This is how I've spent at least a part of each day for precisely the past 10 years. This is Cocobop (as in "Shimmy, shimmy"), and he is a "wool sucker," only the "wool" is me. (And, once and to his shame, the wool was a tech support guy in the same chair.) Supposedly, wool-sucking is a misdirected nursing behavior; the cat kneads and derives some presumed psychic "milk" from soft surfaces like blankets or sweaters. Coco likes certain velour throws and especially, a hot-pink fuzzy bathrobe, but mostly he likes my neck. Around here we just call it "neck-sucking." It involves a lot of purring and tenderizing with claws, and I have learned to tolerate it and even be oddly honored by it.
I also have endured it because Coco is a foolish and simple cat who has never asked for much besides bottomless food dishes and prodigious amounts of sleep, plus the occasional sunbeam. At my desk, our dance would begin with a plucking of my arm; there would be that owlish face, all needy eyes and glossy grey fur. He is the original "50 shades of grey," from mauve-tinted dove to deep slate; his fur seems to refract light, especially blue. Put him near something blue and he becomes blue.
Next would come the stomp across the keyboard and up my chest. The first time we laid eyes on him, at the chaotic grim shelter of the CACC in East New York, he was a youngster of 5 months or so; he shot out of the cage and fastened on my neck and nursed for dear life. I handed him to Daughter, who was 7, and he did the same to her; the bond was sealed. No other kitten had a chance. I called them "Lilo and Stitch."
Neck-sucking isn't Coco's only passion; he enjoys destroying table legs and leather goods to wear down his fine, opalescent claws. He loves a good 8-hour power nap. And he has been an affectionate "sibling" to Lexi, the portly diva, and Charlie, the feisty baby of the pride. But it has always come back to cat-on-human contact. With Daughter, it was a delicate lick on the face or hairline when she'd come home from school; with me, the neck thing. I love the fact that Coco responds physically to verbal endearments; if I would call him "Pretty Cocobop," with a gentle puff on the Ps and Bs, he would audibly intensify his purr and knead harder.
Four days ago, his golden eyes filled up with gunk and he suddenly stopped eating. I figured, virus; the kind folks at Hope Veterinary found a golfball-sized mass, probably lymphoma. Cat chemo can buy you 6 more months or so, but Cocobop has turned inward and shut down on us. We have lost many cats to cancer over the years, and whether the end comes suddenly or slowly, it always comes with dignity. They tell you when it's time.
A week ago, suffering from a back spasm, I slept in our upstairs guest room for its firmer mattress. As I lay face-down, seeking the fragile spaces without pain, Coco (still seemingly in perfect health) walked onto my back and began to knead. Cat-shiatsu: the delicate claw-pricks seemed to draw energy away from the lumbar storm. And then he curled up next to my face and kept vigil, thrilled that I had joined him in one of his favorite haunts. I felt suffused with unearned grace.
Last night, when he finally emerged from his carrier, sedated after a needle-aspiration biopsy, he skulked upstairs to the same bed to snooze in the dark. I slipped in beside him, very quietly; he started to leave, then resignedly lay back down, then drew closer. No neck-sucking, but he had some intense moments with the plush blanket I pulled around me as the night grew chill. I whispered, "Pretty Cocobop," hitting the p's and b's, and heard the purr tick up a notch. One vigil deserves another.
Tonight, one more vigil: Lilo is in there now with Stitch. They are asleep together in a curl of kitten and girl that began the spring of her First Communion and now draws to a close as she prepares for college. Cocobop is uneasy but not yet in obvious pain, nor will we let him get there. Foolish cat, you pain in the neck, it is time to say goodbye.