We got her in the late summer of 1995. Bob was working in an emergency vet clinic in Oregon, and she had been run over by a truck. This encounter left her with a skewed pelvis and various other health issues, plus a hatred of change. Just moving across the hall to a brighter apartment (she was about a year old) made her panic - I remember her running back into the old (now empty) apartment and howling even louder to discover that even her old home looked different now. When we first brought her home, she lived under the covers for weeks, maybe even months, venturing out only when no one could see her for food, water, and the litter box.
Here she is in Seattle in 2001 - even then not a young kitty, but with the softest bunny-fur I have ever touched:
Eventually she grew braver and ferocious. She loved to wrestle, and for those of you who've raised kittens, you know this is code for "tear the skin of her humans." I learned to wear gloves when playing with her, and she learned that gloves = "I get to really attack!" She had asthma, though, so eventually she'd get to wheezing and gasping, so I'd leave her alone for a while until she settled down. This was especially fun when she was a little older: Her favorite toy became a dressage whip, which she'd chase for hourse if I'd let her, except for that she'd collapse from lack of oxygen at some point. Heck, sometimes she'd purr so profoundly that she would end up gasping for breath between each purr.
Oh, that kitty! What a joy she was.
Tatsuko was simple at heart. She didn't have complicated feelings; in fact, even those not particularly good with animals could pretty much read her thoughts, which consisted mostly of "Pet me," "Play with me," "Feed me," and "Ooh, that looks tasty," the last usually in reference to rodents. She was never demanding except of play when she was very young; as an older kitty, she was patient with other animals, letting them eat and drink first, and seemingly okay with waiting for attention. She loved the heat, going so far as to lie in the sun upstairs during the Kansas summer, as in this shot:
I have fond memories of laughing myself silly watching her climb the walls in our old apartment after we finally gave up trying to discourage her. She literally clawed her way up the drywall to above head-level. Drywall can be repaired (and I did repair it later), but that was priceless. Later I realized she just needed an alternative, so I screwed a big carpet sample to the wall for her to use. She loved that, leaping up and sideways whenever I stood in the hallway near her "climbing wall," trusting that I would support her weight as she scrambled side-to-side. She loved to use her body, and watching her do so provided great joy - perhaps especially since that body was so damaged. Never have I lived with an animal who actually asked for her daily prednisone pill, because she knew she'd be rewarded with her kitty treat (chicken-flavored laxatone)... which also served as anti-hairball medicine. Win-win.
One of her paws at each end was butterscotch-colored, and she'd attack it mercilessly. I suspect she enjoyed the humans' reaction to this behavior, as she'd kick and bite almost abstractedly, watching us laugh. Or maybe she was just confused as to why we were behaving this way. Here she ison one of her favorite pillows, ready to attack:
In her novel, Fudoki, Kij used Tatsuko as the basis for the protagonist, and this is perhaps even more true with the story, "The Cat Who Walked a Thousand Miles." (The art even looks a little like her.)
Here is what Kij wrote today about Tatsuko. The photo below is from about five years ago, when she was watching some mice playing in their cage:
"When I wrote Fudoki, it was Tatsuko I wrote about: 'Her fur was at first a blurred darkness. As she grew it changed to black flecked with gold and cinnamon and ivory, like the tortoiseshell of a hair ornament. Her eyes when they opened were gold, like a fox’s. She was small but fierce: in no way but size a runt, for she lacked the gentle resignation of the weak.' She had a butterscotch chin and three of her feet (but not the fourth) had butterscotch toes. She never weighed more than seven pounds. She had a chronic respiratory infection and a damaged pelvis from when she had been hit by a truck as a baby. She had the loudest purr I have ever heard.
"She was a dragon-baby at first – small but fierce, indeed. She scrambled five and six feet up the bedroom walls, using her claws the way an ice climber uses her axe and crampons. When we left that first apartment, Chris had to fill hundreds and hundreds of tiny, claw-shaped holes. She also liked Monster Atomic Cat and Devil Paw, but as she aged she settled down and became a mannerly little dowager, bird-boned, pleasant and elegant.
"I travel a lot and lots of people took care of her in Seattle and then in Raleigh: Nisi, Don and Vicky, Lorelei, Peter, Shelly, Kessel, Lew, Caroline, Eric, and so many others I can’t recall at the moment. She loved big hands and low voices. She also loved the water from canned tuna, roasted chicken, salsa, sleeping under the covers, sleeping on my head, sleeping on the couch, sleeping in the second bedroom, sleeping sleeping sleeping. Except for the salsa, she was a very traditional little cat."
I got to see Tatsuko a few times via Skype since she went to live with Kij - including yesterday - which was so nice. Her purr was still so loud as to rumble the speakers on my computer, even the day before she died. She was so sweet and her affection so important to me during the rough years when last she lived with me, as I'm sure was true for Kij, as well.
I don't really have the heart to write any more about my sweet kitty right now.
Goodbye, Tatsuko. I love you.