In December 2005, I was helping my cousin move and found this awkward, starving, beautiful cat. Barely out of the kitten phase and obviously a sweetheart.
Nobody seemed to be looking for her (no collar, no Lost Cat posters or notices with the local vet) but she wasn't afraid of people, so we concluded that she'd been abandoned. I brought her home, and she spent hours on my lap, gazing around in wonder as if to say, "I get food? And affection? And I get to stay? Oh, this is the best day ever!"
I think she never forgot that. From that day on, she orbited me like a furry little moon, and almost without fail if I said her name she would chirp and trot over to me, tail in the air and genuinely happy to see me.
Because of her disposition, I decided she needed a soft, round-sounding name with no hard consonants. I settled on Aria, the Italian word for melody.
I had already had Crooked Head for four years and they didn't really hit it off. They eventually settled into some sort of truce, but she clearly didn't trust him when he was being nice to her.
When Husband (then Boyfriend) got out of the military, he moved in with us. Aria was clearly unsure of who he was or why he was there and spent a lot of time sitting on a table behind his computer, staring at him from behind his monitor. It was hilarious, but a little creepy. Always watching. Judging. With those enormous round eyes.
Oh, those eyes. No matter what she might have actually been thinking, she almost always looked like she was gasping in surprise or dismay.
Her pupils often reflected red, but her irises were light blue. Admittedly, this isn't a great picture, but she's wasn't a fan of standing still unless she was parked on my desk or lap for a nap.
Eventually they established a treat-based relationship in which he ceased to be Strange Man Who May Not Be Trusted and became the Bringer of Treats and The One That Might Share His Food. Eventually she even started sitting on his lap. That was a good day.
Around 2007 we realized her teeny little stuccato meow was more of a "mew!" and decided it sounded like a laser. Put your hands out in front of you like you're steering a space jet and say, "Mewmewmew! Zoom, zooooom, mewmewmewmewmew! Take that!" We did, and that's how Aria became Aria Spaceguns, lovable hero in a fictional universe in which she accidentally saves the day on a regular basis. We have character sketches, scenes and a couple vague storylines floating around us like a long-running inside joke. I won't get into them here, but trust me, they're funny. Someday I'll even make a web comic about it. We also developed Miss Aria, master of ladylike etiquette and hostess of grand tea parties with Very Fine Hats. Husband and I each have a voice for these characters. We keep ourselves entertained.
One of my favorite games to play with her was Hide and Seek. There were two versions of this game. One was for her to hide in the tub between the shower curtains and wait for me to find her, or jump out at me to surprise me if I took too long. The other version was making eye contact with her from down the hallway then backing around the corner. Five seconds later I'd hear a chirp and the padpadpad of tiny feet. Here she comes, barreling around the corner on a mission to find me. Ears up, chest out, she was very pleased with herself that she found me every time.
Truth be told, she's not the smartest cat I've ever had. Once, she managed to get a ball lost in the depths of Husband's shoe. She reached and reached, but couldn't find it. She took a moment to compose herself and enthusiastically thrust both feet in up to the shoulder...inside the wrong shoe. Husband went over to help. He picked up the shoe with the toy and dumped the ball out. She looked at it for a moment, then at him like he was some kind of wizard. Then she completely forgot about him because the toy needed immediate pouncing and she had a memory like a goldfish most of the time.
Hair elastics were her favorite prey, although once she brought us a live (terrified) mouse. Husband caught it in a box and put it back outside.
She wasn't a very relaxed cat. She was always a little shy at first with new people, she startled easily, and usually preferred to crouch at arm's length on the back of the couch than sniff someone's face. (If she liked you, she'd sit on your lap for a while. If she really liked you, she might sniff your eyelid.)
But once in a while she'd take a nap with me.
And if I was really lucky, Crooked wouldn't hit her in the face to make her move when he decided that he also wanted to take a nap with me.
For a year, she had a love/hate relationship with a roommate's cat named Face. She was so mean to him! She'd get a running start to claw him across the nose for no good reason. I think he just wanted to be friends with her. We'd see them both in the back yard, she'd be mincing her way through the grass with Face three paces behind her. She'd stop, he'd stop. She'd look back at him accusingly, and if cats could whistle, he would have. Then she'd start walking again and he'd follow, still three paces behind.
Moving to Japan was tough. She's timid to begin with (unless she's around a cat that isn't Crooked, in which case she rules the house with an iron paw), and a 24-hour journey across the planet with an overnight stay in New Jersey was very difficult. But once she was around us and some familiar things, she settled in pretty quickly. She's happy to be a house cat with the occasional trip outside, so one house is very much like another for her.
In November 2010 she developed pancreatitis and was constantly finding new and exciting places to throw up when I wasn't in the room. We put her on anti-vomiting meds, and she got better for a little while, but it didn't last. Then in January 2011 we put her on anti-inflammatory meds, and she got better for a little while, then suddenly stopped eating and drinking. We stopped the medication, but she still wouldn't eat or drink. Then she turned yellow. Her gums and the whites of her eyes were yellow, and her eyes were turning from blue to green as her liver started to give out. She threw up any and all medication and we had to wrap her in a towel to force feed her with a syringe.
Crooked, for his part, was no help. He sniffed her face, and my face, asked for some of the syringe food, and generally got in the way.
I ended up having to take her to a neighborhood vet (that thankfully spoke enough English to communicate with me, my Japanese is still at "see Spot run" sophistication) and checked her in to the ICU for fluids and observation. She was drooling and clearly pained and wouldn't even look at me. I was scheduled to visit her again late the next morning.
When I saw her again, she didn't have the strength or motivation to get into the litter box she was leaning against to relieve herself. She hadn't thrown up again and she was completely conscious and alert, but her liver was obviously damaged beyond repair. Her skin was bright yellow under her fur, but the most shocking thing was her eyes.
Those beautiful blue eyes no longer had even a trace of blue, she was so full of toxins. I knew that it was all but over, and I almost lost it when she saw me and made a mad dash inside my coat to hide. No real action could be taken until an ultrasound was performed and the senior vet got out of a meeting at 3pm, but they were very nice and found a place for me to sit with her, even through the hours in the middle of the day when the clinic was closed to the public. I talked to her, encouraged her, made sure she wasn't pulling on her IV, and did my best to soothe her when each new wave of agony washed over her and she made heart wrenching noises.
Husband left work early to join me and the vet just after 3pm, and the vet from the army base was very kind and volunteered to be on the phone as a translator. She may have had a small chance of survival, but she had a much greater chance of getting worse. We couldn't let her get worse. I don't think she would have lived another night. We discussed it and decided it was better for her if we put her to sleep right then and not wait another day for observation and treatments that probably wouldn't help. It was quick and humane and she died warm and loved, which is more than most pets and some people get. Japanese vets don't usually euthanize pets, but afterward the doctor said he thought we made the right decision. The Japanese vet from the base expressed the same sentiment.
Crooked is his regular obnoxious self, which is helpful in its own way. His nose squishing mine and his purrs in my ear have always helped me feel a little better, and this is no exception.
I miss her and wish she hadn't had to suffer for so long, but I did everything I could and I was able to spend time with her at the end. She curled in my lap and buried her head in my elbow, so I know she got some measure of comfort from my presence. That's something.
She was too young, only 6, but she had five and a half really good years (I found her when she was about 5-6 months old). That is more than she would have gotten if I hadn't brought her home in the first place.
The end chapter is still very fresh in my mind and raw in my emotions, but this is how I want to remember her: comfortable, playful, and happy. Aria Spaceguns. My fuzzy little moon.
(under catnip influence)
(ignore the audio)
(Crooked is under the kotatsu. It's like a coffee table with a heating element and a blanket to trap all that nice warm air around your legs and feet. Possibly the best invention in the history of winter.)
Many thanks to friends and family who have extended their sympathies.
Edit: We had her cremated with a Buddhist ceremony. Click here to read about that.