Before there was Wednesday and Berlioz, there was Gandalf.
It was early 2003. I had just moved into a small apartment, alone. I really wanted a cat to share my new space with. I grew up with cats my whole life, and as an adult on my own, I decided now was the time to have a cat that was all my own.
I had a few guidelines for the cat I was planning to adopt:
- Must be from a shelter. This one was easy, being there are so many shelter kitties looking for a home.
- Must not be a kitten. This was also easy – there are way more adoptable adult cats out there since most people want kittens. I, on the other hand, did not want to come home everyday to a destroyed house, so I was hoping for a feline that was a bit more mature, preferably 1-3 years old.
- Must be male. This was getting a bit more specific, but pretty easy too, however it eliminated half of all the cats out there.
- Must be gray. Ok this one was going to be challenging. But I was not going to budge. I wanted a male, gray cat, so I could name him Gandalf the Gray. Yes, I was very into Lord of the Rings. No, I’m not embarrassed. Yes I also have a LOTR tattoo. I’m still not embarrassed. (ok,maybe a little).
So with my criteria in mind, I began my search. I found a ton of “almosts” – females that were gray, kittens that were gray, males that were 1-3 but not gray. And then, one day, I found him.
This was the photo where I first saw him. Yes, I downloaded it. Yes, I’ve saved it for 17 years. It’s small, grainy, and has another cat in it. But when I saw it, I knew. THIS was my Gandalf.
He was in a foster home at the time, so I drove to someone’s house to pick him up. He was 6 months old, so not quite a kitten anymore, but slightly younger than what I was looking for. I arrived at the house, and knocked at the door. A man answered, and a gray cat was there to greet me. He seemed super friendly and almost happy to see me. “This is definitely meant to be!” I thought.
I had brought my own carrier, and bent down to put the gray kitty who greeted me in it. A woman in the other room said, “oh, that’s not him. This is him.” Surprised, but not swayed, I walked over to another carrier with a smaller, scared, gray kitty inside.
“Open your carrier,” the woman said. She and the man then proceeded to turn my carrier so the door was open and faced up, and literally had to dump the kitty in from the other carrier, as he gripped the sides for dear life. This cat clearly did not want to go home with me.
It was too late, I had already made my choice, so I closed the carrier door, closed their front door, and opened my car door and placed Gandalf on the passenger seat, with the carrier door facing me, so we could get to know each other as I drove him to his new home.
I talked to him. I sang to him. I tried to put my hand into the door and pet him. He remained frozen, in the back of the carrier, staring at me, with dark beady eyes. He made no sound for the entire ride home.
I hoped that it would change when I arrived home and opened the carrier. I set it down, opened the door and….
nothing. He remained in the carrier, as far back and he could squish himself, and wanted no part of me and his new home. I tried food. I tried treats. I tried toys. Nothing helped. After a few hours of this, it was getting late, so I put out a bowl of food and water, set up the litter, and sadly, went to bed.
When I woke up the next morning, I jumped out of bed and hurried out to find Gandalf. The carrier was still in the middle of the floor, with the door opened, but Gandalf was no longer in it! This was good – he finally came out. He also used the litter box! All good signs. I called him. I began looking for him. Now this was a really small one bedroom apartment, however I could not find him anywhere. I began to panic. Did he somehow get out? I continued to search, frantically, and then finally I saw him. He was under the sofa, all the way up against the wall. He was silent, and again staring at me with beady eyes. I had to go to work so I had to leave him there, and hope for the best.
When I got home, he clearly had eaten and used the box again, but I still didn’t see him. I checked under the sofa, and there he was, in the same spot where I last saw him. He didn’t come out at any point that evening while I was awake, however he again appeared to have emerged while I was sleeping, only to return to his safe spot under the sofa when I awoke.
This went on for two weeks.
I was sad. There was no way I was going to return him – I could never bring myself to do that – but this was not the Gandalf I was hoping for. He didn’t even like me or want anything to do with me. I never had a cat like this growing up. I decided I would get a second cat, one that liked me.
That Sunday morning, my boyfriend at the time and I were hanging out, and again trying to get Gandalf to come out. With treats in hand, we went to the sofa, and peered under at him, calling him to come, like we’d been doing.
He came out from hiding. And never went back.
For the next 13 years, Gandalf was my soul kitty. We laughed (sometimes at his expense).
Gandalf was with me through 5 relationships, 3 moves, and 2 jobs. No matter what, he was waiting for me when I came home, meowing at the door, peering at me out the window. He jumped on my lap when I was sad. He was goofy, smart, soft, shy, surly, picky, loving, cuddly, and charming. But above everything else, Gandalf had one trait that set him apart from most other kitties – Gandalf had fangs.
He never bit, but man, if he did, he’d definitely have hurt someone. He looked like a little vampire. I loved everything about him. There was no kitty quite like Gandalf. He was purrfect.
Gandalf died on March 25th, 2016, at home. He had been sick for almost three months prior to that. I took him to the vet many times. They tried surgery. It seemed to work at first. They tried meds. They seemed to work at first. But he was slowly eating less and less. He was slowly moving around less and less. He began hiding. He began having coughing fits. But the worst part to me, was that he began to look sad.
I couldn’t help him. I tried. I still feel today (over three years later) like I didn’t try hard enough. That there was something I should have done differently or something else I could have done that I didn’t.
The day Gandalf died was the worst day of my life, and I will never forget it.
However, I have been able to realize that although there will never be another Gandalf, there can be another cat who I can love. Who stole my heart at our first meeting. Who’s goofy, funny, loud, and not at all shy. Who follows me around the house no matter what I do. Who loves me with his whole heart, like I love him.
Although the hurt never goes away, love eventually starts to outweigh that hurt, and that, my friends, is a truly wonderful thing.