Tonight my heart is heavy. At 12:40 pm this afternoon, we said our final goodbyes to Scratchy the Tuxedo Cat, who we were privileged to have as a fur baby for almost 15 years, and boy, was he was loved hard. He led a good life right to the very end.
He was a wanderer, a free spirit, an escape artist, a skilled stalker, and a seasoned sofa-lounger. Scratchy made full use of his nine lives (plus a few extra), having endured such anomolies as losing a top front fang, having a chunk of his ear ripped off in a cat fight, and surviving a bullet shot to the head by an angry, senile man who at one time was our distant neighbor.
Throughout his life Scratchy was bestowed honors such as being named the ‘show mascot’ for a particularly difficult musical I was performing in (Side by Side by Sondheim with Brent Wilson & Rose Higgins at Raleigh Little Theatre), and being loved by people who swore they weren’t “cat people.” Scratchy was the cat legends are made of.
We adopted Scratchy in 2004 and allowed our kids, Jack (then 4), and Kate (then 2), name him. Charlie wasn’t born yet. I’d have liked to been able to answer “yes” for every time we were asked if his name was derived from “The Itchy and Scratchy Show,” a cartoon within the cartoon “The Simpsons.” But it was more simple than that. The name “Scratchy” was Jack and Kate’s creation, due to his sharp little claws, and moreover, it was the name Matt & I quickly agreed to after turning down an assortment of household gadget names that were Jack and Kate’s initial recommendations, their favored one being the name “Shovel.”
A true country cat who spent his first 7 years of life among an assortment of strays and inbred feral cats we somehow took in, it was there where he honed his fighting, stalking, playing, and hunting skills from our older cat, Otto Kringelein. But Scratchy was equally loving, being an attentive and helpful young feline when our elderly female cross-eyed cat Phoebe gave birth to her final litter. Scratchy passionately loved his humans scratching him behind the ears or along his jawline, and if you were among one of the elite in his life, he’d take great care to lift his tail and present his butthole to your face as you lay in bed.
If you had the honor of knowing Scratchy at all, you quickly learned the infinitude of his badassery. It was well-known around these parts that he ran the neighborhood. Dogs – even large ones – cowered in his presence, and cars stopped for him – not the other way around – even on the busy cut-through street where we now live. He relished the celebrity status and street cred he earned across two neighborhoods and throughout the gutter systems under the county of Wake.
Scratchy certainly lived up to his name. In his younger years he had a surgery that required the vet to shave a lot of his fur off. She told us: “You can tell this one’s a bad ass.”
“How so?” we asked.
“Because,” she said, “all of his battle scars are on his chest area, meaning he never backs down from a fight, meaning he sticks it out to the end, and he probably always wins. When cats run away from fights, their scars are on their back end and hind legs.”
Aside from his valuable street cred, Scratchy was extremely intelligent. There was a kind of human inscrutability to his discerning eyes and overall demeanor. For the first half of his life, Scratchy asserted his stately swagger into our hearts and lives, headbutting the other animals, furniture, and any fingers within his reach, sitting atop boxes of all sizes (though his preference was freshly delivered, hot Papa John’s pizza boxes, and once he sat, you weren’t getting any pizza.) I often found him late at night atop the kitchen counter, licking sticks of unguarded butter left accidentally uncovered. Once I walked in on the tail end of him devouring an entire McDonald’s bacon, egg & cheese biscuit. And there was a certain time of night where he’d repeatedly try to mate with this one particular pillow, which always followed a four minute session of “making biscuits” on that pillow. We knew when the transition was about to shift because he would go from kneading and purring, eyes half-closed, to suddenly springing up with saucer eyes and a hardy “Pbrrrr-ow?” Matt & I would look at each other and say, “oh brother, here we go.” From there, you just had to wait it out.
A cat of strong opinions, Scratchy believed in the power of feng shui, balanced ch’i, and a military tidy eating nook. He took great care to disturb you into action if you weren’t moving fast enough to give him a fresh layer of cat food, or clean off the crumbs from earlier.
In fall, spring, and summer months, Scratchy relished living outside, basking in patches of dappled sun on the hot pavement, defecating with wild abandon, and al fresco dining at sunset. With an affinity for the upper halves of rodent, frog, or rabbit meat, he was ever thoughtful to drag the remains of lower body halves in through the dog door, heralding his gift-laden arrival with a bellowing, bass-like “mrrrrow,“ punctuated with a period rather than the usual question mark, a sound he reserved for these specific gifting occasions.
As the years passed, his velvety soft fur gave way to a more grizzled otter affect. My husband Matt was the main man in Scratchy’s life, though he also enjoyed his many play times with Jack and the laser pointer, and quality time in Kate’s room. Though Charlie & Scratchy has a loving relationship, Charlie was timid with fragile creatures and, sadly, only ever got to hold Scratchy for any length of time in the hours after he had passed. Charlie sobbed, and cherished that time, and didn’t want to let go, saying through tears, “I could just hold him all day.” That about ripped my heart out; it physically hurt.
In order to save money (and spare the unpleasantness that was shoehorning a cat into a cat-carrier in which he did not want to go, and a stressful trip to the vet, and hundreds of dollars later), Matt would occasionally need to perform makeshift surgery to lance a boil on Scratchy’s body, all while that cat hissed and scratched and bit for 3 seconds, only to end up purring, kneading, and snuggling up to my husband in the gross aftermath. It got to the point where Scratchy would come looking for Matt every time he had some type of minor injury or wound.
Matt and I have always made a game of bequeathing our pets with human personalities. We like to suppose our animals are humans at various settings, like, a bar (for example), and decipher what human stereotype they’d be. Scratchy was always the distinguished old Humphrey Bogart type, sitting alone, drinking his scotch straight up, and smoking a cigar in a no-smoking zone.
Scratchy had no furry friends but many human ones, and he soon got to know most of the people on our busy suburban street, visiting often and uninvited, squatting for days at a time at the neighbor’s house, and gatecrashing back yard barbecues of strangers.
Scratchy died from old age and surgical complications, but he died peacefully in Matt’s loving arms, with the assistance of an emergency veternarian on Labor Day. A confirmed bachelor, Scratchy leaves no direct descendants that we know of, but a distinct gap in the lives of my husband, our 3 kids, myself, our dog, and all his human friends who knew him well.
Rest easy, little Scratch. You earned it, fella.