On a scrap of paper stuck to the side of our fridge reads the contact information of a cat psychic who first informed us that our cat, Draper Lulusdottir, might be haunted by spirits from another realm. Draper was the only tuxedo cat of her three siblings, all of whom were snow-white just like her mother, Lulu. Lulu gave birth to Draper inside a haunted museum in Fairfield, Tx., one possible location for a television show about archeologists that my wife Marion was pre-producing at the time. Draper was adopted by Marion on the spot and ferried back to Brooklyn where they lived and would later welcome me into their family.
Draper died in the veterinary hospital last Thursday after a lifelong battle with an undiagnosed neurodegenerative disease. She was 8 years old.
The time she spent in this realm with me and Marion can be sorted into three eras. There was first the comfort era, beginning when Marion adopted this six-week-old kitten shortly after Marion’s father died. To her, Draper was a bridge to adulthood and autonomy, a shock of black and white fuzz that would be her charm and her charge. Here was this pouty-faced, sad-eyed kitty of the South that brought so much joy into Marion’s life. Draper dampened the grief with affection and love. She was a playful and rambunctious, a boilerplate lovable young cat.
Then Draper became a teen and stayed a teen for the remainder of her life. She lived in this sulky, passionate, sometimes aggressive state that was, above all, very funny. In the past few days, Marion and I have talked about just how funny she was. Not like prat-fall funny (though she would treat us to those) but kind of like a ‘90s Janeane Garofalo funny. She was so humorless as to be hilarious. Draper—just a cat, helpless and pure—put up this totally unfounded angsty front like she drew all her power from wearing platform boots and a ball-chain necklace. Draper became goth. She was never sly or clever or feline. Her fluffy tail never swished in the air as she wove in between your legs. Instead, she trundled around in slow, straight lines, prone to long periods of sitting and staring into the middle distance. She was awkward and earnest and, in private, an unbearably loving creature.
What started to happen to her as she turned 4 or 5 was something that to this day is inexplicable. The haunted era. She would still run, play, even purr on occasion. Though every time she heard a sound coming from someone’s cell phone, or a thin signal of noise coming from computer speakers, or even just a character talking on the phone on television, she would come racing in from wherever she was and try to attack whoever was in the room. We didn't know why this started happening, but we figured it had something to do with how her brain registered that particular noise. Maybe it was that specific frequency she just absolutely hated, nails on her chalkboard. So there we sat, our thumbs resting nervously on the “mute” button while watching television, thankful for any period movie that existed before the use of telephones. The “Don’t play YouTubes on your phone” rule was quickly told to guests, to be disobeyed at their own peril.
Around this time, Marion and her vet (and a crack squad of professional psychics and cat behaviorists) were working so hard at trying to diagnose what exactly was causing this. Was it a late-onset attitude problem? Was she aurally hypersensitive? Was it the ghosts of the museum? Marion was an early benefactor of an album of music “scientifically” meant to soothe cats with anxiety. We played the album for her, which sounded a bit like average new age music with purring added in. Around the house were several aromatherapy diffusers that were meant to be holistic solutions. We tried Prozac for a while, both hidden in her wet food and syringed into her mouth. We talked calmly to her (she was such a talkative cat, so vocally expressive). No two words came out of our mouths more than: “It’s ok, it’s ok, it’s ok.”
We told people she was haunted because that seemed an easy shorthand for something so mysterious, the way the Vikings thought a solar eclipse was a giant sky wolf trying to devour the sun. Part of us knew this myth wasn’t true as she began to lose feeling in her front legs. Soon she couldn’t make it up onto the bed, or the couch, or into the litter box. She was floor-ridden, shooting ice from her eyes up at the pigeons perched on the roof of our building. Her gait became halting and iambic. Her vet found nothing physically wrong with her so we took her to a neurologist who still couldn’t pinpoint a problem, but told us it was something in her brain or spine. She assured us Draper was happy and painless, until her final days when she lost mobility in her back legs and could no longer move.
We told ourselves Draper was haunted because it was easier than a fatal unnamed neurodegenerative disease that made her lose control of her legs. It sounded better on paper. It sounded better in anecdotes. It sounded better in the logline about our cat Draper. It sounded better than “Kitty M.S.” I believed it because she was truly a magical cat. When Marion and I would visit other cats who were normal, aloof, and spry, bounding from floor to kitchen counter to top of fridge, we’d laugh and say to each other, “Remember what almost every other cat is like?” We’d come home to our little lump of laundry plopped on the floor, our chunk, our queen, our babe, and know that she was the best thing that could ever happen to our family. She supported us. We would fall down without her.
What made me believe, in the end, that she wasn’t haunted was in the final years of her life, her aggression abated. The loving era. She grew more docile and affectionate to not only us but our friends who came by. She knew that she relied on us as caretakers and knew that we needed her as the constant of our family, the third leg that allowed our house to thrive. Inside Draper’s brain was something pulling her body away from her control, but she never stopped looking at us with eyes so full of love and need. In her final months, she was overflowing with love. It was serene to see this creature be such a pure medium to a place from which love comes unadorned with qualifiers or conjunctions. It was love, period, something we were blessed to have witnessed. By the end, she didn’t attack when she heard a speakerphone. It was like the affliction had left her, that she had exorcized it herself so that she could give us everything she had in this world she so briefly found herself in.
After-afterword: A perfect day in Draper Lulusdottir’s life
Wake up nestled in the crook of our legs, ensuring that she was well-rested and that we had a fitful night of sleep, fighting for space with her on the bed. A tray of salmon for breakfast. Time alone with her stuffed Bear so she can howl with him locked in her jaws in a song of violence and ecstasy. An uninterrupted nap in on a soft device that slowly follows the ray of sunlight coming through the window across the room. A tray of shredded chicken for lunch. A pigeon, a squirrel, and a silverfish each letting her think she is better than them. Listening to that special purr-age music for cats, sure, why not. An infinite series of connecting rooms, each with one door she can gently paw open. A fresh load of wet laundry draped over a drying rack so as to make a cave of smells for her to enter and explore. A plate of melted ice cream for dinner.