I have a cat. His name is ChinnChinn. And that doesn’t begin to tell the story.

I’m starting this now because any day now I’ll have to change the tense in the previous paragraph: I had a cat. His name was ChinnChinn.

Barring another miracle, of course.

Chinni is my feline Siamese companion. I’ve had cats and dogs, hamsters and snakes and preying mantises and spiders and fish (and once I almost had an alligator, but that’s another story). I’ve loved them and cried to see them go. But Chinni will be different.

For one thing, he really is a miracle cat, as my vets have said. Chinni was diagnosed with terminal colorectal cancer and given only a few weeks to live…about two and half years ago.

chinniasleepEvery time we thought the balance had tipped, and Chinni was going out, he’d hop up on my desk, demand breakfast and a cuddle, and dash off to torment a peacock feather. The vets–who have made heroic efforts to keep Chinni well and happy–would shake their heads and say, “Whatever it is you’re doing, keep doing it.”

The past couple of weeks, though, it’s become obvious that the miracles are running dry. And something tells me that maybe it’s time.

Chinni’s always been an odd duck. He doesn’t look like a Siamese–he’s what’s called a lynx point, having stripes and ticking where most Siamese have dark brown. Yet what most people notice first is his voice–even for a Siamese, he has an amazing vocabulary. When I come home, he greets me at the door with a running commentary, pausing in places for me to respond and glaring if I don’t. I’ve no idea what he’s saying, but I interject appropriate comments until he’s satisfied and we head to the kitchen for his dinner.

Introduced to a new space, Chinni will test the acoustics bit by bit. He sits neatly upright, cocks his head and “ooowwwaaahhwaaahs,” listens for a moment, then slides a few inches to the right and tries again. When he’s in just the right spot, he cuts loose with a 15-minute caterwaul that rivals any Wagnerian opera.

Chinni’s lifelong fascination with singing into speakerphones and headsets made him famous with coworkers around the world. And his love of rolling like a kitten on sidewalks endured despite his disgust at discovering, one snowy DC winter, that melting snow makes his beloved concrete very, very wet. (And no, Chinni was absolutely NOT an outdoor cat. But sometimes, when the mood struck us both, we’d go sit out on the front porch and watch the moths and birds together.)

chinnimidageHe uses his front paws like hands for just about everything. We had a favorite game that he hasn’t been able to play much of late, cat hockey (AKA “slapshot”), in which I carefully set up obstacles at the edge of my desk. Chinni, one-pawed, would slapshot them to the ground. He was game to shove just about anything off, up to and including the telephone. My dad got an especial kick out of cat hockey; after he and Mom would visit, the floor around my desk would be littered with 20 or 30 pens, tape dispensers, etc.

Lots of small anecdotes I could tell, the kind that only another cat lover would appreciate: Chinni’s need to carry stuff like cherries and wrapped hard candies by its “handles” (see above). His preference for scooping cat food out of the bowl with his right paw and eating it “in paw.”

The time he dropped a live mouse on my housemate’s pillow and was highly offended that he didn’t get it back. The time he startled the burglar.

Mostly what I’ll remember about Chinni, though, is his unfailing insouciance. He’s the only cat I’ve ever met with absolutely no guile or sneakiness.

He just does what’s needed, with a great deal of panache, and trusts me to make it come out right. It’s as if the rules couldn’t possibly apply to him and, truly, he is so well-behaved that maybe they don’t. If he jumped up on the counter, he had a valid reason, and I usually wound up apologizing for scolding him.

In the nearly 18 years we’ve been together, as long as I’ve been home he’s never been more than 4-5 feet away. He’s seen me through some very rough times, moved with me as I climbed the professional ladder, and served as my sounding board for new concepts, dreaded conversations, and life-changing decisions.

Chinni’s diagnosis came too hard, too fast, at a time when I really was too busy to pay much attention to him. Had his disease progressed as predicted I would have lost him with a lot of unfinished business between us. Somehow things came together, I was able to slow down and enjoy our last few months…and say goodbye properly.

And in his unvarying Chinni way, he’s making a loving exit that we’re both nearly ready for. I want him to stay forever, I’ll always wish he were here beside me and I don’t quite know how I’m going to get through this, but I’ll be forever grateful that he’s graced my life and given me more time with him than I probably deserved.

Love you, my elegant little fellow. Take care.

PS. It didn’t take long. Chinni went downhill fast the afternoon I posted this, I called the vet and set up an appointment to evaluate him…and she confirmed what we’d feared: The tumor was growing with a vengeance, he was in pain, and weakening fast.

Chinni died on August 29, 2007 at 4:15 pm, very peacefully, and with his pain abated. He died in his favorite position–curled up in my arms, head resting on the crook of my elbow.

Rest gently, Chinni.