He was just a tiny beige blob of fluff, but he was feistier than his brother, who would cower in fear as he was repeatedly pounced on, and so I picked him. I first thought he was a she, because it’s so hard to tell when they’re so small and when you know so little about kittens, so I picked out Tia as a perfect name. A subsequent discovery of boy bits resulted in a seamless name change to Tio.
He didn’t purr as a kitten. It’s like nobody ever showed him how. But he was loving, sleeping on my bed when he felt like it, and head-bonking me as often as he could manage it. Mom was good enough to let me bring him home when I moved back in with her. She didn’t want pets, didn’t want to deal with the mess and the trouble, but I loved him and she loved me, so he stayed. Everyone ended up loving him, of course. Even those who would never admit to being “cat people”. It was impossible not to. He grew from a spiky, twitchy kitten into a big lounging Garfield of a cat who had his own spot on the couch and would sit and glare at you if you dared to put your butt where his should be.
He had no sense of space whatsoever, and thought that he could fit into any box, bag, or bowl that he came across. He’d wedge a paw and half his fluffy butt into an egg carton and look as you as if to say “what? I fit just fine. Screw you.” The dryer, Coke 12-pack boxes, stew pots, anything was a cat bed. He loved shoeboxes, especially the ones that were just too small for him, so he’d ooze over the top like a fluffy muffin. We took to leaving one on the kitchen table like a centerpiece, because he would howl and cry if his box was ever missing.
He watched hockey with us, curled up in his spot on the couch or on my brother’s recliner. I think he was a goalie in a past life, because he loved swatting balled-up paper missiles out of the air when we tossed them at him. When I’d get ready for late class in the morning, I would turn on PBS for the kids’ cartoons, just for easy background noise, and Tio came running every time he heard Clifford The Big Red Dog come on the TV. I swear he was watching it, too. Oh, and the restaurant scene in Men in Black, where the jeweler’s cat meows - it freaked him out every time because he kept trying to figure out where the strange cat was hiding. No other cat noises from TV commercials ever got that reaction from him, but the Men In Black cat always did.
He loved tuna. We discovered his love for it when Mom was making a tuna sandwich and Tio tried to climb her for a taste of it. So, being a good cat-mommy, she bought him some tuna on sale at the grocery store, he refused it. Only the expensive albacore tuna packed in oil for our Tio; otherwise, he tried to bury it like it was poop in his litter box. He did that to everything he didn’t like. If he sniffed my nails after I painted them, he would try to bury them, too. Whatever it was, he’d position himself over it and swipe one paw at the table or floor over and over, occasionally looking back to see if the offending item was buried under the imaginary litter yet.
We played hide and seek a lot, with pouncing. I’d hide around a corner and then just as he was coming to get me I’d pounce on him and he’d tear off down the hall and turn around a corner, to wait and do the same to me. He’d bring you his rattle mouse if he wanted you to throw it, but he’d only bring it part of the way back before dropping it for you, always just out of reach. The stinker. And he loved to transport socks around the house. Folded, balled-up socks - he would carry them like they were kittens, and move a pile of them from one place to another. He always helped us change the sheets on the bed, by getting in between the layers and batting at them viciously. But when it was time for sleeping, he would make his rounds and make sure everyone got a little Tio time before they fell asleep.
I believe he loved all of us equally, but he really became Mom’s cat when I moved to the states. I wanted to take him with me so badly, but he was already a middle-aged cat who didn’t like change, and the immigration mess was hard enough to figure uot without worrying about bringing an animal across the border. Besides, I knew how much he meant to my mom and my brother, and it didn’t seem fair to hurt them and traumatize Tio, so I said goodbye and left the country. He always remembered me when I visited, though, sniffing me once to confirm my identity and then flopping over for the required belly rub. Seeing his connection with Mom every time I visited helped me feel better about leaving him. Those two had a connection and it was special. He sat with her while she had her morning coffee, coming right up to her face for nuzzles and bonks and kisses. He splayed himself over anything she tried to read, begging for attention. We joked that he was asking “attention me!” and we did, always.
He would have been 12 years old this fall. He had a seizure last year, and recovered, but he was never the same. He had some digestive issues, and he was always sick and seemed to be in pain. They couldn’t find anything wrong with him, and it wasn’t fair to let him keep on fighting through misery so he could have those few moments of love in between. It was a hard and brave decision for Mom to make on her own, and I think she did the right thing. It’s very hard on me that I didn’t get to say goodbye, but life isn’t always fair that way.
I’ll miss you, Tio. I hope you get to be a goalie on one of heaven’s cat hockey teams. I’m going to give Animal, Mojo, and Horton a can of tuna - the good stuff - in your honor.