I first met Gunther in Bernice's bedroom. My first thought was that he was a very good-looking cat. My second was that he didn't seem super psyched about me being on the bed. He didn't get aggressive about it, just remained a bit standoffish. I later learned that this wasn't wimpiness on his part, but rather his personality. He was a fundamentally gentle creature.
The standoff remained for quite a while. I would pet him and sometimes feed him, but he was definitely Bernice's cat. He would follow her everywhere she went in the house. He would wait until I left the bed then come and sleep by her head (more on this later). During this early period, he never came to me for affection.
When we moved in together in our new apartment, Gunther and I started to become friends. It was a shared territory first of all, and one that he liked quite a lot. The place was long, with tons of hiding, sleeping and inspecting spots. He could also tear up and down it at full speed.
Secondly, I spent a lot of time at home. Much of the year I was unemployed or semi-employed. I also tended to get up before Bernice. So I began to feed Gunther more regularily. I like to think that our friendship developed out of the time I spent with him and all the playing we did, but I think ultimately the real bond was sealed with me constantly opening the fridge door and getting the wet food out.
But we did hang out a lot. I made toys and structures for him, including old cardboard boxes he could hide in. The final and best toy was an old piece of twine with a ball of speaker wire tangled around one end and then a length of xmas ribbon tied to that. The ball gave it weight and the ribbon floated after it and it was almost irresistible to Gunther. For a cat of 9 years, he still gave'r pretty hard. He would jump from couch to armchair, hide behind the arm chair and play peek-a-boo (though sometimes if I hid too long, he would cry out. I think the anticipation of the boo got to him).
He also loved it when we made the bed. He'd jump in the middle and either try to stop the sheets by attacking them or just sit under them until they were tucked all around him. You could also stick your hand underneath the sheets and go after him and he'd attack with the full four-foot cat combat technique.
Most of this is pretty normal behaviour for a good, ass-kicking cat. The thing with Gunther was how gentle he was about it all. You could wrestle him quite aggressively and he'd never scratch you. He'd be on his back, all four paws kicking, mouth open and biting you, but he always kept his claws retracted and he never really bit.
Even weirder was that he liked to be taken for rides. This started, I think with a cardboard box. He was sitting in it and just to freak him out I picked the box up and carried him around. He wasn't freaked out at all. Rather, he seemed totally into it, to the point where he would go sit in the box and wait for me to carry him around. I started running with him in the box and eventually putting him in the laundry basket or my laundry bag and spinning it around my head really quite
fast. He loved it!
He was such a deeply loyal cat to Bernice. In the mornings, he'd wake us up by purring around our heads. I'd get up as quickly as possible and then feed him. If Bernice wanted to sleep in, I'd shut the door to the bedroom. He would stand facing the door. I'd go to the study and write. Coming back when done, or for my tea, I'd find him still there, facing the door. He would stay there for an hour until I opened it!
When I did let him in, he would go to the bed and curl himself right next to Bernice's head. When I looked in, he'd look up at me with a slightly defiant expression. I swear he was protecting her spirit against whatever kind of metaphysical dangers cats can see that we can't.
I knew our relationship was changing when he stopped waiting outside Bernice's door. In the last several months, he used to come into the study. He would sit at my desk, often next to the warm desk lamp during the dark, cold mornings. He had a tail that never stopped flicking back and forth and it was a constant menace to the various figurines or pieces of paper I had on my desk. He also would put his rather hefty back side on the keyboard, causing all kinds of input chaos.
When a large truck or snowplow would go roaring up our street, we often would both turn to watch it. He was like that, a guy's cat. He liked watching trucks. He liked fighting and running and jumping and he liked getting twirled around in laundry bags. We spent a lot of time together.
Mostly, he slept and I do blame him for the many naps I took when I was supposed to be writing or getting a job. But he would just suck you in with the deepness of his snoozing. You'd go to pet him, then maybe just lie down with him and then the next thing you knew it was 3:00 in the afternoon, you felt all freaked out, guilty and grumpy and he'd have found somewhere to sleep where you didn't keep bumping into him.
I was also very proud in the way that he slowly but surely took over the territory in the front and back of our house. We have a teeny back porch and a teeny front porch, both of which Gunther would go out of and inspect (when the weather was warm). There were at least three neighborhood cats who tried to impose their will on Gunther when he first arrived.
A couple of these were serious badasses, including Mr. Toughie, a grey alleycat who had got bitten in the face by the psycho husky that lived below. Mr. Toughie was thick and scarred but after a couple of confrontations with Gunther, he stopped coming around. Until very recently and the arrival of Franka (a whole nother story, where Gunther's power was undermined by the complicity of his owners), the front and back were Gunther's.
It's obvious that I like cats and I've loved all the cats I've had in my life. But Gunther really was special. He was so relaxed and so gentle. Just very not uptight about things the way most cats are. He made for an easygoing, undemanding pet (most of the time). His death leaves a massive absence in our home and I'm constantly checking my Gunther reflexes, like whether I should get home early to make sure to feed him, or if I should leave the window open so he can get out, all things I don't need to think about anymore, but wish I still did.
He was fundamentally Bernice's cat. More like her familiar or daemon, really. But I am glad that he allowed me into his life as well and I hope that I was able to give him some of the things a male cat needs in life, like training and territorial expansion. I was really looking forward to at least a few more years of Gunther, maybe quieter mellower times,as he gracefully aged.
We're grateful he didn't have some prolonged illness and have to be put to sleep, but up until the very end, where he expired with the grace and dignity that marked his life, his death was pretty brutal. He was clearly in profound discomfort and anxiety and we are both still left with the complex mix of questions, guilt, sorrow, anger and reflection that sudden death brings.
I'm trying to find some afterlife where Gunther would be happy, but he really seemed happiest just being with Bernice. I can't think of a world of catnip and mice and other cats that would really fit Gunther. Maybe his spirit is still hanging around Bernice's head, protecting it from the demons that would harm her or maybe he's passed on to a new form of life, a different chapter in his soul's journey.
Whatever is next for him, I hope it is rich and rewarding and he is honoured for the work he did in his last life. Maybe when it's my turn, we can meet up for a spell, go fuck some shit up together.
Rest in peace, buddy.