As far as I recall, I first met Oskar in 1998. I was 25 years old and had just and finally moved out of my parents' house to a wonderful second-story apartment. I had recently graduated from the University of Toronto and was working as the assistant to a television and screenwriting agent who worked out of her house and lived close enough so that I could walk to work. I wasn't earning very much, but other than that life was pretty good.
One cold morning, I happened to pass by an abandoned restaurant. This wasn't unusual on the Danforth in Toronto, where restaurants could thrive or die in a matter of weeks. But this morning I happened to turn my head just in time to see a scrawny, rather astonishingly ugly orange cat stretch against the clear glass door. But when I went closer he disappeared into the dark interior.
I realized very quickly that the cat had managed to get itself locked into the abandoned restaurant. I asked in the bar next door if anyone knew about the cat, and found out that yes, the cat was common knowledge; people had been feeding him cat food and chunks of meat through the mail slot. Did anyone know who the landlord was? No.
I had to get to work, but I called my dad who was a journalist at the time and therefore had enough caché to get pretty much any information out of anybody. He went to the same bar, asked around, and about thirty seconds later got the information from a real estate agent who happened to be at the bar and wanted to sell the property. Go figure.
Very soon, I had the extremely irate landlord calling me. Once I assured him that I wasn't representing the Humane Society and I firmly believed that he had no idea the cat had been unintentionally squatting in his restaurant, he agreed to unlock the door for me to get the cat out.
What followed the next morning was a disaster. I was trying to befriend the cat, but the landlord was just trying to scare him out of his building. What resulted was a panicked cat leaping from floor to counter to bar over and over again in a mad, frantic circle until he finally managed to hide inside the bar. I convinced the landlord to let me come back the next morning, and brought along my parents as reinforcements, because my parents are awesome with stuff like this.
We managed to convince the landlord to stay outside, and after much meow-ing and calling 'here, kitty kitty!' and moving the stove and my dad finally dismantling the bar, the three of us--now with sawdust all over our work clothes--finally had the ugly, dusty cat in a travel box, where he instantly started purring as if he knew he was in good hands. Dad went to work and Mom drove me to the vet, where we dropped off the cat to have 'the works' done (shots, neutering, deworming, etc). There was no question but that I would keep him.
The vet's assistant told us that afternoon that the cat had purred the entire day.
I was originally going to call him 'Alexander', after the restaurant, which had been called 'Alexander the Great'. But the first thing I said to him when I opened his travel box was, 'Welcome to your new home, Oskar'. I have never understood where the 'Oskar' came from, but Oskar he was and Oskar he remained. Though his full name was Oskar Pushtinface, because he was so ugly: he was dingy and skinny and ratty and looked kind of like Yoda.
I loved him immediately. He never stopped purring, and loved eating grapes and blueberries and sitting in my lap or lying on my legs. I could carry him around like a baby, or have him draped over my shoulder or pretend he was a banjo and he would just purr. He had the most beautiful big orange eyes and fur that, once clean, was the thickest, most luxurious and softest fur I've ever had the pleasure of petting. Even my vet was impressed by how beautiful his fur was. And I had to get a second cat to keep him company, because he would howl at the door like a dog when I left for work in the morning.
And one day, about a year after his dramatic rescue, I looked at Oskar and realized he was incredibly handsome.
Oskar moved with me to Dom's apartment, then with the both of us to Texas. For awhile he was one of a colony of six cats. Most recently he was one of four. All my cats have been wonderful in their own way: Violette the Evil Kitten, Zillah (Oskar's companion, who would lie on the back of my armchair every evening then fall asleep and tumble onto my shoulders), Hannah the redolent, sourpuss matriarch and tiny, feral Chloé who only really likes Hannah and Dom. But Oskar was special. He was one in a million.
He had to be put down this morning because of lung cancer. I knew something was terribly wrong from a few days ago, and I thought it might be time to say goodbye. But nothing could really have prepared me for it. I've been crying on and off all day every time I think of him. I'm crying now.
You were a fine cat, Oskar. I will never see your like again. I miss you.