Marla Singer, my beloved tuxedo cat, passed away this morning after a long battle with kidney disease, among other ailments. She was probably at least sixteen years old, though nobody knows for sure.??We were together nearly twelve years and she was by my side through some of the happiest and hardest times of my life. She made me a better person and I’ll forever miss her.
I remember vividly the moment I first met Marla in an apartment in Astoria in August of 2000. A friend’s co-worker’s friend found herself with one cat too many and Marla, being the newbie, had to go.
I’d lost a long-time cat to cancer the previous year and wasn’t sure when I’d be emotionally ready for another one. But my friend Mimi may have known that the time had come even before I did, because when she forwarded me an email from someone named Gisele about this cat in Queens, I found myself very eager to meet it.
It was a muggy late summer day and a long trek on the subway from my office in Downtown Brooklyn to Astoria. I was sweaty and still in my work clothes when I arrived at Gisele’s. Two very large cats greeted me in the living room, neither of them Marla, who had been sequestered in the bedroom because she had been bullying the pair.
I listened politely as Gisele told me about the cat I was about to meet: it was around four or five years old, had lived with a previous owner (or two) down south (one of the Carolinas, I think), had a broken tooth from outdoor adventures down there, and — most critically — couldn’t stay in the apartment any longer because of her aggressive ways.
Also: the cat had been named Harry for reasons she didn’t understand but that of course I was free to re-name her.
As Gisele told me all this, the two cats who were staying put lounged on the sofa, likely satisfied with themselves for making the cut. They were quite large and solid-looking. Any cat that can scare them must be a brute, I thought. I prepared myself for what was to come.
Preamble over, Gisele led me to the bedroom to meet this Southern Terror. To my surprise, the door opened to reveal a petite tuxedo cat sitting on the bed. She perked up when we entered, probably wondering if the sweaty Chinese guy was delivering food to her. Gisele left the room so we could get to know each other, closing the door behind her.
Alone now with this fearsome cat, I wondered what the fuss was about. She didn’t look very Terrible. I cautiously petted her and she responded immediately with affection. She had a friendly demeanor and beautifully classic tuxedo coloring, with a symmetrical white triangle perfectly cresting in the center of her forehead.
How could anyone mistake this little kitty, barely half the size of the two panthers sitting outside, for a bully? Surely, if she had been aggressive, she must have been provoked and had only been defending herself. After just a few minutes together, I had already become her advocate, a sure sign we’d be going home together.
We rode the subway back to my apartment in Brooklyn and before we got there I already knew her name would be Marla Singer. I’d been blown away by Fight Club the year before and remembered thinking that if I ever had another female cat, she might well be named after Helena Bonham Carter’s character if the personality (and/or the look) fit.
Fortunately, the casting was perfect: feline Marla had already established herself during her brief time in Astoria to be as dangerous (when unfairly provoked, of course) as Fight Club Marla. And visually, tuxedo Marla perfectly matched movie Marla’s black-and-white pallor and palette.
Somehow my vague, quirky wish for a new cat had come true at a time when I wasn’t even sure I wanted a cat. It was an auspicious start to the twelve great years we’d have together.
Marla was diagnosed with early-stage kidney disease and hyperthyroidism in 2009. Both are common ailments for “senior” cats, as Marla was by that time. (It took me a long while to get used to the idea that my cat was old and getting older.) Hyperthyroidism is curable with surgery and manageable with medication. Unfortunately, renal failure is manageable but terminal.
Marla began a long decline that she handled very well with medication and a lot of TLC from everyone who cared about her. (Her vets and the amazing feline renal website FelineCRF.org were literally lifesavers.) In her last year, she “crashed” several times as her disease progressed, each time coming perilously close to the abyss, but each time bouncing back and becoming herself again — a friendly, contented, loving cat despite a life that had been rough at times.
When the final crash came this week, she weighed just 2.4 pounds, less than a third of her mass when I met her in Astoria. She’d literally used up every bit of herself to keep going.
Marla surprised everyone by surviving so many crashes and living as long as she did. But really, this shouldn’t have been a surprise at all: Marla was a very social cat, always eager to be a part of whatever was going on. She insisted on being a part of life, until she just couldn’t any longer. My life is the richer for it.
*Nobody really knew how old Marla was, which only added to her mystery. If anyone reading this knows who the original owner might be, I’d love to find her actual birthday.