I did not expect my return to writing to be like this.
Twigs, our nine-year-old sphynx cat, has died.
He is survived by Pearl, his lovely niece; Anise, his best friend and sparring partner; Cheeseball, his wrestling protégé; and Napoleon, his oldest and dearest friend.
Twigs was Ash’s¹ cat, more than I have ever known anyone to be anyone’s cat. He loved them so much. No matter where in the house they went to sit or lie down, Twigs was practically guaranteed to appear a short time later to insert himself into their lap.
¹ For those who’ve been following along for some time, Ash used to go by Mel.
If there was no room for him, or Ash rebuffed him for whatever reason, or if he was just in the mood, his backup plan was to sit somewhere else and keep an eye on them. Sometimes I’d be talking to Ash and catch sight of Twigs behind them, staring at them. Just watching. I’d tell Ash, and they’d turn around and giggle at him, and he’d keep on staring. Sometimes they played hide-and-seek with him, ducking out of sight and then peeking back out at him; he might still be staring, or he might have trotted over to see where they went. Or they could call out to him, just say his name, and he’d acknowledge them with a little meow and come over. They could summon him silently, too, with nothing more than eye contact and a particular nod.
Sometimes we’d be sitting apart and Twigs would sit on me instead, laying chest-to-chest against me. He’d play this ridiculous game where he’d nuzzle my chin a few times, then look at Ash for a moment before doing it again. As if to say, hey, look what you’re missing out on. Or maybe just to say he hadn’t forgotten about them.
Twigs liked to sit at the top of the cat tree in our dining room, right in the path of a huge sunbeam for much of the day, where he could watch Ash at their desk and also see most of the house. We got a huge beanbag over the summer and put it behind Ash’s desk, and Twigs spent a lot of time there as well. He did his own thing at times, certainly, but it was rare for a day to go by without Twigs trying to be close to Ash.
If Ash was inaccessible — in someone else’s bedroom with the door closed, or in the backyard, or even in the bathroom for too long — Twigs would sit at the objectionable door and yell for them. I can’t think of many other cat meow I’d describe as a yell, but that’s definitively what Twigs did. MYAOOOW? MYEHHHH! When Ash was out of town, I’d often hear him trotting up and down the upstairs hallway, yelling for them — until he gave up looking for the moment and came to snuggle with me, just as intensely, like I were the one he’d been looking for all along.
His favorite thing in the world was bedtime, when Ash would finally not be distracted by anything else, and he could lay with them all night. All the cats sleep with us to varying degrees, but Twigs was usually the first to show up. His arrival was so distinct: the quiet footsteps, the weight on the bed, and then the purr would start up before we could even see him. He’d spend all night with us most nights, laying on Ash’s chest in the classic Sphinx pose or curled up behind their knees under the blanket.
I loved how frequently he showed up already purring, apparently anticipating how good of a time he was about to have. It came across as this comical overconfidence, like he took for granted that of course he would be involved in whatever Ash was doing. But his purr, as common and subdued as it was, was such a deep and full and genuine rumble. He made me feel like I’d earned it, like I must’ve done something truly admirable to earn this level of praise. I always called it regal. The purr of a king.
In the early morning hours of October 13, early enough that it was still the previous night, Twigs came downstairs and yelled. That wasn’t unusual; he’d yell for Ash’s attention all the time. But then he lay on his stomach, angled straight up like the actual Sphinx, a pose he exclusively reserved for comfy places like laps and cat beds.
Ash and I went over to check him out, but we couldn’t find any tender spots, injuries, or other obvious problems. My best guess was a stomachache, which wasn’t unheard of for Twigs; perhaps laying on his stomach helped settle it? The room was a little chilly and he wasn’t wearing a sweater, so Ash wrapped him in a blanket and set him on the beanbag he liked, in the path of a heat lamp.
We went to bed only an hour or so later, and Ash carried Twigs with them. Without the heat lamp on him, he was noticeably cold to the touch now, and starting to stumble. I didn’t think of it until later, but as cold as he was, he never shivered once.
We rushed him to a 24/7 emergency vet.
His temperature was 92 when we arrived. Normal body temperature for cats is around 100.
They set about warming him up, rushed through some authorizations, drew some blood, told us results would come in about thirty minutes.
Twigs didn’t make it that long. At 4:26 in the morning, cold and confused, somewhere in a sterile room apart from everyone he’d ever known and loved, his heart stopped.
Only three or four hours had passed since he first showed any signs of distress whatsoever, and Twigs was gone.
Twigs was so expressive! He had so much personality, and he showed all of it. Sphynxes seem a little easier to read than furred cats, but… well, Pearl is a little reserved, and Anise is downright incomprehensible. Twigs was an open book.
Photos don’t quite do him justice, since cats are easiest to photograph when they’re relaxing. All of his body language and facial expressions felt really crisp and distinct, like he wanted you to know what he was thinking, but didn’t want to ham it up. How do I even explain this? How would I explain the faces a human makes, even?
His “I love sitting on you” face, his “I want to eat that” face, his “this is a bit annoying but I’ll put up with it” face… they were all so clear and distinct, moreso than any of our other cats, moreso than any cat I’ve met. He’d even turn up the corners of his mouth when he was really happy, making a little cat smile.
His eyes were huge and beautiful, and we got to see them a lot while he played sentinel, perched somewhere with a good field of view. They were different colors, too! Only slightly, but in the right light, one was distinctly greener and the other distinctly bluer. It was obvious from a glance at his eyes whether he was staring into space, watching you, wanting something from you, or wanting to come over to you.
He was always, always delighted when someone would pet him. I don’t think Twigs ever acted solitary; he stands out as the most readily and consistently affectionate cat we’ve had. He even had a specific expression for when he was in a good mood and wanted someone to pet him, which I called “bedroom eyes” — both because he lidded his eyes a bit, and because he mostly did it when laying in bed with us. If he was especially happy, he’d come lie on your chest, scoot forwards as far as he possibly could, and give you super nuzzles all over your chin.
Twigs had a very pettable head, too. Broad, with his ears more to the sides. I always said he had a cheese head, because it reminded me of a cheese wedge? For some reason? He had a good cheese head, perfect for kissing (“kitten kisses”), which he seemed to understand was a sign of affection. He loved having his head pet so much that he’d keep tilting his head further and further back, ostensibly to press harder against your hand — but if he was perched on the top level of a cat tree, that made it harder to reach the top of his head, so you’d have to do this silly little negotiation with him. It made his smile all the easier to see, though.
He had some other quirky little “tells” that seemed subtle, but that gave away what he’d almost certainly do next: hesitating in a particular way before inexplicably dashing away, or looking up and around at the ceiling before doing a big meow.
His meows! Twigs had a huge vocabulary, and so much of it was for asking politely for things. His “yell” for when he wanted Ash was big and boisterous, with a little characteristic warble to it, and he opened his mouth comically wide when he did it. If he wanted Ash’s steak scraps (which he loved), he had a very reserved meow for asking for them. If he couldn’t get under a blanket, he had a different reserved meow for asking for help. He was the only cat who regularly did that funny chirpy meow at bugs on the wall, though we hadn’t heard that one since we left the Seattle area — Vegas didn’t have nearly as many bugs.
When Anise would roughhouse a bit too hard, Twigs had a distinct pained meow for “this is too much” that would bring one of us running. I didn’t hear it much after we got Cheeseball, who acts as a more eager sparring partner for Anise, until one day I heard a distorted version of it — and I found Twigs and Cheeseball happily wrestling! Twigs came up with a new meow, ending on a happy note rather than a painful one, just for when he was playing with this new giant kitten friend.
One of the most frustrating parts of this is that it’s so hard to capture a cat’s meows, or a lot of other subtleties. As vocal as Twigs was, he still only spoke when he had something to say, and that was rarely when he was in front of a camera. I remember them so clearly now, but how can I convey them in text? Myehhh doesn’t really cut it. (I’ve been sorting through old cat videos, but it’s slow going; I’ll throw some of them up somewhere in the near future.)
I don’t understand what happened.
The test results only showed that he was severely anemic — he had far too few red blood cells, so he couldn’t warm himself or get enough oxygen. They didn’t explain how he’d reached that point in a matter of hours without showing milder symptoms first.
The day had been entirely normal. Twigs had been happy and active earlier in the afternoon. He wasn’t in the habit of chewing or eating strange things. We keep all our cats indoors, and the others are still fine, so he couldn’t have picked up a communicable illness. If he’d ever shown any sign that anything was wrong, I know with absolute certainty that Ash would’ve noticed, just as I immediately noticed when my cat Styx had lost weight. But there was nothing.
What, then, actually happened to him? I don’t know. I’ll never know. I briefly thought to ask for an autopsy, but at the time, I couldn’t bear the thought of what that would… mean.
No explanation, no reason, nothing to blame. Twigs was his healthy happy self all day, all week, all month, all year. Right up until he wasn’t. And then he died.
Twigs was so friendly. Kind, even. He never hurt anyone; he rarely did anything unexpected or rambunctious. He rarely even messed with things he shouldn’t, in sharp contrast to Anise, who tries to push my phone off my desk anytime he wants my attention; the most Twigs would do was gingerly tap something with a paw to see if it would react, then move on.
(Well, with one exception. If he found an unguarded glass of water, but the water level was too low for him to reach it, he was smart enough to tip the whole glass over and douse everything on your desk. We switched to reusable water bottles years ago.)
I can’t think of a single time Twigs was mean or angry or even wanted to be alone. All the cats have times they’re comfortable and don’t want to be disturbed, or just aren’t in the mood, or whatever — except Twigs.
If Ash scolded him (“Twigs!”), he’d dash off to a cat tree and scrabble at it briefly, taking his frustrations out with a few quick scratches and this funny little shimmy of his hips, then forget all about it. In extreme cases, he might run upstairs to our empty bedroom, yell once or twice, then come back down. Or in milder cases, when he couldn’t get something he wanted, he’d snort audibly and that was that. It was so, so charming — if he was upset, all he needed to do was go somewhere to yell about it for a moment, and then he was fine.
He was so patient, too. Ash put little costumes on him a few times, which he took in stride — well, for a cat, at least. He was always happy to be picked up, wrapped in clothing or a blanket, and/or held in all manner of silly positions. You could check his teeth and he’d hardly mind at all. Play with his ears, shake his paw, squish his lip, whatever; he was content just to be interacted with. (I suspect there was some mutual reinforcement between Ash doing goofy things to Twigs, and Twigs laying in increasingly obnoxious ways on Ash.)
He didn’t much like having his claws trimmed, and when Ash would do it, he used to bite the squishy part of their thumb — but not bite down, only put his teeth around their hand. Enough to communicate “I don’t like this” without trying to hurt them. Ash eventually started bribing him with cat treats every few claws, and then he disliked the process a bit less.
His good nature extended to the other cats, as well. He befriended every cat we’ve ever had! I didn’t really think about it until after he died, but if I ever saw two or more cats hanging out together, Twigs was almost guaranteed to be one of them. He was the binding force of our little cat sitcom.
There was one brief exception, when Ash first adopted Pearl — the first new cat since Twigs that was 100% Ash’s. They kept Pearl with them all the time at first, and Twigs got so jealous. Very early on he made his feelings very clear: he stood on the other side of the room, stared right at Ash (and Pearl), and made a huge meow at them. Then after like three days he found out that he and Pearl could both fit in Ash’s lap and everything was fine.
He’d cozy up with Anise or Pearl for warmth, and we’d often see all three of them nestled together, as though Twigs’s soothing presence deterred Anise and Pearl from their usual squabbling. He had an awkward but friendly relationship with Napoleon, the most aloof of the cats by far, who doesn’t show much affection towards any of the others except Pearl. I remember Napoleon used to refuse to groom Twigs anywhere but on the backs of his ears (the only place he had fur!), but after some years together, we started to see Napoleon grooming Twigs’s face and neck as well. For Napoleon, that was a really close friendship.
Twigs was even friends with Apollo, the German shepherd we used to have, who was much bigger than this tiny bald cat. I have a video of Twigs and Apollo playing, where Apollo is gently nudging Twigs around with his nose and Twigs alternates between nuzzling and lightly smacking Apollo. What a sweetheart. I don’t think any other cat interacted with Apollo quite like that.
He had a somewhat more complicated dynamic with Anise, who’s a good bit rowdier and more… destructive. Anise liked to start little brawls a lot, which wasn’t quite Twigs’s usual style, but he’d play along until Anise got too rough. (It probably didn’t help that Twigs would often respond by grabbing Anise by the sweater, which allowed Anise to wriggle backwards out of it and unleash his full powers.)
It’s been funny looking at older photos; when we first got Anise, Twigs was pristine, with maybe a scar or two on his haunch somewhere. (And all down the top of his tail, which he liked to nibble with some intensity.) At the end of his life, Twigs was riddled with little round scars from where Anise had bitten his back, and even a conspicuous dark spot right on top of his head. Who bites someone’s head?
I don’t remember his relationship with Styx as clearly, but I have enough photo evidence of it. The two of them were very close and spent a lot of time snuggled together, whether sleeping or just hanging out. We even got them matching pink sweaters! I’d forgotten that was deliberate. They played together, too, though much less seriously than Anise and on more “even” terms.
Six and a half years ago, my own cat Styx died. He’d been my cat, the way Twigs was Ash’s cat, sticking to me like glue the whole time I had him. But then Styx contracted a cruel and incurable illness, one that can strike even indoor cats and prefers to take the young. He wasted away over the course of a month.
I’d like to think that, whatever it was that took Twigs from us, maybe this swift departure saved him from the kind of long and excruciating ordeal that Styx went through.
I wrote his eulogy the day after he died. I avoided looking at it for years, but finally went back and read it a few days ago. It seemed so short! Was that really all I had to say about him? I knew him for over a year, yet I feel like I barely got to know him — I think Cheeseball is already older than Styx was when he died, and Cheeseball’s personality is still rapidly developing.
I was more shocked to find my own tweets from soon after Styx’s death, saying I couldn’t even look at photos of him. How long did that last? I don’t remember.
It hurt too much, so I avoided his memory, and now so much of it is a fragmented blur. Watching him deterioriate was gut-wrenching, and the worst part of his life — but it’s what I spilled the most ink on, and the part I need the least help remembering. Why did I write so much about that month? None of it was important in the end, yet I liveblogged every gratuitous medical detail. I guess I didn’t know what else to do, watching Styx wither away in my arms, while I couldn’t do anything about it.
I still cry for him, sometimes. I get a little sad over something else, and I remember Styx, and I cry. No matter how many of the details fade, I know I had a little cat named Styx who I loved dearly, and he loved me back.
This feels like a second chance, though. I won’t make the same mistake again.
It was hard to grieve with Ash all those years ago, back when things were so awkward. Now we can mourn together, and thinking about Twigs doesn’t sting the way thinking about Styx used to. It finally feels okay to remember Styx, too, and I’ve been rediscovering some old moments as I’ve sorted through photos in search of Twigs.
We’ve been celebrating and filling our space with both of them — we printed out physical copies of our favorite photo of each and put them in little thematic frames. Their pawprint casts are together on a shelf behind Ash’s desk. Nearby is Twigs’s urn, and I’d like to put Styx’s humble grave marker next to it, once I figure out where I packed it. Ash is painting portraits of them.
At my suggestion, we threw Twigs a little goodbye party — I baked a pumpkin cake (in honor of his homemade pumpkin cat food and the one fall he loved a tiny pumpkin), Ash decorated it, and we talked about Twigs and all the things about him that we miss. I insisted we wear party hats.
I’ve been taking notes on his life ever since he died, all so I could write this eulogy for him. It’s intimidating and even more difficult than I expected, trying to capture a life that meant so much to us in only a few thousand words. I hope I’m doing him justice. I want everyone to know how good Twigs was, and how much we’ve lost.
Twigs had his sassy side, but it was always sweet and harmless. Less like typical cat aloofness, more like that charming confidence of showing up to cuddle with his purr already in full swing, completely taking for granted that he was welcome and was about to enjoy himself. Or the similar energy he put on display when you were on a couch and he wanted to sit on you: he’d identify the most Twigs-shaped nook on your body and wedge his butt backwards into it, sometimes even hoisting himself with his front legs a bit, like a human settling into a recliner.
For example: if Twigs tried to approach Ash but Ash pushed him away — e.g., because they were eating or painting or their lap was occupied — then Twigs would often do a complete circle around the table or part of the room, only to approach Ash again from the other direction. It was so comical! So gentle and friendly, but cheerfully defiant about being near Ash. As if he couldn’t even imagine that he was disallowed for the moment. The problem must have been with his approach. There’s just no other rational explanation.
Since living in Colorado, we’ve occasionally come home and opened the front door only for Twigs to immediately dart outside… just so he could cross the front porch, stop at the nearest blade of grass, and bite it. None of the other cats have ever shown any interest in grass, but every once in a great while, Twigs would just get a hankering, and it’s the only reason he’s ever so much as attempted to leave the house. (Thank goodness.)
The thing that hit hardest right after he died was the feeding routine. Several of the cats eat storebought food, kept out of reach in a big dog cage we bought for this purpose, while Pearl and Twigs share homemade food. For the last couple months, whenever I went to go open the cage to let the other cats in, Twigs would trot along with them! He wouldn’t actually go in the cage, and he’d even slow down before getting to it (so the others would get ahead and it’d be easy to keep him out), but he acted like he belonged inside. It was such a perfect reflection of his personality: he went after something he wanted, yet he stopped short of breaking the rules.
Twigs knew how to have a good time, too. He loved rollin’ around on carpet. He’d wriggle on his back, grab the carpet with his claws and pull himself along it, and clearly be having the time of his life. Our Vegas home didn’t have any carpeted floors, but we added a little carpeted platform to the stairs (so the cats wouldn’t fall off!) and he had just as good a time on that. Later we got some small cat trees with singular round platforms, and those had a carpet texture he loved as well.
Rollin’ around would put Twigs in a feisty mood, and he’d reach out to smack anyone — cat, dog, or human — who came nearby. Ash would make a game out of this: they’d tap the floor nearby or the edge of the platform, then try to pull their hand away before Twigs “got” them. Sometimes Twigs would make a very riled-up face but not try to get you, and you could wind him up a little more by performing the “cat pat” — lightly and repeatedly tapping his haunch with your fingertips. You could watch him get more rowdy in real time, and then the game was to stop before he suddenly rolled over and tried to grab your hand.
Our home near Seattle was just up the street from a big park, and on a couple occasions, Ash took Twigs out for a walk on a little leash. On one such walk, while I was holding Twigs’s leash, he suddenly darted straight away from me and towards some underbrush! The leash caught him, of course, but he was running so fast that it actually yanked him right off the ground and flipped him over. (He was fine, albeit just as surprised as we were!)
(On another walk, Twigs stood right in front of Ash and made a huge myeehhhh up at them, clearly indicating that he was Done With Outside For Now. Poor baby. Ash picked him up, wrapped him in their sweatshirt, and held him until we got home. He really knew how to say exactly what he was thinking.)
Twigs played the typical cat games as well, when he felt like it — he might join in when we were playing string with Pearl, or teleport into the room when the laser pointer came out. One of the last things Twigs played with was a tiny mouse toy, ripped and with its stuffing pouring out. He sometimes liked to carry them around, roll around on the floor fighting them, then carry them somewhere else and do it again. He had a surprising ferocity with toys at times: wild eyes and incredibly quick pounces! It made me appreciate all the more how gentle he was with cats and people.
Once in a great while he’d play fetch, repeatedly bringing the same toy (or twist-tie or something) back to Ash’s feet so they could toss it and he could pounce it again. I even have an old video of Twigs playing chase: Ash would dash down the hallway, Twigs would dart after them with an intensely serious expression, Ash would yelp that Twigs “caught” them, and then they’d run down the hallway the other way. I don’t think any other cat we’ve had has really done that! They’ll run away from us, but not try to chase us around.
(Ash put fantasy “Luneko” versions of all our cats in NEON PHASE, a little game we made a few years ago, and I was struck by how Branch Commander Twig’s personality was so serious, when Twigs struck me as mostly lighthearted and friendly. But then, I suppose Twigs was very serious — about being lighthearted and friendly.)
I can’t tell what effect this has had on the other cats. They were all friendly with Twigs. Do they wonder where he is? Do they, too, assume he’s out of sight somewhere? Are they grieving? Will they grieve later?
The other cats got to saw Styx’s body, but Twigs died elsewhere. We have no way to tell them what happened to him. They just have to… guess? After living their whole lives with him? That sucks.
I think they’ve been more affectionate over the past week or so. Or they might be cuddling more because it’s getting colder. Or I might be paying more attention to them. Hard to say.
They do seem to be expanding their roles to fill Twigs’s niche. Napoleon, best known for spending almost all his time alone, has come and hung out on the couch — virtually unheard of. Anise and Cheeseball are, well, fighting each other instead of both fighting Twigs — but they’re starting fewer fights with Pearl. Pearl, who has had absolutely no tolerance for Anise since we left Vegas, has spent whole nights asleep next to him without making a fuss.
I guess they learned a lot from him.
Twigs was also fiercely loyal, but thankfully only had to show it a couple times.
We spent last summer in Marl’s parents’ unused (finished) basement, where they kept four cats of their own. (For a total of nine. We had quite a time.) One of them, Seamus, kept antagonizing our only furry cat, Napoleon.
We aren’t really sure how or why this started, but every so often, Seamus would start chasing Napoleon around, and Napoleon would scream. I don’t know why Napoleon was so scared of him, or what Seamus thought he was doing, or why he couldn’t understand that Napoleon didn’t like it. It was a constant source of stress for everyone; Seamus did it infrequently but seemingly on a whim, and we didn’t have many options for segregating the cats outright.
The incredible thing was, every time Seamus would start chasing Napoleon… Twigs would start chasing Seamus. And then Pearl would chase along with Twigs. And this would often end with Twigs and Pearl facing Seamus down, with Twigs saying some very nasty things that I will not repeat here.
(Anise would often show up and also run around, but he didn’t seem to understand why everyone was making such a fuss. While Twigs and Pearl were cornering Seamus, Anise would be standing next to them while mostly looking confused. Hey guys I see we’re playing chase!! I love chase too!! Oh why’d we all stop?)
I wouldn’t say it helped matters much, but it was strangely heartwarming. Twigs considered Napoleon his friend and had no problem telling this strange bully cat, a Maine Coon twice his size, to fuck right off.
Oh, but that’s nothing.
Apollo, that German shepherd we used to have, once somehow managed to knock down a whole set of shelves in Ash’s room. Ash, of course, yelled his name in response. They must’ve sounded really mad, because Twigs appeared instantly. He stood right in front of Apollo (separating him from Ash), in a very aggressive stance, making some very threatening growls and meows.
And he chased Apollo out of the room and right down the hallway.
All Twigs knew was that Apollo had seriously upset Ash, and that was that. No questions asked. This tiny little cat stood up to a giant wolf, because he thought Ash needed defending. Twigs was never aggressive or mean towards Apollo any other time, before or since. This only happened once, once ever, when Twigs thought Ash was in danger.
What a brave cat! If Apollo had wished Ash (or Twigs) harm, well, I don’t like those odds. But Twigs didn’t even think twice. We’ve never stopped marvelling over it.
I say “brave” very deliberately, because Twigs while was not fearless, he stood up to his fears. The only one we really saw was a fear of, ah, foam strips. See, we used to have a tiny “gym” in the corner of the kitchen, and the equipment sat on a foam mat made out of tiles with jigsaw edges that could fit together. To give the assembled mat a smooth perimeter, the tiles also came with thin edge pieces.
Foot traffic (or cats) could knock one of the edge pieces loose, leaving a strip of black foam alone on the floor. Twigs found this highly alarming. He would crouch down and eye it very suspiciously, creep up to give it a light smack and then back off, and generally treat it like a live wire. We assume it looked like a snake to him, though no other cat took interest in the edge pieces except to play with them, and Twigs never reacted the same way to anything else snake-shaped.
But he didn’t run away. He investigated, to see if it was dangerous, see if there was a predator in his home. Even after we’d find him doing this and put the foam piece back, Twigs would creep around for a while, looking for possible snakes until he was convinced it was gone. He was clearly very wary, yet he never ran, never hid.
The only other times I recall seeing Twigs anything close to scared were when he encountered a couple of accessories that resembled large animals: a Lucario hat Ash bought many years ago, and one of those goofy horse masks. I’m not even sure if “scared” is even the right word; he looked more annoyed? He neither backed down nor tried to attack them. I only remember him standing his ground and hissing, warning them to leave him alone.
I never heard him hiss any other time.
(Ash did, though. Once as a tiny kitten, our late cat Granite sat on him. A big furry cat just sat his ass right down on this little kitten. Kitten Twigs hissed about this, but kittens aren’t very ferocious hissers, so it came out khh! khh!, which Granite ignored.Funnily enough, once Twigs grew up, he developed his own habit of sitting on furred cats!)
We haven’t had a death since Styx. Twigs’s best friend! I never once expected Twigs would be the next to go. Now Napoleon is the only one left of the original crew.
Ash moved in with me not long after adopting Twigs. I don’t think he was even a year old. I knew him his entire adult life! I lived with him longer than I’ve lived with anyone, save my parents as a kid.
For so many years, it’s been Ash and Twigs. The inseparable duo, joined at the hip. I knew it would end someday, but I was so sure that day was much further off. I thought he’d be around for another five years at least, and secretly hoped he’d make it another ten. But we only got half of that. He loved twice as hard, and his heart burned out far too early.
He had so much life left in him. He played, he ran around, he wrestled (or, at least, was wrestled upon). He was still growing, inventing new antics and new ways to interact with us.
It’s been a strange experience. I couldn’t even absorb the factual knowledge of his death at first, even as I spent much of the first few days crying. How could Twigs die? That doesn’t make any sense; I haven’t seen him yet today, but he’ll show up soon. But I feel really sad. Oh, right, that’s because Twigs died. Rinse, repeat, over and over.
We picked his ashes a few days later. It’s been nice to have him home again, and it helps to have something physical to look at, rather than just the lack of his presence. Ash intends to paint his urn.
It got easier much more quickly than I expected, and that’s been weird as well. I wanted to hold onto his memory and be happy for the time I got to spend with him, and then that actually happened. I think about him a lot (especially over the multiple days it’s taken to write this), and a lot of little things remind me of him, but they don’t make me break down in tears. Usually.
That feels a little bad. But I know that hurting less doesn’t mean I loved him any less. And I know the last thing Twigs would want is for us to be sad.
Twigs was the best. I miss so much about him. I miss the way his whole nose scrunched up when he did a big meow. I miss his distinct little trot as he came down the hallway to see you. I miss watching him do eager little circles on the floor as I got the food out. I miss how he’d smack his lips as he showed up, a distinct and inexplicable quirk I’ve never seen in any other cat, a good compliment to how long he’d spend licking his chops after eating. I miss his huge ears! I miss “savannah cat” — when he’d hook his paws over the edge of something he was lying on, like an arm or the edge of a cat bed or the corner of my computer tower. I miss what a serene and calming presence he was.
It’s funny how some of the most memorable moments are things he only did one time. He joined Ash in the bathtub once — they were reading a book and Twigs came in, hopped in the bath, and sat in water up to his neck, just to be with them. He often announced his presence with a questioning meow when coming into Ash’s Vegas room at night, and once he did this really funny “meow-ow!” kind of double meow, and we’ve repeated it to each other as a nod to Twigs ever since, even though he never did it again.
One fall, we got a tiny pumpkin — the size of a slightly disappointing donut — and Twigs was enamored with it. We’d roll it along its edge and he’d chase after it and keep biting it, and it was so cute. Another fall, we bought another one, and Twigs wasn’t interested in it at all. Very cutting-edge of him. Tiny pumpkin is so last year.
He used to be really interested in eggs, too. For a while, we couldn’t turn our backs on an egg on the counter, because Twigs would materialize and start gently batting it around. Then he lost interest.
I miss how he slept with me. He’d always slept either behind my knees or on top of the covers, but right towards the end of his life, he invented a new trick, just for me. I sleep on my side, so he couldn’t lay on my chest; instead, he went under the covers, poked his head out, and lay against my chest with his head on my pillow. Like a little person! It was so sweet. He’d then keep nuzzling my face with his cold wet nose, which was kind of annoying. I miss that, too.
Even the annoying things are conspicuously absent. He frequently stepped on my hair while I was in bed, trying to get around me to get to Ash, and wow that is painful. Twigs groomed his cat sweaters more intensely than any other cat, biting the fabric and pulling so hard that it stretched and made this horrible high-pitched squeak, like nails on a chalkboard. He loved to groom people, too — usually on the chin or upper chest, since that’s what was accessible when he lay on you. Somehow Ash got used to it (and learned to redirect him to their palm, which he’d lick for ages), but I could never bear more than a few seconds of his cheese grater tongue.
What a good cat.
I felt like I’d been waiting for this all year. I don’t want to go much into it, but death has felt like a looming spectre almost since we moved in. The pointlessness of doing things, the feeling that I’m just passing time waiting to die, the occasional intrusive thought about a tragic accident befalling one of us or one of the cats. Never Twigs, though.
Last year was harder on me than I thought. I fired on all cylinders, trying to get Ash back on their feet, and once that happened… I deflated and never quite recovered. I lost a lot of my drive, my spark, my voice. I got frustrated with difficult work much more easily. I stopped writing. I stopped interacting. I stopped trying.
I didn’t even realize. Even as I felt increasingly distant and detached from the universe, I still thought I’d been pretty normal all year with only a few rough patches. It’s been hard to compare the past to the present, separated as they are by a strange and tumultuous six months that changed almost everything. Then Ash commented that I’d seemed kind of down all year. What a jolt that was, and only a few days before Twigs died.
Twigs’s death feels like a kick in the ass. I’ve felt a lot of despair over the past year, but all of it has been tied to anxieties and what-ifs — imaginary things. But this is sad, which is very different. This carries a pain for something tangible, something real, something important, something I want to hold onto. How can any of my little fantasy fears matter, when the loss of a cat outweighs all of them combined?
I don’t want to waste any more time. I want to reflect what I admired about Twigs: kind, patient, confident, and loving. I want to make this mean something.
Twigs had a good life. He spent it around people and cats he loved dearly, and who loved him right back. He had friends when he was lonely and blankets when he was chilly.
Oh, did he ever love blankets. Sphynxes are naked and tend to seek out warmth, of course, but of the four we’ve had, Twigs was by far the one who treated heat sources like a passion rather than mere physical comfort. His ability to identify the most snuggly spot to back his ass into was nothing short of superfeline. Sometimes he’d toast himself so well that he turned a little pink! And he used to do this incredible display of cat paws, with all four paws, accompanied by the occasional meow — but only on a specific blanket that we’ve long since lost.
He was also the one who tolerated cat sweaters the best (despite inflicting the most destruction on them). Anise’s powers of antagonism are greatly reduced in a sweater, and he will run away if he sees you approaching him with one; Pearl still does a funny awkward walk with her back half lower to the ground, even after wearing them through half a dozen winters. But Twigs in a sweater just acted like Twigs.
And what a well-travelled cat! He lived in four states and drove through half a dozen others. That’s more of the world than a decent number of humans see. He got to meet and snuggle with all kinds of other cats, and even some sort of giant wolf-cat who tried to herd him occasionally. He got to see the great outdoors, then decided he didn’t like it and returned to the great indoors.
Twigs did spend a couple of his later years afflicted with “pillow paw” — his pawpads swelled up one day, for seemingly no reason. Our vet couldn’t find an underlying cause, and meanwhile it was uncomfortable for him to land on his feet from a height. Poor guy. I’m eternally grateful to the vet we found last summer, who finally solved the mystery and cured him. He got to spend his final year active and unhindered again.
Ash spent much of our last couple Vegas years secluded in their office, too, so Twigs didn’t get as much face time as I’m sure he would’ve liked. But in our new place, both of our desks are out in the open and right next to each other, so Twigs could see them whenever he wanted. Sometimes he lay on a cat bed on my desk watching them, or strolled back and forth between us both, purring up a storm.
It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster for all of us, but I think the last year was the best year of his life.
I miss Twigs, but I smile when I think about him. He made us so happy while he was here.
Twigs came into Ash’s life while they were somewhat adrift — no clear goals, no home of their own, resigned to an unhappy marriage. He stuck with them for nine whole years, unwavering in his affection. He followed them down into the darkness, down where they couldn’t feel love from anyone — anyone except Twigs.
Now Ash has work and a community they love. We have a home together, and it finally feels like one. And by sheer coincidence, Ash’s divorce was finalized mere days after Twigs died. His entire life was contained within that marriage, from birth to death.
(Oh, we’re married now. Hurrah.)
Ash adopted Twigs almost on a whim, and he left us just as abruptly. As though he’d only shown up in the first place to help Ash when they needed it, and with Marl finally out of our lives, his work here was done.
The last thing Twigs did, the night that he died, was tell us he loved us. Ash put him under the blanket to try warming him up, and at first he was by our feet… but then he crawled up to slump against me, similar to how he did when I was alone in bed, and then he climbed on Ash’s chest and lay on them for a moment. Right at the end, as cold and confused as he must’ve felt, all he wanted was to be with Ash, to be with both of us.
I don’t know where Twigs is, now. He might be nowhere. But the universe has consistently proven itself to be more baffling and beautiful than I expect, so I’ll hold out hope that he’s somewhere — somewhere he can once again see Styx, his (other) best friend in the whole wide world. Somewhere that we can see them both again, one day.
Goodbye, Twigs! We’ll always love you, and we’ll always miss you.
Thank you, so much, for everything.