Don’t trust what you see in September, they say. What I saw in September 2002 was a sign that life went on. It went on for almost another fifteen years. So maybe trust a little what you see in September.
Hosmer Mountain Beverage Cat Prince — known popularly as Hozzie the Cat — was our September callup, our glimpse of the future, our augmentation to the team that you hope positions you for the seasons ahead. Hozzie was given the opportunity to break in because there was a void in the Prince family lineup. We had been a two-cat family for nearly a decade. We had Bernie, and then we had Casey, which is to say we had Bernie & Casey. They were separately adopted brothers in arms. Or front legs, if you want to get technical about it. God, we loved them together.
In June of 2002, Casey’s time was up, the end of a long, heartbreaking goodbye. Bernie was left to solo. Not that he couldn’t handle it. Not that he couldn’t carry the load. But our emotional quota was two cats. Nobody could ever replace Casey. Someone would be called on to succeed him.
Enter Hozzie the Cat on September 24, 2002, the 33rd anniversary of the night the Mets clinched their first division title, apropos in that Hozzie was a miracle unto himself. You have to understand that the first stab we took at installing a Casey successor, two days before, went awry. Somebody tipped us off to “a cat in need of a good home”. We bit. So did the cat. That cat didn’t need a good home. That cat was fine being feral where he was, which we figured out after he couldn’t stand being inside our home. He wasn’t a bad cat, but he was definitely a bad fit.
Desperate for answers for what to do with a cat who didn’t want any part of his new people (or his would-be brother; Bernie was spooked by the interloper and hid under the bed for two days), Stephanie visited our local pet store. Instead of coming home with advice, she came home with a kitten who was up for adoption. She grabbed him under the “best athlete available” principle of drafting.
We didn’t need a third cat. We needed that cat.
I discovered the kitten’s presence when I came home that night, opened the bathroom door and saw him atop the throne — lid down, eyes up. This little gray tabby my wife found looked at me like I was joining him in the waiting room for whatever it was that lay ahead. It was the stuff of President Bartlet on The West Wing: What’s next?
Hozzie was next. We arranged an unconditional release for the miscast feral interloper and recalibrated who we were. Us, featuring Bernie & Hozzie. It wasn’t necessarily destined to click. Bernie was the established veteran, a ten-and-five man, to say the very least. I’d heard of older cats who wanted nothing to do with fresh kittens. But Bernie, who had once welcomed Casey into his lair, did the same for young Hozzie. Hozzie was an eager protégé, Bernie a patient mentor, us ebullient to have it confirmed that life went on. We lost Casey. We gained Hozzie. We gained Bernie & Hozzie. We loved them together.
Three years later, nature’s cycle essentially repeated. We lost Bernie in May of 2005. The goodbye was sudden, though no less cruel. Again, we were down one cat. Another September arrived after another summer of mourning. This time we got our furry miracle on the first try: Avery the Cat, little brother to Hozzie. Hozzie & Avery. The dynamics were distinct from those that informed the previous collaborations. Avery as a kitten was a pistol, a pioneer in interactivity. Laps and chests and heads were his furniture. Hozzie, meanwhile, had matured into an adult who mostly wanted to be left alone. Eventually they forged a cordial working relationship  despite their creative differences. We loved them together, too.
Avery has never stopped being a kitten. Hozzie, more than any of the four cats I’ve known, seemed born to grow old. That he did. He grew to be fifteen years old. That’s as far as he got. Hozzie’s journey ended on July 27, 2017, the day Chris Flexen made his major league debut to little avail  in a park named Petco, the day the Mets traded Lucas Duda  — another September callup  with a quietly pleasant disposition — to Tampa Bay for pitching prospect Drew Smith. Hozzie’s goodbye wasn’t as drawn out as Casey’s, nor quite as sudden as Bernie’s. We knew something like it was coming, as he’d been dealing with issues for a while. We just didn’t know it was coming all at once when it did.
On Thursday afternoon, I found Hozzie in the hallway outside my office, all stretched out. Barely any movement, barely any breathing. This, I deduced, was no standard upstairs midday nap. I rushed him to the vet across the street. They said he’d suffered a seizure when I’d had my back turned and, oh by the way, he has a mass “the size of his fist” in his abdomen. It never occurred to me a cat could make a fist, but it also never occurred to me cats could get tumors until they kept finding them inside Casey.
You live and you learn. We lived through Casey’s cancer fight. We learned you can’t fight feline cancer for very long nor very effectively. We lived through Hozzie’s feline diabetes and various infections. He battled. We facilitated. He somehow set all the Prince Cat longevity records, but he could go on only so long. By Thursday evening, Stephanie and I were across the street at the vet with Hozzie, in the back where they had him hooked up to an I.V. We knew we’d be coming home without him. This was the first time we had to let go of a cat via euphemism (“a graceful farewell,” the vet called it, as we signed off on what needed to be done). The sensation was right down there with our previous experiences organically parting with Casey in 2002 and Bernie in 2005. You live and you learn. You learn that it’s always awful saying goodbye to the ones you’ve lived with and loved so much.
Yet oh how happy you were to have said hello and to have said so much else and experienced so much else for having said hello fifteen years before. Hozzie could drive me crazy, particularly amid my twilight slumbers, especially when he discerned scratching at my leg jarred me awake and goaded me to the kitchen. He ran on his schedule, not ours. When he decided a certain spot was ideal to perform certain necessary bodily functions, well, good luck convincing him there was a box set up for that sort of thing, go use that, Hozzie. Let me not overly idealize my late, beloved cat. He often revealed himself a self-absorbed pain in the ass, sometimes because he couldn’t help it, sometimes because it worked quite nicely for him.
And I miss him anyway. It’s only been hours, but I miss the determined meowing; the pedestrian obstacle he doubled as in darkness; the recurring admonishments that he not do that nor that nor think about going there; and the mano a mano over the poultry on my plate that he decided was intended for him. I miss the entire Hozzie package. I miss Hozzie & Avery. I adore Avery. Avery, bless his sinewy soul, is still going strong. Avery is a people’s cat in a way that Hozzie never was. Avery can most assuredly carry the emotional load. But you get used to a duo, especially this duo, even the half you purported to have had it up to here with. You get used to hearing those cries, to looking into those eyes, to offering your knuckles for his pheromones. You remember the first time you met, him and you, and inferring that, yes, life would go on.
Which it did and I suppose it will some more.