This weekend we said goodbye to the Guster.
I first met Gus at a play structure in an apartment complex in Pleasanton, California, in June 2000. My friend James had adopted him.
He could fit in the palm of my hand. He must have been a month old. He was the cutest thing I had ever seen.
He lived with James through the summer but in Fall he and James moved in with me in Cloyne, the student co-op I was living in. James soon moved on but the Guster (known back then as Garfield), was my best friend to stay.
That moment when I met him — when I held him in the palm of my hand — I was 18. It was 17 and a half years ago.
At that moment, I had no idea that he would one day be there to pass the pipe to during in my stoner days in college. I got annoyed when he wouldn’t take it.
I had no idea that he would be there to cuddle with me on my bed in the middle of a shroom trip only to be RUDELY interrupted when I opened my eyes — to see that he had sixteen arms and a million eyes — and be thrown across the room. (Not my finest moment.)
I had no idea we would once live in a dome-shaped apartment building with my sister and he would one day take a flying leap out the window and into a tree.
I had no idea that he would be there — seventeen years later — when I would bring my son home from the hospital. I had no idea that he would be so completely uninterested in him that he would step on top of him to get to me.
In those early days, I used to come home and say hello to him. “Hello, Garfield.” He would answer, “Meow, meow, meow.” “How was your day, Garfield?” “Meow, meow,” the conversation would continue. He would tear around, getting as much exercise as the tiny shared room would allow. He was so young then.
Eventually I dubbed him my BFF — Best Feline Friend. My father renamed him Gus which I modified to be the Guster.
Gus has been more than a BFF. He has been my muse. I have created countless art projects devoted to him. I never would have begun Van Gogh My Pet, my first post-college business venture, if it hadn’t been for his inspiration. We created a few wonderful videos together, the best of which is absolutely Hanging with the Gus Man. Watch it, if you haven’t. Watch it, if you have. Watch it and remember him, the greatest cat actor we’ve ever known.
I remember the first time he peed outside the litter box was on a chair in my room in Cloyne. I was so mad. I remember many times since his peeing in odd places. It was always to communicate with me. Most recently, it was to let me know that it was time to say goodbye.
Watching my best friend succumb to old age started early. He developed arthritis six or seven years ago. We used to joke that he sounded like creaky wood when you pet him. Those low sounds of discomfort would eventually be phased out. Lately, he had lost all his fight.
The hardest part in this years-long heart-breaking process was realizing last week that when he was going up to our baby and letting him mangle him…it wasn’t because he loved Quinn like we had thought. It was because he was so very confused and just didn’t care enough to protest.
He’d lost his marbles, to borrow a rather inelegant phrase.
This explained why, once per hour, he’d walk in circles counter-clockwise, meowing loudly. This explained how he couldn’t sometimes find the litter box — if it had been recently cleaned, it might as well have not existed.
All of a sudden I noticed how his posture looked a lot like he was waiting for a bomb to drop. All of a sudden I saw that he was on edge all of every day, not knowing where he was or what was going on. All of a sudden there was no other choice.
Making the appointment, though, was impossible. When? Who? Why do we have to do this? Why can’t nature just take her course? Why don’t I have more patience to clean up his messes and bring him to the bathroom during the day?
But more than that, the question became… Where did my BFF go?
We started remembering. His spirit. His ferocity. The way he would demand dinner with such vehemence that his tail would stick straight up in the air and his fur would be on end. “MER-OOWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW” he would demand. “MER-OWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW!”
Once upon a time, he would grab ahold on the bottom of roommate Julia’s door and shake it violently to demand breakfast. Once upon a time, he could hunt — and kill — birds out of second-story windows. Once upon a time, he was young.
In November 2015, we went away for 15 days to Nicaragua. It was the longest trip we’d taken in years and we had a great time (though I missed our cats). I came home, buried my face in Guster’s fur and breathed deeply. Instantly, I was transported. Instantly, we were reconnected. I know his smell so well. I love the way he smelled. He didn’t smell good. It was an indescribable weird mix of sweet and salty. No one else would like it. No one else would have breathed so deeply. For me, this was the smell of hard-earned love. This was the smell of home.
He doesn’t smell that way any longer. Strangely, he’s taken on a smell reminiscent of a hospital. He smells somehow clinical. He smells somehow old.
The passage of time is cruel. It is a cruel fate to be a human and mourn a beloved animal. I have endless sympathy and empathy and respect for everyone who has ever cared for an elder, human or animal. It’s not easy. It was definitely not easy with an infant but it wouldn’t have been easy in any situation.
I hope not to remember how hopelessly challenging these last few months have been. I want to remember his spirit, his love, his companionship.
As hard as it has been, I would never trade these past couple years for the first fifteen. It has been truly a privilege to know you, my best feline friend, the Guster.