When my time comes, I would like to be cremated and sealed inside a large coffee mug with the pictures of all the cats I’ve ever had painted on it, their green, brown and orange eyes blazing.
That joke seems serious now that we’re faced with the coronavirus, but if I have to stay at home during this pandemic — and I do — there’s no warmer and happier group to endure the insanity with than the family of mostly unrelated cats I call The Mafia, all with Russian names.
The current group — Marta, Alexander and Sergei — all have their loving traits, their goofy threads and, in Marta’s case, a set of boundaries that, if crossed, will bring out a sudden hiss and pinned back ears.
We’re all getting used to one another in tight quarters for all but the two hours a week when I have to go to the store for groceries.
Alexander and Sergei want attention as I type. Marta just wishes I would go to the office so she can have her apartment back.
I love them all, as I have all nine cats that have shared my home in the past 22 years.
It all started in 1998 with Natasha, a three-month-old kitten who came to me through a friend of a friend.
Charcoal gray, black and white, Natasha was a stunner. She came to me during a crossroads in my life. Indeed, a friend wondered aloud if I could even raise a cat.
I had to admit that I didn’t know either.
It turns out that I couldn’t, and Natasha seemed to know that right off, so she showed me the way.
She jumped on counters and on tables. She clawed decent furniture to shreds. As she grew older and longer, she took over the bed, and she always knew when it was time for the wet food. Then she purred and rubbed against me. All attempts at discipline died.
She had me wrapped around her paw — until Boris came.
Boris was a slender all-black older man and playful. I thought Natasha could use a pal. Natasha thought otherwise.
Natasha tried to chase him out. Sensing she would lose the war, Natasha was determined to win the battle. She bent Boris to her will. Boris relented, and Natasha became the leader.
Boris died suddenly. Afterward came Vladimir, a wild kitten who would become the benevolent leader of the gang in his later years. Soon came Nikita, an elegant all-white angel, and Dmitri, the pretty boy, both adults who fitted in gracefully.
The Mafia was set, and its legend on social media grew. They were stars, and I was happy to show them off. I still am.
I had my family.
Now I’m down to three felines, and I’m probably the proudest of Marta.
She was a semi-feral lady of undetermined age who came to me six years ago. I rarely saw her that first year, but she steadily has gained confidence and swagger. She doesn’t trust other people, but she trusts me — from a distance. We have a good working relationship.
Then there’s Marta’s son, Alexander, the 16-pound, six-year-old meat-loaf-shaped lover with a motor boat purr and a primordial pouch for the ages. Where Marta was on the street for a time and lacks trust, Alexander has known nothing but beds, blankets, pillows and belly rubs.
The youngest is Sergei. He was 2.8 pounds and less than three months old when he came to me 10 months ago. Now he’s eight pounds of orange pocket rocket who every morning races at top speed across the apartment.
He has been known to scatter rugs, to knock over plants and to pester Marta to exasperation.
All of us long to touch. We communicate through touch, be it by hand, hugs or kisses. The Mafia cats have no fear of touch right now, and I find myself now drawn closer to them than ever before.
However long our quarantine lasts, I hope you have a cat — or multiple cats — to rub and talk to. Their fur and purr are a soothing antidote to the chaos around us.
May they keep you wrapped around their paws.