Miles, my friend.
Miles was the first one I met when I came to look at my prospective US residence. Drenched in August sun, his eyes closed in feline pleasure, he welcomed me to the neighborhood with a purr and a stretch. I liked him immediately.
Thirteen years ago, my roommate’s neighbors in Santa Barbara asked him if he’d like a kitten. “Sorry, I’m allergic, and not really a cat person anyway” he answered.
But they knew he’s a big softy and added “We found him in a dumpster, but our pitbull keeps trying to eat him.”
So Miles came to visit, just for a day or two while they looked for something else. But Miles had found his home, and moved with it to Nevada, then here to Oakland. He acquired two canine family members along the way, and welcomed them magnanimously. My roommate’s nieces would come over and immediately ask “Where’s Smiles?”
That name fit him too.
Roommates brought their own animals over the years, the last of which was a dinosaur of a dog who was entirely too interested in Miles, in his inestimable feline opinion. So Miles basically lived on the porch.
He enjoyed his outdoor life. He’d curl up on a sunny rock, stalk the block, and greet me with a squawk when I came up the walk. (Sorry that got a little out of hand.) His little blue food bowl sat just outside the door, with a water dish on the other side. Across was a scratch post which he’d use to graciously provide us the chance to rub his magnificent feline belly, where the fur was a bit nappy. At first I thought him a grungy little dude, but over time I noticed just how elegant he was.
Once it was clear the behemoth pup had moved on to other pastures, Miles made his way back inside. He’d kick the dogs off their bed and take possession right in the middle while they looked on morosely from the hardwood. I’d be at my desk and hear the tinkle of his collar as he’d rouse himself from sleeping on my old backpack in the closet. He’d emerge into the light, squint up with feline affection, stretch, and wander out to find the day. I hadn’t known he was in there.
My favorites were the late nights or early morning when we’d hang out on the porch together, watching the quiet neighborhood on the fringes of its quiet days. When I ate lunch in the front yard with the dogs, he’d cruise up and take a place on the warm stone walkway. Passing the dogs, he’d usually pause to give them a little sniff-kiss on the nose to let them know they still had his permission to abide here.
When I was otherwise alone on Christmas Eve, Miles was here. He nestled in my lap to watch a movie. He kept me company.
I’ve been using the past tense for Miles.
On my last trip I got a message from my roommate. Miles, after years of peaceful coexistence with everything on Earth, had gotten caught on the side of the house by raccoons. I still don’t understand what happened. Why now?
One day to the next, no warning, and he was gone. I hate the thought that his last moments were so full of pain, fear. I loved that cat.
In his text, my normally understated roommate could only say “I wasn’t a cat person. He made me one. I miss him.”
I miss him too.