Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Charlie, the Super Star Chelsea Girl

I call this blog New York Lost and Found because I love finding old things- stories, places, objects- especially when they're related to NYC. On Sunday, I lost my cat, Charlie, who I brought home back in February of 1994 after experiencing my first string of deaths. Don't deaths all come in a bunch? That February, mine did: my father figure of aeons had his neck broken in a car accident, my kitty Arthur Rimbaud slipped out of my fire escape window never to return, and my beloved Granddad died. His name was Chuck, but when he was little people called him Charlie. So when I went to the ASPCA and found the black domestic shorthair Siamese mix who wrapped herself around my neck when I took her out of the cage, I took her home and named her Charlie. I was 22 years old, and despite the fact that I'd been in my first job in publishing for two years, I was still an unmoored 20-something, and found life with Charlie not exactly grounding; rather, she was a great companion who greeted me after long nights out with friends, and who made me get out of bed at a decent hour. She slept by my head, and flicked my face with her tail, for years.

Writing the story of Charlie would sidetrack me into writing a memoir of being in my 20s in NYC- not a bad idea, actually, but ever since I became a mother my memory is terrible, and I'm too tired to tackle it in the right way, not the James Frey way. The one thing I'll say is that she was originally a He. When I found "him" at the ASPCA, the employee said, "Oh, he's such a Romeo." For a few years, my roommates and I took that literally, until she was back at a vet and officially became a She. I went back to look at the adoption card, and there it was: female Siamese mix. As shocking as it was- we'd always thought she was a particularly feminine Chelsea Boy- she took to her new gender with an ease that I can only wish for others going through the difficult process.

When I had Jamie in 2002, I thought I'd had a juicy sick baby who got one cold after another; turns out he was allergic to Miss Charlie. The pediatrician had assumed that he was the typical nursery school Kid Who Caught Everything petri-dish. After a tearful conversation whereby the allergist told us that we could keep her, but we'd have to give Jamie steroids twice a day indefinitely, my brother took her in and gave her a beautiful life in her last few years. You can read that full story [here], on the New York Times' Motherlode blog (Charlie was so classy she found her way into the Times). She was like a salmon swimming home; my brother lives in the old apartment that I brought her home to so many years ago, and once again she got to prance up and down the spiral staircase and sit on the bed in the sunny upstairs bedroom that had been mine (and hers) for so long.

Like me, Charlie had a long string of roommates over the years. Many loved her dearly, and the ones who I'm still in touch with have left lovely condolences on Facebook, including this one from one of her nearest and dearest, Amy Weaver, who now lives in San Francisco with her family: "I loved that cat so much for the two years I lived with you and will never forget her--the way she took a poop everytime one of us was in the bathtub, the way she'd join me downstairs for my 2nd cup of coffee (not first). I can only hope my black cat Bugsy has as long and rich of a cat life."

Finding Charlie on Sunday was very difficult. She had just died. She'd become a shell of herself, but it was still her, and it's honestly too sad for me to continue writing this part of the story. She was showing signs of late-stage kidney failure, and the plan was to have a vet make a house call at 6 p.m. to end her misery. Thankfully, that wasn't necessary, and I didn't have to go through that. I'm having her cremated and will put her under the ornamental cherry tree in my mom's backyard that overlooks Lake Kinderhook. She'll get to rest next to our other lost family members: Edna, the part Chihuahua, part Terrier Mix who I brought home in Santa Fe when I was 12 years old, running along side me as I rode my brown Huffy bicycle (and who died at 22 or something crazy like that), and Alley and Tulouse, my brother's longtime kitties. Rest in peace, sweet Charlie!


  1. What a sweet post, and I laughed and cried a little when I saw you'd referenced my Facebook comment. I have many memories of Charlie, too many to list. Remember how she'd bat at you as you came up the stairs (hidden behind coats), and the way she covered up her food with saran wrap? She was such a great cat, and I remember she was a big comfort to me when I was really sick for a few weeks with what turned out to be whooping cough. I'd have these terrible coughing fits and she would come and lie on my chest and it actually helped. I know you miss her, but I'm glad she got to live out her life there, it was always her apartment, that rabbit warren of a Chelsea pad.

  2. I remember spending a night in your apartment and waking up with Charlie wrapped around my head, flicking me with her long tail. What a sweetheart. I also remember, when you were young and poor, your splurging on Fancy Feast. You were a great cat mom, Rache.