When I first met the greatest artist and cat lover I have ever known, LeRoy Foster, he had just moved into an empty storefront on Livernois in his only home, Detroit.

Being great at something like art does not necessarily translate to being materially well off. Old LeRoy struggled and needed the little bit of money we made traveling to Detroit Elementary Schools as part of the Omniarts program back in the ’80s. We drew kids and shared what we knew about art. I was happy to be in his shadow and glad to give this gentle genius the ride he needed.

Just before I met him he had been burned out of his home and a treasure trove of art went down in flames. This was sad for LeRoy but not as tragic as losing his two cats in the fire. He couldn’t talk about it. He communicated the extent of the loss with his eyes, those eyes that would eventually go blind.

When blind, LeRoy kept on living, seeing the world with his heart. We traveled more than a few miles to find the perfect rose for his garden.

But cats? I knew nothing about cats, LeRoy frustrated me at times because he walked so slow and he talked on and on about cats as if they were the Egyptian gods we needed.

Year 2000, seven years after LeRoy died, a kitten was delivered to me. My friend Kim Stroud found him in the street and asked me if I could take him. She and Frank already had four cats and a dog!

So I did. I was newly married, living in Howell of all places because that’s where Kathy and my stepson Steven needed to live. I picked up the cat dubbed McNichols after the street where he was found and off we went to Howell. Howl.

I had this frightened kitten in a box and all the way to our new home he cried. His head kept popping out and I kept poking it in while trying to keep my eyes on the road. This cat was going to hate me.

What a surprise. Now named Ender after a character in a book Kathy, Steven and I all read, this cat bonded with me. He kept jumping into my lap and purred so loud he couldn’t be ignored! And me? Yeah, I fell in love with him. I didn’t want to do it but that’s how love goes sometimes.

Ender is my hero. No thunder or lightning disrupts him from sniffing the air and exploring the world while purring like a motorboat.

Ender has lived up to his name. He taught a bully blue jay a lesson he didn’t live to regret. He chased a pit bull away from our house. He has brought me many a caught feast I’ve had to politely say no to. Ender is all cat and something more.

Among the things he has taught me is the need to adapt.

Life changes. Though Kathy and Steven no longer live with me Ender still does, now in Oak Park. Ender has been a constant these past seventeen years.

Three years ago he wandered next door and I’m guessing that when the dog came out he rushed so high up the tree he couldn’t get down. It was late at night before I figured out where his cries came from. I sat under the tree and heard his fear. Forget the fire department or the Humane Society nobody would help me get him down. Seventeen hours later I borrowed a tall ladder from a neighbor and with gloves went twenty feet up and brought him kicking and screaming back to earth.

We both have seen how scary life can be. He moves on quicker than I do. It took a few days and then he was back in my lap. Ender and I are mortal but he doesn’t care much. I wish I could forget like he knows how to forget.

Six months ago he became blind and like LeRoy it has not deterred him from soaking in life. He still lies beside me and tells me what he needs. He lets me know when it’s time to get up whether I want to or not. Every day we take a walk in the backyard where he inhales the world with a bounce in his step.

He has known fear but lives fearlessly.

I’m a lucky man with many friends and family who I love and who love me but who would have thought that my longest loving unconditional live-in relationship would happen with a cat.

LeRoy Foster is smiling down from heaven.

(There are other cats that came into our lives. They accepted me because they wanted to live with Ender. Petrified Petra and Crazy Kat Charlie have their stories that deserve to be told some other time.)