without the use of his limbs. He spent his last hours on his favorite blanket and with red devil next to him; those eyes burned bright until his last breath.
Jazz went to be with God and joined our St. Bernard, Benjamin, in heaven the morning of June 5, 2012. He was just shy of 17 years old. He lived a good life. He lived and died on his terms; that's just how he did things.
We are heartbroken for our loss, but relieved that he is no longer in pain; watching him suffer was too much. He will always be my first baby, and will be remembered as the smartest, most devoted cat to my knowledge.
A few weeks ago, Jazz started sleeping against my head or next to my face on my shoulder. It seemed he couldn't get close enough to me. I think he knew his time was limited. And deep down inside I did too.