I went over to Michelle’s apartment to pay respects to Zooey, the 16-year-old purr machine that has given a good name to cats since Reagan’s last term. I don’t think I was prepared to see him. Usually a 20 lb. butterball of a feline with a full-body fright wig, Zooey had lost 9/10ths of his body weight, and stared motionless into middle distance, his eyes dead, only a faint heartbeat and the occasional nudge for comfort. I encourage everyone who reads this to go over and check out Michelle’s blog from September 24, which describes Zooey’s last day on this earth, and is probably her finest piece of writing.
Zooey cuddles in Michelle’s arms an hour before the end
Zooey was older than some of you reading this blog, older than 90% of my friendships, and the last of what we had come to call the Class of ’87. That year was probably the worst in terms of my parents’ divorce; two years out, and things had only gotten worse, the money dried up, I was nearly failing out of Carolina, Sean was actually failing out of high school, and Michelle shaved one side of her head and wore a “Bread Not Bombs” T-shirt that fully disguised her burgeoning womanhood. My family, what was left of it, lived in four different houses that year.
It is at times like these that you can’t have enough friends, and they don’t always have to be human. In that year, Kije, our yellow lab, was born, and played an influential role in all of our artistic lives. He sat through my various rock outfits and farted up a storm; Sean credits him for a number of stage gyrations he perfected throughout the 90s.
Michelle in 1987 with puppy Kije and Franny the cat
Kije in 1991 with Salem’s dog Bear on Franklin Street
Kije was joined later in ’87 by Franny and Zooey – the names most picked by literate pissed-off teenagers – and while Franny peed on everything in sight, Zooey became the Fred Rogers of the animal kingdom. Michelle also got a cat she called “Lovecat” after the Cure song, an animal so bereft of personality that it hid under her bed for months at a pass, only to emerge in time to scratch somebody and draw blood.
My own present, given to me by my mom for my birthday, was Sergei the Ferret, a fuzzy slinky of delight who is one of three animals written into the Chi Psi charter, and quite possibly lived the happiest, longest, fullest life of any animal in the otter and mink family.
Sergei sleeps, 1993
In 1987, we also had four mice that Lovecat ate, and two doves that went bald by flying into the top of their cage every 30 seconds. We also had a German Shepherd named Amber that was so stupid we had to let her loose on a farm.
Lovecat’s acid veins didn’t last long, nor did Franny. But Sergei the ferret lived to be almost nine, unheard-of for his species. He died quietly in 1995, having written some of my favorite columns.
Kije died a few days after 9/11, fourteen years of loyal service under his collar – in Sean’s words, he slipped away while so much sadness was in the world, always full of grace, as if to not create any fuss.
And now Zooey, who was born when I was 19, is the last of the class of ’87 to go. There are many times in your life when you are reminded of your adulthood: leaving college, marrying, visiting old haunts that whisper of your youth. But the unspoken milestone is the day when the last pet from your adolescence is gone, and when that unceasing face of forgiveness, the one that saw you through your rants, your awful relationships, your teenage whirlwind, is no longer there to add continuity. The Class of ’87 was that for us, and this blog goes out to all of them, even the mice.