"It's as if a great bird lives inside the stone of our days and since no sculptor can free it, it has to wait for the elements to wear us down, till it is free to fly." Mark Nepo

Friday, August 1, 2008

When Is Goodbye?

The last time I know for sure I saw Tabasco was Monday morning. As has been his routine for this summer, he slept outside and the minute I was up in the morning, he would be at the living room window, loudly demanding to be let in and fed.

On Monday, I  greeted him at the door as I always have. "Good mornin', Buddy. Hungry? Look out, I can't get your food if you keep getting in my way."

His return greeting consisted of several sharp "Yeowp" sounds and then his signature diesel engine purr the minute I reached down to pat his back and tug on his long tail.

I know he was around during the day on Monday. Sprawling on the kitchen table while I tried to eat breakfast. Sprawling on my bed while I tried to make it. Sprawling on the back of the couch finally, settled in for a nap that lasted the rest of the day. 

Walt remembers letting him out late Monday night.

He hasn't been home since.

Tabasco. My seventeen pound marmalade monster. Born in this very room to Cooper who has been his constant companion for the last fifteen years. They go out together. They come in together. They share a food bowl. 

He's never been gone for more than twenty-four hours before. Just a couple of weeks ago he was gone for a full cycle of the clock, but showed up the next morning, hungry and demanding as usual.

I've looked for him. Wandering the roads, searching reluctantly for a glimpse of his wild orange amidst the wilder green of the countryside. My eyes constantly pull toward the living room window, drawn by movement that is only hope. Every time I pass my bed, I almost see him there. I hear his insistent call, but when I go to let him in, there is nothing to see but brick and mat and a shimmer in the air. 

I've known this day was coming. It doesn't help. I've hoped that my old cats, when their time comes, would wander into the woods to relinquish the last of their nine lives. What was I thinking? No goodbye. No last cuddle. No gentle sending off. Just these empty places in my life that this  one large cat filled to overflowing for fifteen years.

The year that Tabasco was born, I found myself with a total of nineteen cats. Two litters of new kittens, plus a nearly grown litter I hadn't quite found a home for, plus assorted adults. I joked about believing that the more cats I had, the easier it would be when one died. Of course that didn't work. I didn't even fool myself very well with the illusion, but it seemed possible. Over time, I either found homes for the cats, or the coyotes got them, or the road out front claimed them. I was only able to bury two ultimately. The rest just left one day and never came home. 

I grieved each, no matter how long they'd been here. No matter how much easier life became with one less cat. No matter how much happier the remaining cats seemed to not have to share their humans and the attention they bestowed.

Over time, the cat population here settled to four. Everyone was neutered. I stopped bringing kittens home. Tabasco and Cooper regularly chased off hopeful feline visitors. The final four figured out how to avoid coyotes, cars and neighborhood kids.

And finally, this summer, I realized that I have four old cats. Tabasco's mom, Cooper, and her archenemy litter-mate, Emma, are almost sixteen. Grace was born to another mom around the time that Tabasco was born to Cooper. I've never had old cats before. I've never had any animal who lived to a ripe old age. I've never gotten used to the pain of losing any of my animal friends.

I'm trying not to imagine Tabasco's end beyond a peaceful sleep. He was so alive and so ornery the last day I saw him, that's hard to cling to. I wish I wasn't imagining his end at all. I'm trying not to lose hope too soon. He could come home still. Emma was gone a full week once and marched up the driveway on the seventh day - hungry, peevish, but otherwise no worse for the wear. 

I don't know when I'll stop looking for him. I don't know when goodbye becomes a certain thing. I don't know what to do with this pain. I do know that my heart hurts. I would give just about anything to feel the hard bump of his head under my chin and the soft drape of his body curled under my arm, the pulse of his purrs soothing me to sleep like the swooshing of water on a beach.


La La said...

Weeping here! I am so sorry! I do hope he comes home. This is almost more than I can take! My girlies are11 and I often find myself gripped with fear about losing them. I DO HOPE HE COMES BACK! Consider yourself hugged!

Carrie Wilson Link said...

"My eyes constantly pull toward the living room window, drawn by movement that is only hope."

That is beautiful, Deb, and so poignant. I, too, am crying, you describe the "fun" of acceptance and letting go so perfectly - damn you!

M said...

I know the feelings you shared here. I was with Festus this morning, and there is a part of me that thinks it might have been the last time. I've only known Festus a year...I can't imagine the bonds that are created during the time you've had Tabasco.

I love the way you can find a story in everything...and your willingness to share them with all of us.


Anonymous said...

I hope there is a happy ending to this. I love my pets so much and it is so painful when it is time for them to go.

Sending you hope and hugs.

FrecklesandDeb said...

I was sorry to read about Tabasco today. It is hard to lose a dear friend, and I imagine even harder still to not know exactly what happened. But, you've written a lovely tribute.

La La said...

I keep checking back. Did he ever come home? My heart hurts for you!

Jerri said...

Oh, Deb. I am so sorry to hear this. I join everyone else in hoping he finds his way home.

My love to you.

Nancy said...

So sorry Deb. Maybe the hardest part is not knowing. My dog Abby is 14 and I know the time will come soon. Your words describe all of this so perfectly.

grammer said...

Deb, feeling your pain with this loss in a big way. Nine months after I moved to Mass. with Nick, my buddy of 9 years, he took off into the woods and never came home. I searched endlessly. This was in '06. There are places in these woods where I find myself calling his name and fully expecting to see him come running, but the logical brain knows better. Part of my heart has not yet healed.

It's such a mystery, how they know when to go, and where they run off to. The not-knowing is an arrow to the human heart, but our feline companions have a sense, and instinct drives them to act in ways that are best for themselves and best for the tribe.

We'll always be looking for our lost boys. May yours return to you. xo