The Cathlete
Scott Ludwig lives, runs, and writes in Senoia.  His latest book, "Southern Charm: Columns from a small town Georgia newspaper," as well as the rest of his books, can be found on his author page on Amazon. He can be reached at magicludwig1@gmail.com.

The Cathlete

At one time, Cindy and I had five cats: Maui, Molly, Millie, Moe, and Morgan. They are mentioned in the order they became part of our family. Maui got his name because that’s where we were vacationing when our son Justin found him on a long, lonely road in Brooks when he was a scrawny, scared kitten covered in more than his fair share of fleas. We kept the Hawaiian theme in naming our next three cats: Molly’s real name is Molokai; Millie’s is Miloliha, or ‘miracle’ in Hawaiian, and Moe simply means ‘sleep,’ earning him the distinction of being the most appropriately named cat in history. Morgan’s name is courtesy of the city she found Cindy and I and finagled her way into our hearts; Morganton, North Carolina.
Sadly, we lost Maui and Moe several years ago, both to horrible diseases for which there is no cure. They were the only males of the five, leaving us with three females. Courtesy of one more horrible disease with no cure, that number is now down to two.
One Sunday afternoon almost 12 years ago, Cindy went to an outdoor festival in Fayetteville and returned with a small cardboard box that she dropped on my lap as she wished me a Happy Father’s Day. Inside was a tiny gray tabby, its fur soft as silk. Cindy explained she ran across a woman at the festival with an entire family of cats—a mother and five kittens—that she was desperate to find homes for. When she locked eyes with the kitten that would get her name because Cindy and I had agreed that after adopting Maui and Molly it would take a miracle for us to ever adopt another, she knew exactly what I was getting for Father’s Day.
During Millie’s first few years with us, she mostly kept to herself. She liked to hide in several places around the house, only showing her face to take care of the basic necessities. It took the subsequent adoptions of Moe and Morgan for her to realize what she was missing out on: neck rubs, head scratches, and a warm and soft lap on which to sit certainly being on the top of the list. Once Millie got wise to the special benefits that being a cat in the Ludwig household had to offer, it was rare to find her anywhere but our laps if either of us were in the house.
Of our five cats, Millie was by far the most athletic. One day she ran into the master closet and jumped up on the bottom shelf, a little over three feet off the floor. Then, without breaking stride she jumped across the width of the closet to the next highest shelf and then jumped once more to the other side and ended up triumphantly on the top shelf, a little over seven feet off the floor. That was the day Cindy gave Millie her nickname: the Cathlete.
Ever since we moved into our new home in the summer of 2014, Millie had slept in the exact same spot every single night: curled up right next to my left hip. Shortly after last Thanksgiving she stopped. Millie began sleeping behind the laundry basket on the floor of the closet in the master bathroom, something that until then she had only done when there was someone in the house other than Cindy and I. Something was going on but we didn’t know what.
Suddenly Millie began losing weight and before long we were able to feel every bone in her fragile body. She never seemed to lose her appetite, though—in fact she was actually eating more than she ever had—but she was, as they say ‘shrinking away to nothing.’ Before long we noticed a considerable loss of strength; several times we saw her try to jump up on the bed or couch and fail, and every time she fell to the floor we could sense her disappointment and embarrassment. I moved a hope chest to the foot of the bed for her to use as a ‘stepping stone’ to make it up to the bed, but she refused to use it; her pride wouldn’t allow it. For the last couple of months of her life, I don’t think Millie ever slept anywhere other than the floor because, as far as she was concerned, anything involving heights was out of reach.
On Millie’s last night on earth, my grandson Krischan wanted to give her something special: he brought her a can of tuna, her favorite. Actually he brought two cans because he thought that’s how much it would take to feed all three cats. I divided one can of tuna into three bowls for Krischan to serve them, and he didn’t dare move until Millie ate her last bite.
The following morning Millie was the only one of the three that ate breakfast. About an hour later Millie was in the kitchen wanting more. I split the other can of tuna—again into three bowls, and placed them on the kitchen floor. All three cats dug in at first, until suddenly Molly and Morgan walked away after eating only a portion of theirs. I may have imagined it, but I think they were telling Millie they wanted her to have some of theirs. Millie was more than happy to oblige.
On the morning of Millie’s last day on earth I went for a nine-mile run—one mile for each of the lives cats are supposed to have but I’ll be damned if Millie didn’t have but one—and stopped in the middle of my run at our family church. In front of the chapel is a white bench that I knelt before to say a short prayer:
Dear Lord.
This morning please accept Millie into your home.
Take good care of her; she is a really, really sweet girl.
And as soon as you have some time, make sure she meets up with Maui and Moe;
She needs to see her brothers.
And don’t let her forget that one of these days I’ll see her again.
I told her that already, but it wouldn’t hurt to remind her now and then.
Amen.

From this day forward I’ll think of it as Millie’s Bench: not only as a place to let someone know they’ll always be loved and missed terribly, but also a place to remind them there’s a piece of your heart that they will always have with them.

Scott Ludwig lives, runs, and writes in Senoia.  His latest book, “Southern Charm: Columns from a small town Georgia newspaper,” as well as the rest of his books, can be found on his author page on Amazon. He can be reached at magicludwig1@gmail.com.