In the summer of 1999, I was working at a call center. Call center jobs involve six weeks of training, so you spend a lot of time with your new hire class. One rather muscular guy surprised us a few weeks in by announcing that he’d gotten a kitten. He knew I had a cat too, so he talked to me about his new friend, then invited me over to meet him.
The kitten was tiny and rambunctiously loving, constantly all over you and in your face with affection. He was pale, nearly all fawn and white, but there were shadows in his fur that indicated he would come into a vaguely Siamese coloring down the line. The guy was calling him Claw, which I supposed was his attempt to render kitten ownership a more masculine pursuit. (I realize in telling this story that I don’t recall the guy’s name at all.)
A few weeks later, we’d gotten out of our training class and moved onto our separate work schedules, so I didn’t see many of my classmates regularly. But one day, this guy asked to see me. He said it was important.
“I hurt the kitten,” he said, his face, voice, and carriage betraying the difficulty of making this confession, the deep shame he felt. He explained that getting a kitten hadn’t really been his idea–his therapist thought having a pet might help with his “rage issues,” but the kitten was just too affectionate, too needy, always bothering him, and he had just wanted to be left alone…but you can’t communicate that to a sweet kitten…so he’d gotten angry and lashed out.
He was horrified by what he’d done, and he’d rushed the little guy to the vet, where thankfully the damage to his paw wasn’t catastrophic…but he knew he had to give the kitten up. He asked me to help him by taking Claw. Of course I said yes, and we made a plan for my next day off from work.
Because Claw is an undignified cat name by my standards, I had to choose a new name for him. With a day or two to think about it, I wanted to do right by the little guy. My kitty, Chaos, had a Greek name, so I decided right then that cats get Greek names in my household. I recalled that in the Sandman series, all the Endless have Greek names. I pulled out the books, dug through, and settled on Olethros. That was the Greek name for Destruction, the family outcast. I thought Claw’s coming to me for refuge from his first home fit that, and also, Destruction was a slight homage to his overly masculine original name.
I brought Olethros home, and the next few days were positively terrifying. I wondered if I had rescued him from one dangerous home only to deliver him to certain death, because Chaos seemed intent on murdering him. Little Olethros walked innocently up to Chaos to say hello, and Chaos cocked his head, regarded the interloper, and attacked. It was full-on Garfield-Nermal loathing, if Garfield were young, hale, and capable of ripping Nermal in half. I’d picked up Olethros at the start of my weekend, so I was able to sit with them for those crucial first days. I knew I couldn’t intervene, because this is the alpha cat struggle, and Chaos (the only child for his first year) needed to win, but more than that, he needed me not to take the newcomer’s side. So I waited, and three days after they met, Chaos stopped trying to kill his new little brother, instead settling down to wash his face for him.
We got to know our new little guy, and it became clear his name didn’t quite fit–he was just too sweet. So I started calling him Leth-y for short, which to keep with the Greek theme, I spelled Lethe.
Lethe, it turned out, was a Ragdoll. I’d never heard of them before, but I learned about the breed after he was identified. They’re known for being sweet, devoted, affectionate, soft and beautiful little ones who want nothing more than to be held and petted. That was always true of Lethe. He used to sleep in the crook of my arm with his little head on my shoulder. I could pick him up and know he’d stay and let me hold him. He never stopped purring, it seemed, from the moment he noticed you looking his direction. He was purring ten minutes before he died.
We had 15 beautiful years together, and he was the light of my life. He loved bright shiny objects, fresh flowers, and playing fetch. He used to hide his toys along a narrow ledge, end to end, a tiny little OCD hoarder. In his last year, his joints started to pain him, and I hand fed him glucosamine treats every evening and cleaned up his puddles of pee where he missed the box nearly every time, because his poor sweet legs no longer bent quite right. His big brother never got over the compulsion to occasionally climb on him and chew at the back of his neck, and Lethe bore it with patience and dignity. His newest brother never learned to love him and would randomly walk past and hiss, but Lethe never responded, just looked over at me like, What’s with this guy?
He was the sweetest cat who ever lived. I was so lucky to know him.