Some of you may already know, but I know that many don’t, that we have two cats, Nima and Ollie, that we left under the care of our neighbor Nick, before departing on this journey.
A few months ago, we received an email from Nick. In the email, he mentioned a strong limp in Nima’s hind leg.
Eventually, we discovered the cause of the limp – a broken bone. Adventurous Nima probably landed wrong after jumping down from a high shelf. While operating on his leg to mend the bone, the vet noticed something familiar on his bone. She ran some tests and determined that the cause of the break was bone cancer.
After some tests to ensure the cancer had not yet spread, we jointly made the decision to amputate Nima’s hind leg. At 15 years old, it was a tough call, but the vet ensured us that he should have plenty of years left, as he was otherwise healthy.
In May, Nick left Nima with some feline-loving friends while he visited his Mum in England for three weeks. Upon his return, he noticed straight away that Nima had lost weight. He could feel his spine when he caressed his back. Nima, always with an insatiable zest for food, had little appetite. Using the litter box became unmanageable.
Another trip to the vet revealed that, not only had his bone cancer spread, but he also suffered from liver failure. The vet said she had never seen this before. Three days later, after a slight increase in appetite and energy, Nick noticed a significant decline in Nima’s health and made the call to bring him to the vet and send him on to the Rainbow Bridge.
In the past year, we lost our dog, Maxwell, our two chickens were killed by a raccoon, we removed a cancerous tumor from Sora’s paw twice during our journey, and now Nima.
The amputation was supposed to buy him time. Years. I was supposed to see him again upon our return. We were to snuggle together in bed, with him on my chest, kneading my shirt, purring into my neck.
But the Universe had other plans for Nima.
Along with a former partner, we adopted Nima in 2007 from a makeshift animal shelter in Yonkers, New York. Having just returned to the US after a year of living abroad, driving cross-country where my partner would attend law school, and with me still on the job hunt, we were in no position financially to adopt a cat.
But one day, we decided to “just go out and see.”
The animal shelter in Yonkers sat at the end of one of those dirt roads where nothing good ever happens. We inquired about cats and were led to a small room teeming with felines. Some 20 to 30 cats meowed, greeted us, and milled around, most with fleas, eye infections, or some other ailment. Cages lined one wall from the floor to the ceiling. Some contained sleeping cats, while the doors of others remained ajar, empty.
Nima, a large (but not fat) cat and exotic in appearance with his emerald eyes caught our attention right away. We knew we had to rescue at least one animal from this shelter, despite our resolve to wait until we had some income.
“Ah! This is Big Mama!” said the man who ran the shelter. “I knew her former owner. This cat takes care of all the others. She’s five years old and is a great cat.”
And he was.
Riddled with fleas and earmites, I brought Nima to the vet the following afternoon.
“I don’t know who told you this cat is a female, but this cat is a male,” said the vet, a crotchety old woman, whose aggressive manner of speaking put me off from the start. I figured she knew more than I about cat genitalia, so I trusted her, regardless of my distaste for her.
A few months later, I took Nima to different vet, a kind, gentle woman. She informed me that Nima was female.
Two years later, after moving to Portland, I asked another vet, just to check. She had three other people check the gender without providing a reason. All four declared that Nima was a male. I stopped asking about his gender after this and allowed my hermaphrodite cat to just be what he was.
At times, more a dog than a cat, Nima ruled our house. He was the alpha animal, showing his dominance by swatting at Sora from his perch on the coffee table as she walked past, hovering over Maxwell’s food, or engaging in what we called the “raping” of our other cat, Ollie. Nima was the king.
With a meow like a Siamese, he’d often sprint down to our basement and begin his 20-minute interval of his signature garbled howls, then saunter back upstairs like there was nothing strange about this behavior.
He eschewed the beds we purchased for him upon adoption and instead gravitated to the empty Costco box I brought home soon after adopting him.
At night, Nima would sleep either on my back or my chest, purring both he and I to sleep, only to awake with a vengeance for food around 4AM. He’d deliberately step in between my ribs, lick my face, bite my hands, and take the hair from my scalp into his teeth and pull. His antics were not too dissimilar from Simon’s cat. Eventually, due to my own need for sleep and Dave’s allergies to cats, Nima and Ollie slept in their own room. Rather than bite my face, Nima would pound on the door at feeding hour like a knock echoing through dungeon walls.
After long runs on chilly mornings, Nima and I would fight for the small eight-inch square space on the floor that constituted the heating vent. He’d squish behind me while I sipped my chai latte and warmed my bones.
The ultimate snuggle buddy, Nima would nestle onto my chest and bury his face in my neck, after first kneading me for several minutes. He loved when I’d practice yoga, rendering it impossible to continue my movements. We made a deal during Savassana. Together, he and Maxwell would seek out the sunniest corners of the house, cozying together in the warmth. Sometimes, even Sora would join the cuddle puddle, but never Ollie.
Nima transformed Dave into a feline-loving, video-watching, crazy cat man. Despite the time he snagged Dave’s peanut butter sandwich from under his nose, Nima won Dave over with his humor, his love for Maxwell, and his poltergeist meow.
As we prepared ourselves for our bike tour, I knew the most difficult part would come when I had to leave Nima and Ollie behind. We convinced our neighbor, Nick to take them, and we couldn’t be more grateful for his care of the cats. He loves them as much as we do and even constructed a catio on his deck, so Nima could explore the yard without risk of escape.
Nima turned dog people into cat-curious, he comforted me in times of distress, and his comical behavior entertained us each day. My companion for nine years, I sit sifting through the memories from our time together, grateful to have had him a part of my life.
As we would say, Nimaste.