Aleczander came into our lives during the holiday season. Whenever Emily went to the kitten adoption event in downtown San Francisco she hoped to find a white kitten to adopt. One day, she found that there wasn't one white kitten... there were two, bonded brothers who were found on a freeway on-ramp in Modesto, headed toward SF. Emily hadn't expected a two-for-the-price-of-one deal, but when she saw the two brothers she immediately knew they were her family. Aleczander held a paw over Edmund, his little brother, protecting him from danger. When Emily scooped him for the first time, Edmund mewed loudly. The two could never be separated. And thanks to Em, they never would.
Emily took Edmund and Aleczander home, where they slowly became comfortable with her presence (and apartment). Soon enough, the three slept on the same bed together in her tiny SF pad, keeping warm as a family. As they bonded, it became clear that Aleczander was the protective one, the big brother of the relationship who looked after Edmund with utmost care for his well being. And soon, that special relationship would extend to Emily, his new mom. He would curl on her chest and purr in the most contented of ways, listening carefully when his mom needed an ear. He also didn't any problem speaking his mind, m'rew-ing at Emily with what we always described as "insistent kitty behavior".
Al's protective nature, coupled with Emily's care, allowed his brother Edmund to finally express himself. While Edmund was shy of strangers, he found a comfort with Em and Al that opened him up to be his true self. Edmund would sleep tummy up in the sun, whine at mom for treats and cuddles, and he even found a playful side as he did battle with his brother. Aleczander and Edmund chased eachother around every night at top speed, galloping around like (as Emily describes it) WILD ANIMALS. Al was clearly the more formidable fighter (the Al-pha cat, as we called him.) But he would usually let brother win... unless, of course, Edmund made it personal. Then he'd incorporate a Panther Pounce, a technique where Al would leap onto his opponents back and bite their scruff. This was his finishing move. Edmund's finisher was a move we dubbed the Baby Body Slam, a move where he flung his back side at Al like a cannon ball. Neither ever drew blood, save a scratch or two. But they truly loved their sibling rivalry. We did too.
It was ultimately Edmund who decided who he wanted his dad to be. That ended up being me. Emily and I started dating when Em moved to Southern California for work, and I met Aleczander when I spent his first night at Em's place. I had always loved animals, most especially cats, so Aleczander and I got along immediately. We watched "Its Always Sunny" together (his immediate favorite being "Kitten Mittons") and enjoyed some ear scratches and pets. Al and I became close immediately. But what was truly surprising to everyone was what Edmund did the next morning. I would wake to find that Edmund up on the bed, ready to meet meet me. His large and fluffy white frame was wider than Al's, giving him a baby-like quality (hence his title, Baby). He was very cute, friendly, and seemed to like me. I pet his ears and mane. Soon enough, Edmund flopped down and started purring loudly as I gave him a tummy rub. When Emily came back from the shower she was floored by what she saw. Usually, Edmund would run and hide in the face of company. But there he was, cuddling with a new person he had just met. The bond was obvious. It was decided immediately. A dad had come into the picture.
In the years that followed I developed true paternal feelings over these boys. We really became a family unit, sharing our life, space, and food with eachother. I loved Edmund and Al equally, a special pair of brothers of whom had a relationship I wasn't used to seeing in cats. They were truly bonded, and Edmund truly needed Al's wisdom and protection. Edmund and I shared that quality soon enough, as I found myself regularly confiding in Al. There's really no way to describe his demeanor other than "wise." He was content, present, and loving. And while he did struggle with his instincts to assert dominance over the other animals in any home he found himself in he also reflected deeply on his actions. He was never the type to lose a lesson from his time here on earth, going through more character development than most humans I knew. This is why we called him Our Kittiest Teacher (after the Netflix documentary, My Octopus Teacher.)
Aleczander found a lot of comfort in lap time with me, where he would interrupt my work in the office by jumping onto my lap and purring. No matter what I was doing, I'd stop for some lap cat time. It didn't matter how long, a few minutes or a few hours. I knew these were memories I'd cherish forever. When he sat there with me, he'd stare into my eyes with such love and gratitude to be there with me. His eyes were deep and green, seemingly able to stare into my soul, understanding my every word. His purrs were slow, steady, and sincere, radiating out the life energy that he felt. He was a wise, content, protective being and all he wanted in return was to be someone's little guy. These are the moments that truly illustrated his loving nature, and I know he felt the love we gave in return.
One of Aleczander's sillier habits was that of love nibbling. I used to think he was trying to be tough every time he nibbled, an alpha cat trait he incorporated to show his beastly nature. Yet I sooner learned it was his way of expressing his love. When he liked you, he'd give you a small chomp. Nothing that hurt, nothing that broke skin, but when you let him get in a nibble you knew he was happy. Learning about his love bites changed our relationship, and knowing how he expressed his love was crucial in learning his personality. I learned to trust him when he nibbled, knowing if he went too far he'd stop. These love bites also came with the unfortunately bad habit of nibbling on stickers and plastic wrap, as well as kale and other veggies. We liked to say he had an oral fixation, like he was constantly teething. It was cute, except for when we had to make sure he wasn't going to eat something that made him sick.
Aleczander was already the best big brother any kitty could hope for, but even he couldn't have guessed that he'd have a second brother to add to the mix. But when Emily and I adopted Coconut, a spritely little kitten who desperately needed a home, Al found someone he could sympathize with. Much like himself, he started on the streets in need of a family. Worse yet, Coco was sick from both plant poisoning and the khaleesi virus (a respiratory infection in cats). He was very frail and barely made it through his ailments. Thats when the nurturing side to Al became even more apparent as he watched over Coco. Then, when we found them napping together on the bed one night, their bodies touching lightly as they slept, we knew that Al had accepted Coco into the family. From there, his teacher role continued and he taught Coco all that he knew: how to pounce and bat, how to beg for food, and how to get away with problematic behavior: by rolling around and saying "what? I'm just a kitty. Look how cute I am!" It always worked, and Coco became a very social and friendly guy because of Aleczander's teachings. Not to mention, a formidable pouncer.
Aleczander took his role as caretaker seriously. If Edmund were hungry enough to eat both plates of food Al would happily give it to him. When it came time for treats, Al would let Edmund have what he wanted before helping himself. Before climbing onto your lap, he'd look at you as if waiting for the okay. He'd place a paw on you and check your comfort level before getting cozy. When someone was hurt or yelled out in pain he would run to their side. When Edmund was even slightly afraid, Al raced to protect him. Al was the bravest kitty we had known, his noble heart leading us to title him the household Griffindore (the house from Harry Potter associated with bravery). He was a very good listener as well, his expression changing with each word uttered. His response: a subdued "m'rew". He was never afraid to speak up for himself, an opinionated yet humble kit with high levels of charisma. We often compared him to Thomas O'Maley, the alleycat (AL-ley cat in our case) from The Aristocats. We liked to think he was a smooth talking and ever so charming ladies man who played jazz on the side, his personality bohemian and groovy. Which, of course, it was. You could see it in the way he strutted. Most popular of all his titles was "such a good boy." Because simply being a good boy just didn't cut it. He was our SUCH a good boy. Our good guy. Our kittiest teacher. He had a lot of nicknames, all of them appropriate.
Al was never a gluttonous kitty, always restrained in his diet. He may have enjoyed turkey slices or treats from time to time, but he rarely if ever begged for them. Coco would always speak up for turkey slices, Edmund would beg for treats, but Al rarely whined for his favorite snacks. But on rare occasions he would beg for his favorite thing on earth: a salmon meat stick. Al would m'rew at you until you gave him one, and he'd even do "tricks" to get them, such as standing on his back legs and grabbing it with his paws when we held them over his head. He would purr as he devoured them, the result being a eating/purring hybrid we called "meat stick purrs". Seeing him loving a type of food was always special to us, as it showed us he could truly appreciate the little things. Though once upon a time, we accidentally fattened him up when he started eating Coco's high-calorie kitten chow. His cheeks were always chubby, but they were especially so in those days.
Aleczander's sickness came so suddenly and unexpectedly. He started hiding away in the back closet, away from everyone which was very unlike him. The problem seemed so small at first, an abscess that required antibiotics and painkillers, both of which he hated taking. But he seemed to recover, and eventually was eating normally and sleeping in his favorite spots. We had so much hope that he had beaten the infection and was back to normal, where we'd have several more years together.
Then Al stopped eating and started losing weight quickly. We had gotten x-rays and discovered flare ups in his lungs, small but noticeable. And we would need a biopsy to tell more. So we put him back on pain killers and were set to make him an appointment, keeping him in a nursery we made in Em's office so he could be warm and comfortable. There, we played calm kitty music for him, plugged in a pheromone oil lamp for calming moods, and fed him small bits of broth. He was clearly not hungry, but he fought hard to stomach what he could. We still had hope, even though he had lost half his body weight and was burping regularly. Sometimes we had to wipe bits of drool off his fuzzy chin. Seeing him like this was extremely difficult. "No parent should bury their child." This is the thought that was constantly on my mind.
Every night since setting him up in the nursery was heartbreaking. I would hold Al and cry, wondering if he could feel my fear of losing him. And yet somehow he remained calm every time I spent holding him. The air he gave me was that of acceptance, as if he knew he didn't have much time. He didn't want to spend his final days being poked and prodded by the vet. He was ready for what was next, never panting nor his heart racing. It was like he was only holding on for us because he knew it would make us so sad to see him go. I tried to hang on to each of these moments like I was tattooing them to my brain. He may have been ready, but I wasn't.
Al spent his final days with Edmund, and I imagine they communicated a lot of information during that time. He'd sleep on top of the bed and Edmund would sleep bunk bed style beneath him. They would gather each night for a talk as well. I was terrified not only for how I would respond to Al passing on, but how his brother would react. He had only known a world with his brother in it. Bonded litter mates. Could he get through it? I just hoped Aleczander, in all his wisdom, could held his brother understand what was going to happen, and hopefully find peace with it.
It was the final day of Al's life that I noticed his breathing was slightly labored. We took him in the nursery, and I remember how light he was as I scooped him up to take him there. He was so frail, not at all the tough alpha cat I had come to know. It became very real right then upon hearing his breath that our time was short. As his soft music played and he curled up on his blanket, I cried and buried my face in his head, my favorite fuzzy spot between his ears. He purred through the wheezed breath. I held him close, put on Kitten Mittons, and we spent one last night together. I know he was happy, at least as happy as he could be. I never had much closure with my previous pets, and that always hurt me deeply. But with Al, I can honestly say we as a family got to spend his every last minute together with him, and he knew he was deeply loved. If only all of us could be so lucky.
Aleczander passed away in our arms the next day, to date the hardest moment of my life. We wrapped him in his favorite blanket, lit candles, and played his favorite songs: Lana Del Rey, The Last of Us's soundtrack, and songs from The Aristocats (we always thought Al had real O'Malley energy, the charming alleycat from the movie.) We nuzzled him and kissed him for the final moments that we could. And we let his brothers see him and smell him, our worst fears coming true that Edmund would have to know a life without his bonded litter mate. We spent the night with him in his bed, all of it a blur until the next morning. Then we played him one final song, the farewell song from the final Lord of the Rings movie. With tears in our eyes we made arrangements at the vet. We said those final goodbyes to him there, giving him our final kisses and pets before letting his body go. When we returned to the apartment, it felt so utterly empty. Something, or in this case someone, was clearly missing. The warm presence of Aleczander was noticeably absent. Only his memory remained.
I've experienced loss before, but Al was far more heartbreaking than most could possibly be. We spent every day of our lives together. I had become disabled from a car accident, and spent most of my days working from home. We had spent the whole pandemic together. Emily had watched him grow from kittenhood to a senior kitty, and we had raised him as if he were our son. And he was just that, because family isn't simply blood but also who you choose. We had all chosen each other, lived our lives together, and life without one of us seemed impossibly empty. How was I expected to carry on without my furry little son to give my life meaning? How could he leave us, and his brothers, behind? What hope was there to find without my best friend?
It was Edmund who started to show me hope. Where as the next week was a blur for me, Edmund seemed calm. Not aloof, not uncaring or clueless, but calm. Many days Emily and I would cry over the Al-frenda we created (a picture of him with a plush kitty, a candle, and flowers). It felt so hopeless without him. Yet Edmund, as sad as he was, seemed to understand something we didn't. How was he so calm in the face of death?
I said I had experienced loss, so allow me to
With Aleczander, it was a completely different experience. Emily and I would constantly feel him around us. His memory lived so strongly and he had such a wise view of what was next. He tried to comfort us, his brother had accepted death far faster than we had, and in this process something happened: it revived my faith that death isn't the end, that life is too rare, special, and precious to ever burn out. In this heartbreaking experience I found that thing I was missing: hope. That was Al's final lesson to teach us. He was wise, his lessons were many, and this last one saved me in this spiritual void I was in.
I've cried many tears. I've hurt very deeply from his passing. And I will miss him until the end of my days. But I'll always be grateful for that final lesson, no matter how painful it is. The lesson that life is so much more than the physical version of it we see. Life is energy, precious energy captured in an earthly vessel for a time. That time isn't forever, only the length of a breath. Yet there is harmony in that breath as it joins with the voices people who love you. That connectedness is an energy far greater than we could ever fully understand here on earth. And it lives on in our hearts far longer than the physical body, a memory and love so strong we can feel it in our marrow. That's where Aleczander lives now, in a place that transcends this world. A place that will never die.
When we received his ashes we received a poem to go with his paw print. It's pretty well known by most, but I thought I'd share it anyway:
Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge.
When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge. There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together. There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable.
All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor. Those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by. The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind.
They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are intent. His eager body quivers. Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster.
You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart.
Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together....
Hope is the most beautiful emotion to be felt, a peaceful feeling I had never known. Now, with Aleczander, I hope. Hope that when we see him again he will be ready to cross over with me, with Emily, with his brothers... with us. I like to picture him rolling in a grassy patch or napping in a tree. He is at peace, except for his longing to be with us again. I feel that longing here on earth. Until then, we'll have to wait, honor his memory, and tell his story. Every person who knows of him helps his story continue. He lives on in us, in this.
Rest in Peace, Aleczander. Until we cross that bridge together, never to be separated again.
Aleczander: Our Such a Good Boy