I read a draft of David’s blog post about Artemis and told him that he had not gotten anywhere close to capturing the quality of their connection. I later realized that I had a different perspective on their relationship, and what I wasn’t seeing was an outsider’s perspective. I asked David if I could write a guest post and he agreed. So here goes.
When my cat, Viktor Chernomyrdin, and I landed at PHL to meet up with David (who had moved there a few months prior to start rabbinical school), he met us with the keys to our new house. We stopped by his apartment to pick up his cats, Artemis and Diana, and we all moved into our first home together. Thus began my life with the deities (my collective term for Artemis and Diana).
Having lived with David and Artemis for almost 11 years, I still struggle to find words to describe the nature of their relationship. In some ways, they were like an old married couple: reflecting each other’s moods, taking comfort in their routine and knowing exactly how to press each other’s buttons—which they did with great regularity.
David and Artemis would pick up each other’s moods. When David was anxious, Artemis became anxious. When one of them was grumpy, the other one became grumpy. This was a particular issue because Artemis used to get very grumpy when she was sick. Unfortunately for all 3 of us, Artemis had a lot of experience with illness. Thus when Artemis was sick, I got to deal with both a grumpy David and a sick Artemis.
As one might imagine, Artemis developed a deep loathing of the vet. She loved the part where she got to sit on David’s lap and look out the window on the car ride to and from the vet’s office. As soon as we entered the vet’s building, she would start hissing. She hated that place so much that she would hiss at inanimate objects, just in case we forgot how angry she was to be there. But, as soon as we got back into the car, she would revert to her normal happy self and enjoy the ride home.
At some point our vet realized that Artemis was slightly less agitated if David held her while her blood was being drawn. This stopped working when David started getting really anxious about Artemis’ health, which, in turn, made Artemis anxious. Once we got to the point where I had to calm David so he could calm Artemis our vet decided that David had become more of a hindrance than a help.
Artemis often treated David like an oversized kitten. She loved to groom him to make sure that he was always clean and tidy. Artemis groomed me on occasion, but gave up grooming my hair once she realized that I was a VERY long-haired cat and that was not within her job description.
Artemis had no compunction about disciplining David when he did something wrong (using her own definition, of course). Artemis indicated her displeasure to most people with a very gentle bite which clearly conveyed “thank you very much, but that is all for now.” With David, she used a wide range of bites, depending on her degree of displeasure with his behavior. She never did that with anyone else. Not me, not the other cats, no one but David.
Artemis hated it when David traveled and responded by defiantly acting out. She would get on the table (something she knew was forbidden) and look me straight in the eye, daring me to remove her. When David returned she would snub him. She would occasionally have to get on his lap or groom him, but as soon as she was done, the snubbing resumed.
When we both went away we would get a cat sitter because the conventional wisdom is that cats prefer to stay in their home territory and dogs prefer a kennel. Although we were always happy to come home to our cats, we did so with a bit of dread. We knew that Artemis would act out for the next few days, just in case we thought she was ok with the idea of us leaving home.
At some point we tried boarding Artemis and Diana at the Arnold Creek Cat Retreat. This turned out to be a brilliant move on our part. Artemis enjoyed her vacations so much that she ceased her post-travel retaliatory behavior. When we arrived at the cattery, Artemis would offer some perfunctory hisses before slipping into her routine. She would walk around the cattery informing all of the other cats that she was in charge, then she would go sit under the feather toy and wait patiently for Shirley to play with her. There were some more perfunctory, guilt inducing, hisses when we left. Apparently, once we were out of sight she would settle in and enjoy herself.
For reasons beyond our ken, all three of our cats developed lymphoma. When we moved back to Portland in 2004, Artemis was just becoming symptomatic and we were concerned that she might not even make it through the move. As soon as we got somewhat settled, we went to the Cat Hospital of Portland and met Dr. Elizabeth Colleran—Artemis’ arch nemesis. Artemis never did figure out why we were so enamored with her and we had to resort to euphemisms when she learned the words “vet” and “Dr. Colleran.”
I give Dr. Colleran most of the credit for getting Artemis’ lymphoma into remission not once, but twice. I also know that Artemis fought her disease with everything she had because she did not want to leave her David.
It is no exaggeration to say that Artemis was in charge of our household. She supervised everything we did: our morning showers, our meals, working, reading, everything. Since there were two of us she was sometimes forced to split her attention, but she never slacked on her responsibilities.
Artemis did not always come to the door to see us out, but she was always in the window meowing when we got home. If I got home before David she would hang out with me, while always keeping an ear out for David’s return. Every time we walked in the door, she would remind us of the protocol. Specifically, that she was to be picked up and properly greeted before we did anything else. She always voiced her disapproval if we wanted (or needed) to put things down before picking her up. That was just not how it was done.
Artemis aged very quickly at the end, and she only started really looking like the old lady she was in the last 3 months of her life. But even though she was feeling really crappy all that time, she did not forgo any of her responsibilities to David or the household. Recognizing that time was short, David fretted over whether he would be able to let her go if it came to that. But Artemis was true to the end. She was herself until her final seizure, after which it was unquestionably time to say goodbye.
I have had 5 cats who were with me until they died. But Artemis’ death has been the hardest to bear. There is nowhere I can go or anything I can do at home without being acutely aware of her absence. When I sit on the couch with my laptop, I still contort my body so I can leave my lap available for her (she always felt that laptops were a waste of a good lap, even if she was happily settled on someone else’s lap). I still automatically check for her water bowl. Most cats hate drinking water, but not Artemis. She loved drinking.
Artemis had a very odd fetish, but I suppose everyone is entitled to at least one. Artemis loved to sit on my dirty bras, the stinkier, the better. Artemis herself had an amazing smell. It was warm and comforting in a way that I imagine mothers smell to their babies.
Mornings are the time I miss her most. Mornings were the one time of day when I had Artemis all to myself. I always found it comforting to leave David, barely awake, cuddled with his most beloved Artemis.
I often say that I come second to Artemis in David’s world. He has always denied it, but I still think there is some truth there. There was something about their love for each other that went deeper than I could fathom. I am confident that David’s love for me is true and deep. I also believe that there was something ineffable between Artemis and David. A quality of love that he and I will never share.