In 2000, I was 11. We’d just moved back to Brisbane from Cambridge, UK, and I had failed to get my Hogwarts letter. I can’t say Year 6 was great. It was my fifth primary school across three countries. I was a busty nerd with an English accent; I spent a lot of time in the library. I did have a couple of friends. One, whom I doted on, gave me two things to remember her by: a pair of old black sneakers (which I wore, worn and repainted and worn again, until Mum binned them) and a kitten.
Late in 2000 that friend’s moggy found herself in the family way. These are the little dudes that emerged: four boys (I think), and two girls. Mum let me choose one. I met them when they were three weeks old, eyes barely opened. There was a little grey girl with apricot patches and a tinier tortoiseshell. I’m a pretty indecisive person. I deliberated at length. I tried to talk my parents into letting me have both — it seemed cruel, anyway, to separate them. In the end, though, I think I pitied the tortoiseshell runt. I named her after the short-lived slayer-with-the-dreadful-accent who fought alongside Buffy in season two: Kendra.
Kendra was a difficult kitten. She drove my mother mad by shitting exclusively behind the TV, all over the cords. She climbed the blinds. She licked powerpoints. It seemed she had the deathwish of her namesake. But she had an enormous head on an impossibly-tiny body (see Exhibit B, above); she won us over pretty quickly.
Kendra had a taste for adventure early in life, but time made her a homebody. We had to chickenwire the fences in her first year to prevent her running out onto the busy road in Hamilton. I remember her darting up the jacaranda out the front, only to come face to face with a pair of crows, who just laughed at her. I had to pry her claws off the bark; she had just frozen there.
When I was 13 and Kendra was two — the first year of high school — we moved into a house my parents designed and built in the true suburbs. (It features a park built on the grounds of a demolished abattoir/tannery. Lovely!) My parents have a wonderful and beloved native garden. Kendra’s favourite spots were under the frangipani, on a warm paver hidden in the palms out the front, and close — but not too close — to the pool. Inside, she preferred the diamond-shaped motif at the centre of the foyer tiles, her old pink chair, and wherever Mum is.
Around 2008, Kendra struck up a rare friendship with a very handsome Cornish rex from across the road. (He was intelligent enough to answer my question — “Where do you come from?!” — and lead me to his front door.) His name was Romeo. (I’m serious. It suited him, too.) He was charming enough that my parents didn’t mind him dropping by, strolling right into the house, to hang out. (It’s unfortunate I can’t find his photos — he looked like Hipster Simba.) He was an adventurous tom; it wasn’t long before we heard he’d met a car on the adjoining road.
I remember taking a couple of photos of Romeo with Kendra around to his family. Grandma and about four young children answered the door; Grandma eyed shaved-headed me with suspicion and gave me a talking down for mentioning that the cat had died in front of the children. “He has gone on holiday.” She handed the photos to the youngest of the children, who wandered outside and dropped them in a puddle. They shut the door in my face.
The remainder of the neighbourhood’s tomcats were less friendly. Kendra stopped going outside, except for essential garden visits, a while after that.
Kendra seemed determined to get past her runty beginnings. No matter how strict the diet, Kendra continued in her quest to become the roly-poliest of cats. Belly-rubs were pretty much currency in the Kendra Frost household. I wish I could find the photo of her sitting at the set dining table, evidently awaiting dinner with the rest of us [edit: found it!]. Her favourite foods were: anything. She even ate vegetables on occasion.
Kendra was extremely affectionate. She was the apple of Dad’s eye and seemed to have a knack for knowing when Mum was unwell. Given her bad knees and kidney and stomach troubles, she was a good contender for best tempered in a family of chronic pains. (Though we did have to whip out the Kitty Valium to get her into the bath.) She won over (most of) my partners as the years wore on. She was pretty good at giving (or denying) the tick of approval. If she liked you, she’d snuggle in behind your knees when you slept.
I saw her three days before she died, and she was very happy to see me. I scooped her up and carted her around the house for a longer-than-usual while. She had a sort of pleasant vastness. (She made a great pillow.) We had started to worry she might be running out of time — she’d been making a lot of trips to the vet — but it was an abstract idea. Who knows what “soon” means?
My parents found Kendra on the tiles close to their bedroom door. She died during the three hours they were at Cloud Atlas. Mum was bewildered — just that day she had washed all of the kitty blankets at once. They buried her with one of them — one of my baby blankets — in the patch of garden where I’d planted sporadically successful rosebushes years before. I’d had an overwhelmingly good day; my parents decided to wait until the next day to tell me. Kendra and I had been friends for 13 years. I guess I would’ve liked to have seen the body. But I appreciated my parents’ gesture, and it couldn’t be helped.
This weekend we planted daffodil bulbs over Kendra’s grave. I spend a fair amount of time in cemeteries, but I don’t typically know anyone in them. Even as an adult it’s hard to get your head around the idea that your friend is under the ground.
Now, I know you few readers are good folks who understand it’s only a token gesture to give a measly 1000 words to a cat you spent half your life-to-date with. (I once had a boss belittle me repeatedly for grieving the death of a pet rat.) But it’s funny — we humans, or most of us, spend our lives trying to do stuff that might make our lives memorable. Domesticated or not, animals don’t have that goal and most don’t get that chance. Kendra wasn’t the first cat in space and nothing about her was meme-able. She doesn’t have a tombstone. She wasn’t even registered with the council. But my parents’ house seems horribly empty now. And we love her a lot. So here we are.
1 Sept. 2000 – 11 Mar. 2013
Died at Brisbane