Monday, May 20, 2013

Morgan's Pendant: the cat who taught an abused youth how to love

Me and Morgan, when he was about eighteen and I was about thirty-eight.

The story of Morgan’s pendant is a love story. 

Morgan, named after the author, E.M. Forster, was the sweetest, gentlest, most affectionate and loving cat I’ve ever met. The thing he loved best in the world was hugging me, his paws around my neck, as he nosed my ear or bumped his black head against my cheek. There was none of the usual feline aloofness about him. Though he was a massive and fierce looking cat, he was a lover, not a fighter. There was no doubt about that.

Morgan was with me from the moment of his birth, when I was twenty, to the moment of his death when I was forty. We nursed each other through illness and infirmity and cuddled every day, from my student days to my teaching days, from my uber-fit days, to my deeply crippled days.
All that alone is enough to make this a love story. But to really understand the depth of my connection with Morgan, and how special he was to me, particularly in his old age, you have to go back even further, to the sad stories of the cats that were a part of my own sad childhood.
This is me as a baby, scratching a cat beneath his chin. Cats have always been drawn to me as I have been to them. (Nelf, the dog, was moved out of my house early so lived a long life.)
When I was a child, cats – and any pets or farm animals -- did not survive. As is common in abusive homes, the animals fared even worse than the children did. 
Me, at about seven, an exhausted, abused, latch-key kid, with Jasper, dressed in doll clothes and playing with my key. I think he lived maybe two years.
At best, cats were so badly neglected, they would simply disappear, probably the prey of wild animals. I lost my beloved Jasper that way, and Cullie, and that kitten I never even got to name… 
My wonderful and loving tom, Albi, was simply abandoned to fend for himself or die when, in our nomadic life, we moved from the country back to the city.
Other animals went so mad from abuse and the toxicity of our home, they had to be put down. There was an Irish Setter who bit children. Not until my entire arm was bandaged from a bad bite was something done about him. On the farm we briefly owned, there was the rooster who would attack children and beat them with his wings. He once bruised me all down one side of my body, from my shoulder to my ankle. There was the bunny who ate her own young. And there was the horse who would roll over on her riders, and frequently ran away. 
In running away, she had the right idea. 
Me, at about five, playing with Lelinka.
Lelinka ran away too. She is the first cat I remember well. She was never spayed and had litter after litter of kittens. She finally just ran away and I would sometimes spot her in the woods around the farm, healthy and, for all I could tell, happy.
But I missed her.
At worst, animals in my life would be violently killed. I am still haunted by the staring blue eyes of a husky puppy killed with a shotgun because it got into the chickens. I was five and sure I would be next. I was so scared, I got a fever. Then there was the cat who was pitchforked to death because it “got in the way” in the hay.
Me, at about eight, with a kitten. This was someone else's kitten so I can hope it lived a long and happy life.
As a lonely, abused child, I bonded with every cat we owned. I loved them, and, in their way, they loved me. And then I lost them. I never had an old or even middle-aged cat.
Morgan, in his regal middle age.
And then there was Morgan.
I left home as seventeen, supporting myself, living alone or with roommates, moving around to three cities in as many years, and landing back here on the west coast. I really didn’t know that other young people had it easier than I did. But I did feel pretty alone.
When I was twenty, the woman who would later become my fiancé, had a roommate who had a cat (named Sappho, naturally). When the cat was about six or seven months old, the roommate put her cat on a diet “because she was getting fat,” and, “because she really likes the diet food. She eats a lot of it.” 
My girlfriend and I had to explain to her that, no, the cat was not fat. She was pregnant. I began slipping Sappho rich foods which she so desperately needed. Then, as Sappho was getting close to her due date, the roommate took off on a camping trip. So, when Sappho went into labour, I was the one to take care of her.
She was meowing in pain and walking around and around, seeming confused by her situation. She would not be still until I sat with her. I got her settled in a softly lined box and, as she looked straight into my eyes, she delivered her first of four kittens.
Morgan, as a kitten, in a rare, lively mood, telling Apollo the dog who was boss.
It was a foregone conclusion that one of those kittens would be mine. Three were picture-perfect, plushy little things, two coloured and one black. And one was a scruffy, tufty, ugly black kitten with a too big nose and random white hairs sticking out at least an inch further than the rest of his fur.
I really thought I’d take one of the pretty kittens. I was still silly that way.
Then one day I was playing with the four of them. As I picked up each one, it would squeal and writhe, trying to get back on solid ground. 
All except the ugly one. 
I held him on his back in the palm of my hand and he just looked up at me, perfectly happy and at peace, and waved his little front paws a bit, as if to say hello. 
I'm about twenty-one here, with a not fully grown Morgan on my lap.
That was when I knew he was my cat. That was Morgan, who, by the way, grew up to be a huge and gorgeous cat with a regal nose and long, silky, brown-black fur.
Through the next twenty years, I took damned good care of that boy. Even when I was broke, he got the best possible food. He got regular check-ups and shots and, when he got one of his itchy little allergies, he got the remedy he needed. 
Morgan, on the left, at about six, with is new friend, Bobby, who was five years younger. Bobby is now eighteen!
Taking care of him was somehow healing for me. I felt like I was doing for him what I had not been able or allowed to do for Lelinka, for Cullie, for Jasper, for Albi, and for the others. I was doing for him what no-one had done for me.
I'm about twenty-six here. Morgan's the one hugging me. Bobby's the one trying to get away. This is indicative of their personalities.
He and I were together through a lot: all of my degrees, my first major heartbreak, my second major heartbreak, the terrible poverty, my emotional struggles with my past, my long fitness craze, the slow building of my academic career, the first few years of my crippled life, the onset of my own middle age, his old age… 

I could love him in a way that I could not permit myself to love a human.

Given my past, I was determined to be tough and independent and, for the most part, I did a pretty good job of it, or, at least, of fooling people that I was doing a good job of it. One of my tactics was to avoid even the whiff of sentimentality in my life. I think I probably deprived myself of a lot of joy that way.
Me at about thirty-one, cuddling with Morgan in the awful basement suite I had during the year I did my Masters degree in Toronto. Hell year, great cat.

But when Morgan was fifteen, it finally dawned on me that he was not going to live forever. I had a choice: waste the last of his life pretending I didn’t love him as much as I did, and not showing any sentimentality; or let my image be damned and be as ooey-gooey lovey-dovey for him as my heart desired. 
I chose the latter.
I made a promise to him then that I would do everything I could to keep him alive as long as he was still enjoying life. And I promised him that, when he stopped enjoying life, I would let him go.
I let myself have a little cry then, as I begged him to give me five more years. He did.
Morgan, about eighteen, being insistent about getting/giving a hug.
I let my heart melt and I didn’t care who knew about it.
When he was ancient and I was in pain, he and I were in pretty constant competition for the heating pads.
Then my back, damaged by childhood abuse, gave out and I became crippled. One of the first things I had to do was teach Morgan not to lie on my stomach (something my other cat, Bobby, didn’t care to do); it caused me too much pain to have his weight on me. He still wanted to be as close to me as possible, so he would lie beside me with his chin on my shoulder as I lay bed-ridden for hours and days and years on end.
Morgan and me in our rather wretched mutual infirmity. I gather he found this genuinely comfortable.
Eventually, he grew ill. He had kidney failure. I began giving him sub-cutaneous fluids every day. 
It wasn’t hard. Morgan was an easy cat to care for. When he heard me getting the fluid bag and needle ready, he would actually come to me and crawl into my lap and calmly let me put the thick needle into the scruff of his neck, leaving it there until he had a bulge of water beneath his skin that made him look like a camel. He would purr the whole time.

To him, needle time was cuddle time. (See the above video if you doubt me.) People who witnessed this would simply stare and gawp in disbelief, and say things like, “Morgan’s not really a cat, is he? He’s something else.”

During this time, he also went deaf, which led to some pretty funny habits. He could no longer judge the decibel level of his own voice. When he didn’t know where I was, he would begin “yelling” to attract my attention. When he could see me, he would happily talk to me without a single sound coming out of his mouth.

He also now loved to be vacuumed. See above for evidence.
It was in his old-age and infirmity, that I loved Morgan the most.  I knew every inch of his slowly shrinking body and knew how to hold him gently so he could still get his favourite hugs and cuddles. I had never loved anyone or anything as I loved him. 
I learned a lot about love from Morgan. I am convinced that I would not be able to love Beau as I do if it had not been for Morgan.
Finally, Morgan’s time came.
I could no longer get him to purr. He didn’t want to eat. And, worst sign of all, he didn’t want to cuddle. I only waited five days to put him down. Two vets told me he was dying. I was not going to let him suffer any more.
I had a vet do a house call and I held Morgan in my lap as his heart stopped beating. I don’t think I’ve ever cried so much in my life. I have a terrible lump in my throat just thinking about it.
The night before Morgan died, I dreamed that I was a child again and that I had a little pendant to remember him. But one of the girls who bullied me snatched it away from me and I was left with nothing.
Morgan's pendant, in onyx, gold, diamonds, and garnet.
I began designing a real pendant to remember Morgan. I didn’t want any cutesy, kitty cat jewelry. I wanted something that would look like a mere pendant but would be full of symbolism.
Queen Victoria and one of her daughters in mourning. Notice the black pendant at her throat.
Jet mourning jewelry.
Morgan was a black cat and I knew about black mourning jewelry so popular during the Victorian times (when Queen Victoria herself went into long, deep, and public mourning when her husband died). That the pendant must be black was an easy choice. 
Art Deco ring, in onyx, diamonds, yellow gold and platinum or white gold.
From there, I looked at some of my favourite black jewelry from the Art Deco period: onyx rings with small diamonds in their centres.
Working with a local jeweler, the design slowly evolved. In the end, I had an onyx oval, just slightly reminiscent of a cat’s eye, with a tiny centre diamond, in a mill grain setting. I wanted the diamond to be tiny and only noticeable when it caught the light; Morgan was not a flashy cat, but more a diamond in the rough. 
The pendant has a matching bale, the bit that supports the pendant on the chain, signifying that I had become a better person, a sort of diamond myself, in taking care of and supporting him.
A mourning locket, with a lock of the loved one's hair.
In Victorian times, it was a custom to keep a snip of one’s loved one’s hair in mourning jewelry, often in the back of it. I thought this a bit macabre, but liked the general idea. So I placed a secret little rusty red-brown garnet in the back of the pendant to match the colour Morgan had become in his old age. I wanted the garnet to be cabochon, smooth and unfacetted, soft against my skin as Morgan had been.
The back of Morgan's pendant, with a garnet to match the red-brown of his fur in his old age.
Finally, I had an inscription that I wanted on the pendant. I consulted my rabbi and a member of my synagogue to help me translate it into Hebrew, and had it etched on the gold at the back of the pendant. I placed the inscription on the right side of the pendant, because that’s the side he liked to hug me on, and I wear it on a long chain so that it rests in that place on my chest that felt aching and hollow after he’d gone.
The Hebrew inscription on Morgan's pendant.
“Thank you Morgan, all that is good returns to G-d.”
Morgan was a gift from God and now he has returned to God.
Morgan, at twenty.
And that is the love story that is told in Morgan’s pendant. 

That is the story of the cat who taught me how to love.


  1. What a beautiful and moving account!

    1. spot on about how animals are severely abused in abusive homes: that goes on in my area epidemically. That's why I fight the good fight to help end abuse and bring awareness of this connection: how animals live and suffer with abusive families. these animals are all precious and beautiful: bless them all.

    2. A lot of people don't know about this connection. It's terrible for the children whose only source of love often is these very animals whom they love but cannot protect.

  2. Charlotte, how moving and courageous story.
    I would like to recommend to you to please write a book about it, from the animals points of view and from your point of view.
    I can see it already, I can see it as a loving tribute to your survival and to the spirits of the animals that already pass.
    Maybe another kid can read your book and it would help her/him to overcome something similar and it maybe would help others see the cruelty that some animals suffer.
    Please think about it and write it!

  3. Thanks Ofelia. You're not the first one to suggest I write a book about my life, though you're the first to suggest writing about the animals specifically. In fact, pretty much everyone says I should do it, but it would be pretty emotionally difficult. This blog is kind of my way of dipping my toe in the water to see how it feels.

    In her book, A Stolen Life, Jaycee Dugard has a whole chapter about cats. They never survived in her childhood either.

  4. Hi Charlotte! I enjoy reading your blog, and I've chosen to nominate you for the Liebster Blog Award. If you'd like to participate, check out my latest blog post. Such a sweet and touching post.


  5. Oh. I must now go hug my kitties. You have stabbed me in the heart. In a good way.

  6. Charlotte, I am moved to tears, by your beautiful story. Your relationship with Morgan was unique, beautiful and healing for you. Your pendant is a wonderful tribute to your friend, Morgan. Blessings! PLF.

    1. Thanks, Petra. He was very special. I still have his photo in my bedroom. I wear the pendant on days when I want to remind myself that I know how to love.

  7. What a beautiful creature he was! I sometimes think - or feel - my old cats (Linus and Lucy) near me.

    A loving story, beautifully told.

    And your pendant is a true treasure.

  8. A beautifully designed love locket. Thank you for sharing your story.