Around 25 years ago, I was living in the apartment that is attached to the house I now own. I was young, and it was spring, my favorite season and I was happy.
I had a new massage therapy practice that I was working hard to build. Around that time, I met a wonderful fellow named Eliot. We became friends, and he was a dear cheerleader every time I saw him downtown.
On one of those beautiful spring mornings, I was sitting in my grandparents hand-me-down patchwork faux leather chair by my door, coffee in hand with the sun shining on my face. Suddenly, a stray cat came to my screen door and meowed to come in. I got up, opened the door, and the cat came in, quickly scoped out my entire apartment and then wanted to go back out. I opened the door, and it left as quickly as it came.
I was pleasantly perplexed by this visitor that I had never seen before. I continued my morning routine, and just about to head downtown to my office when the cat came back. I opened the door, and let it in. But this time, it appeared to have a mouse in its mouth. The cat ran behind my sofa, and wanted back out instantly. I let it out.
Curious, I went to the sofa, pulled it out a little, and lo, there was a newborn kitten lying on the floor. It could not have been more than a day old. I gently picked up and saw that it was alive. I warmed it in my hands, then made a nest for it in my dresser drawer with blankets to keep it warm. I wasn't sure what to do, so I cancelled my appointments downtown, and stayed home to watch over the tiny kitten.
About two hours later, the cat returned with another kitten. I directed it into my bedroom and the nest I made for her other infant. She placed it inside, and again wanted to leave immediately. So out she went.
This went on throughout the day. Finally, when she arrived with the forth kitten, she stayed and hunkered down with them. They were nursing in no time. I got her food and supplies for a long stay, and by the next morning, I knew they were all going to be ok.
They say that cats know cat people, and this kitty found one. A life-long one. She came to make sure it was a safe place to bring her babies. And it was.
The following morning, I went to my office in the heart of Downtown Asheville, and as I made my usual rounds, I told everyone about this cat bringing her new born babies to my apartment. Eliot was one of the people I had told. Within a short time, all the kittens had been spoken for and Eliot was the first. He came to my apartment and picked out a beautiful red tabby, and named him Max. It was love at first sight for him.
Everyone eventually came and took their kittens home, and I even found a fantastic home for the mama who became the resident barn cat at the Biltmore Estate, which was as posh as the mansion, and one of my girlfriends worked there and tended to it with love and care. She had become a bit of a celebrity among my friends, and it was always a wonderful tale to tell.
I would run into Eliot often and he would regale stories about him and Max. They went hiking together, listened to music together, ate together and took care of each other. I even went on a little hike with them one sunny afternoon. He adored Max, and vise versa.
Time passed. I had given up my private practice to start a school, and was incredibly busy with work. But whenever I ran into Eliot, he would always ask me about my progress and remained a kind cheerleader and friend.
Eliot was a Bass player. Some would say he was accomplished. I would call him a monster musician. He played in the Asheville Symphony which I frequented, played with the Paul Winter Consortium, traveled the world with different musicians and gave lessons to hundreds of aspiring musicians. He won two Grammys for his outstanding work as a musician. If you've ever been to St. Patkrics Cathedral at Easter for the walking of the animals through the church, Eliot was one of the musicians playing.
He invited me one day to come to a duet he was performing at UNCA one afternoon. His partner was some old Jazz saxophonist from Charleston, SC. Everyone knew who he was except me as I wasn't a jazz person. But I went to see Eliot and be as supportive to him as he had always been to me. It became apparent to me that they were not playing any sheet music. They were adlibing the entire performance that went on for a very long time. They were so perfectly in sync with one another, and playing such incredibly complex frames and times and notes and things that I can't even describe except to say I had goosebumps from head to toe the entire time. That is when I realized that he was a monster musician. Not many can do what they did that afternoon. It took a special kind of brilliance to pull that off. He waited for me after the show to say hi and ask how I was doing. He always did. Even after the Symphonies.
I moved my school operation up to a property in Weaverville, about 10 miles north of downtown in 1999. I rarely saw Eliot after that. I was so engrossed in my work that I forgot how important that friendship was. Twenty plus years have passed since I last saw him. I'm sure Max has long passed away from his wonderful life with Eliot. He was a very lucky cat to be so loved.
A few days ago I learned that Eliot died. He had a heart attack at age 63, barely older than me. It didn't really it me until today when I was remembering him, remembering our precious friendship and remembering Max, and the mama bringing those kittens into my home. I turned off everything this afternoon just to thank him for his constant kindness and love. I am mourning a friend today, but take solace in knowing he is with Max again.
On a special note (no pun intended, Eliot), a couple years after the cat brought her kittens to my apartment, a woman who lived across the next ridge, which was quite far, told me that those kittens were born under her deck, and every time she let her dogs out, they would try to kill them. The mother, with great bravery, traversed both ridges, back and forth with a newborn in her mouth, to a place she knew instinctively was safe. That was one special cat, an even more special story, and an ode to Eliot Wadopian.