A little dejected, I turned around to leave the adoption area. As I was about to walk out, the store clerk grabbed my hand. "Did you meet Tinker?" she excitedly asked. She opened up the cage directly to the left of Gabe's and handed me a soft, beautiful and purring Siamese mix. She had radiant blue eyes, tabby striped paws and calico ears. Her markings were completely original; almost funny, as though she had been crudely designed from the markings of ten different exotic cats.
When we picked Tinker up from the adoption center a week later, we immediately took her to the vet's office for a check-up. All of the vet techs absolutely adored Tinker and couldn't help but give her treat after treat. When they attempted to hear her heartbeat through the stethoscope, they were unsuccessful as her loud purr was too overwhelming (she never ceased purring when amongst company). The veterinarian came in to examine Tinker and remarked about the strange way her eyes seemed to dart back and forth as though she were reading an invisible script. He suspected that perhaps she had an inner ear infection, but this was not the case. He left the room and returned a few minutes later with a thick medical book in his hands. Reading from the book, he explained to us that Tinker had a condition common in Oriental cat breeds called Congenital Nystagmus. The condition caused no issues for her and did not compromise her vision in any way; her eyes simply darted back and forth comically. Her nystagmus proved to be just another unique feature of her already unique appearance. At this point, we expected nothing less from our little anomaly.
We took Tinker home, where she immediately settled herself in. Within an hour, she was sleeping in my lap. She also slept in bed with us that same night, beginning the nightly occurrence of Tinker sharing a pillow with me and often snoring directly into my ear (I’d often wake up some nights with her paw in my mouth). She continued to charm us and visitors to our home for the next six months as the only cat; the Queen of the Household, a task she took very seriously.
Tinker and Gabe did not have an easy acclimation, to say the least. For Gabe, it was love at first sight. For Tinker, Gabe was simply a pest that needed to be eradicated. He would touch noses with her; she would bite and tackle him. So it went for several months, during which Gabe took to stress-licking his fur to cope with the rejection. My husband and I resigned ourselves to the fact that Tinker and Gabe may never be friends, but simply co-exist as neutral roommates (Gabe's fur grew back as he also resigned himself to this fact). Therefore, it was incredibly surprising when the day finally came that Tinker decided to jump up onto the couch to lay by him. It must have surprised Gabe too, because he let out a confused meow and ran from the room! After a few more unsuccessful attempts by Tinker, Gabe recognized that she was burying the hatchet and allowed her to lay by him. They became fast friends from that point on.
Gabe and Tinker were inseparable from fall of 2003 until the beginning of 2009, when Tinker was diagnosed with renal failure. Her disease was advancing more quickly than we could control, and the veterinarian did not have optimistic expectations for her long-term survival. When Tinker came home from the vet's office after we received the news, Gabe uncharacteristically hid upstairs for nearly a week. If Tinker approached him, he would avert his eyes and slink away. He knew something was wrong; terribly wrong. She slowly regained her strength and Gabe slowly warmed back up to her. Things went back to normal for a few months, as we tried to push the severity of Tinker's illness from our minds.
In April of 2009, Tinker took a turn for the worst. She stopped eating solid food and would lay unmoving in one spot for hours at a time. Her once-silky coat became dull, and her eyes had lost the bright, glimmer of joy that they always held. As unprepared as we were, my husband and I knew it was time to say goodbye. Through a steady stream of tears and sobbing, I held Tinker in my arms while the veterinarian mercifully put her to sleep. As her body lost strength and went limp, I whispered in her ear how sorry I was and how much I loved her. I really hope she knew.
Nowadays, when I come home from a nasty day at work, I’m still met by Gabe, who is still as loving, vocal and gentle as ever. And whenever I’m feeling down and wish that Tinker was around for me to hold, I can look at photographs and instantly remember what it was like to hold her at the PetSmart for the first time. To look into her eyes and know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that we were going to make each other’s lives better.
And we did. We both did.
(Thanks to my wonderful husband for helping me put the finishing touches on this essay. Tinker, we both miss you so much.)