His mother’s name was Bella. She was a scrappy, feral cat I rescued but never fully tamed. When I took her to the vet to get spayed, I learned she was already pregnant. My husband at the time, a blustery bully of a man who Bella couldn’t stand, decided she was carrying an all black kitten that was destined to become his. He would wait until Bella was sleepy, then lean in as close to her pregnant belly as she would let him get and whisper, “I know you’re in there. I’m going to call you Gollum.”
Bella had her litter in a basket in our bedroom closet. I was the only human she’d let anywhere near them in the beginning. There were three kittens- one Orange Tabby, one black and white, and one all black. My ex gloated for weeks that he had predicted Gollum’s existence, while I tried not to bond with the orange tabby that immediately cleaved to me. We could only keep one of them, and there was no question which one it would be. Like everything else in our marriage, his preferences took precedence over mine.
Gollum was a weird kitten. Somehow he managed to resemble his namesake in spirit and temperament, always scuttling along the baseboards of the room, magically appearing at your elbow when you had something (bacon! tuna! my preciousssss!) he decided was treasure. Gollum didn’t like loud noises or loud people and would hide in the closet he was born in whenever my ex’s band would practice in our basement. He wasn’t particularly cuddly, definitely not what you’d call a lap cat. I’m sure the volatile nature of my ex’s and my relationship didn’t help with Gollum’s overall nervous disposition either.
And then a year or so later, the marriage was finally and blessedly over. My abusive husband moved right into his new girlfriend’s house, and I spent a couple months begging him to come get the rest of his things so I could finally close the book on that chapter of my life. Then one Sunday morning, I was awakened by a police officer at my door. The ex had obviously concocted some story about me holding his few possessions (which I had all paid for anyway) hostage for some nefarious purpose, when the reality was I would have given him everything I owned at that point if only I never had to see him again.
To his credit, the cop figured the situation out pretty quickly and excused himself to wait in the street. My ex stomped through the house, raging but not actually packing his belongings. Naturally, he hadn’t thought to bring boxes or anything to put his stuff in. I finally started cramming his things in garbage bags and dumping them on the front porch. When I was done, I laid down on the bed and stared at the ceiling, willing him to disappear from my house, my life, my heart. How had it come to this? How could I have given so much to a man so unworthy?
There wasn’t anything left to say, but he had to get the last word in. He came and stood in the doorway of the bedroom and glared at me. At that exact moment, Gollum dared to venture out from the closet.
“And that’s another thing! Gollum is MY cat, and I’ll be coming back to get him,” he spat.
Gollum looked at me, looked at him, then jumped on the bed, climbed up on my chest, and very deliberately laid down. The ex stormed off. He took every single CD we owned and never came back for the cat. I’m 100% sure I got the better end of the deal.
I didn’t pick Gollum- I wanted his brother the orange tabby, remember? But Gollum picked me. In a moment when I desperately needed some kind of validation, it came in the form of a neurotic black cat. Eighteen years later, I’ve spent more time with Gollum in my adult life than any other living being. I’m writing this now, because I know a very hard decision is looming, and I won’t be able to write this, or anything, for a while after I make it.
Gollum was always a fat cat but started losing weight drastically last year, along with patches of fur. He needs medicine twice a day now, and though his hair stopped falling out temporarily after we started him on the meds, he’s losing big clumps again. The vet says he has a tumor in his belly. The options are palliative care (treating his symptoms), surgery, or kitty chemo. He doesn’t seem to be in pain, so there aren’t really any symptoms to treat other than hair loss. He’s a bad enough candidate for anesthesia that they hesitated to put him under for his teeth cleaning last time; I won’t put him through surgery or chemo at his age. Someday soon, I know Gollum will look at me and tell me that it’s time to let him go. He’s 20 years old. He’s had a good life. And I’ve had a better life, because of him.
So this is for you, Gollum, before you go. My preemptive tribute to the best crotchety, fussy, cranky, old, black cat there ever was. Thank you for choosing me.