I adopted Jesse Custer Skirvin and his sister Tulip O'Hare on 20 Jun 2005. He chose me when I visited the shelter, ignoring the attacks of his fellow cats in order to sit on my lap in the communal room; this was new to me, and utterly compelling. When I brought them home and let the pair out of their carriers, he and Tulip explored the house together until they found my recliner; they then jumped in and started cleaning each other immediately. And that set the stage for the next eleven years.
Jesse was a black long-haired house cat, average size and weight, with a kinked tail, a loud and easily-provoked purr, and a chirpy little voice that he used regularly. He was even-tempered, and loved people - he would generally end up on the lap of every visitor to the house, and was known to climb on the shoulders of our house cleaners. He liked staring at the outside, but had no interest in escaping; that's not where the people were! He was not horribly adventurous or warlike but managed to remain Alpha for most of his life, and trusted me utterly and completely. He was omnipresent, following me everywhere and sitting next to me if my lap was for some reason unavailable; he would follow me to the kitchen or the bathroom, he would sit with me through a whole game of Civilization, he would talk to me in the shower, he would be at my feet when I went to sleep and still there when I woke in the morning. Jesse was by no means my first cat, but he was the first cat that was truly and completely mine, and I was his. We were kitty-human soul mates.
In return, I dedicated as much of my life to Jesse as I reasonably could. I left pedestals near any place that I might sit, so that he would be comfortably off the floor. I learned that I could call him and he would come, and so I did so regularly; he figured out his own cries that would call me. I was by far his favorite toy, and while he otherwise never hurt a human, he felt no compunctions towards scratching and biting me in mock battles. I gave him my attention, my time, and my love, and yet I only gave a fraction of what I was given.
The greatest time of Jesse's life was just when I left Champaign to live in Mountain View. I flew with him back to California a couple of weeks before my then-wife was able to join me with Tulip; and so for those couple of weeks it was just the two of us. He never left my lap or my side during that time; he purred and rubbed against me and, most interestingly, refused to fight with me for any reason; claws or teeth would have been an insult against Paradise. It was only a couple of weeks, but for the duration he was in Kitty Heaven, standing next to his master and nobody else. We both loved every minute of it.
I may not know for sure how old Jesse was when he died, but it was somewhere in the range of 16 or so - old, but not ancient. I know that he slowed down over the last couple of years, as old age and arthritis overtook him. But he never stopped loving me or trusting me, and even as Tulip took over as Alpha, he held firm to his control of my bed and my lap. He tolerated my son, for which I am eternally grateful. And even in his final days, he was always there when I went to sleep and when I woke up in the morning. And in return, Rebecca and I were there for him when he went to sleep as well.
Now, when I look around the house, I expect to see him nearby, or perhaps already on my lap like a ninja kitty. I listen to hear his "I'm lonely!" roar, or his "hmmph" of air let out as he jumped to the floor, or his whine asking for his (mostly-full) food dish to be refilled. In the evenings and mornings I expect to wake up to his sneezes, or the rustling of him climbing under the covers to lie next to me, or the feeling of claws lightly poking my beard, begging for attention. And when none of that comes, my heart breaks again. I want to give him my love, and he is not there to take it.
Jesse, it was an honor to take care of you for these years, and I will never forget you. You will not be my final cat, but you always be the one against which other cats will be judged. I will tell your story to those that ask, and your memory will not be forgotten. And when I see you again, in the place where no shadows fall, I promise you my lap and my love.
Ave atque vale, my beast.