"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

Monday, February 20, 2012

No Replacement

Since Cooper died shortly after Christmas, I've watched my other two cats with a careful eye. Are they eating? Walking okay? Acting more weird than usual? The three were all born of the same mother, one six months after the first two. This summer will be twenty years.

I get asked from time to time whether I'd like a new cat, or whether I'll be getting one soon. It's a question I've asked myself when I think I can't take one more day of aging cat issues. I pondered that question again the other night as Emma purred on my chest while I tried to read.

The answer is yes. I'll get a cat when Emma and Grace are gone. Introducing someone new into the family right now would send them both into a world of stress that wouldn't be good for them or me. And who knew that old cats could be so much work? Lifting up, putting down. Turning on a faucet because no other water will do. Letting out, and then back in—as quickly as possible because the urgent yowls allow for nothing else until feline demands are met. Offering first this food, and then that, settling on baby food (only chicken) and a really expensive dry food Emma will eat only when no one is in the room. Dealing with disintegrating toilet habits. I have neither the time nor the energy for a new cat right now.

I do know what I want when the day comes: a young fixed male, Maine Coon, from a shelter. One. What I end up with will of course be its own story.

As though reading my thoughts, Emma reached out with a claw-extended paw and grabbed my chin. When I wrapped my hand around her foot and firmly pushed it back, her purrs grew louder after she chirped at me. I studied her still-young face over the top of my glasses. The bright gooseberry eyes. Fur soft, shiny, luxuriant. Attitude in full flower.

Maybe she will live forever. I know better, but the longer I have her, the more I marvel at our relationship, and the gifts she's brought me. And it's been a relationship from the day she was born in this very room. There has always been something about tabby and white cats for me, so I was drawn to her immediately. I knew I would keep her even as I wondered how I was going to find homes for her litter mates. (As it turned out, I kept three and gave two to my brother—Emma is the last survivor.)

Our early relationship was less than ideal. She left home more than once, for a week one time, and my heart broke again and again as I thought I'd lost her. She would get mad when we went on vacation and pointedly ignore me for days after our return. She loved sacks, but got her head caught in handles and ran frantically through the house leaving trails of urine and broken treasures.

But she brought me gifts on a regular basis: flying squirrels, baby rabbits, tail-less lizards. She sought my lap, claimed my face with hers, and followed me around the yard when I planted or weeded. No matter how many other cats were around, they always made way when Emma approached. Everyone seemed to understand that we were each other's first. I'm not sure it's a choice I made consciously, or at all. It's felt like our bond was just there, and really strong, from the beginning.

The most precious gift Emma has given me is her aging self. I've watched her transform from a feisty, crabby, snooty thing who hid when anyone she didn't know came into the house into a friendly curious presence no matter who's around. She's more talkative, more affectionate, less fearful. She adores Toby, greets Walt as though she's actually missed him, takes treats from any friendly hand. She has become my model for growing old gracefully.

No new cat will replace Emma. I'll probably never have quite the relationship with another cat that I've had with her. Her longevity alone will be difficult to match. I do know that when her time does come, I won't be left with regret. I have loved her and cared for her as well as any cat could hope for, better probably, except cats always believe they'll have everything they want and more.

There's much I will miss when she's gone: the eggy smell of her breath, the particular weight and warmth of her in my lap, the curl of her behind my knees in the middle of the night. There's much I won't miss: the 3:00 a.m. relentless yowling, the banging screen door when she wants in, the messes. I know I can't have one without the other, and maybe I wouldn't want it any other way. Aware our days together are numbered, I embrace all of it, trying hard not to lose a minute of our time worrying about the end.


Jessica Nelson said...

*sniffle* My cat is eleven and still seems so young. She's an outside cat but I do love her and she's the last of the cats I had from my youth (17+). Like Emma, Pretty Girl has turned into a more curious, more talkative, less fearful creature. :-)


Beautifully written as always. Pets, any kind, are wonderful to have and sad to lose. It's one reason we didn't get another pup after our Sammy died.
I'm not good at parting.
Who is?
I know they give many gifts during their lifetime.
They are lots of work as well and when we treat them as we should it's time consuming. Right now hubby is enough work with one illness or another.
Blessings to you. And your felines.

Wanda said...

Believe me, a cat doesn't have to be aged to want to be lifted up and put down--have the water turned on because no other will do. 2 and 1/2...I think I have another 18 years of that. :) And I am grateful.

Amazing how they steal our hearts....

Desiree said...

Another beautifully written piece and so heartfelt especially since we recently said goodbye to our oldest bitch, Bonny. As B says, losing any beloved pet is a painful process, but as you say, it all comes with the territory and I know that I'll do it again until I'm too old to reasonably expect I'll be around to care for another dog for its and my lifetime. I doubt I'll opt for a puppy again, though. Definitely a young adult shelter/rescue dog, but only after the five we currently have have reached the end of their days. With four still under two, thankfully it's going to be quite some time, yet.

T. Powell Coltrin said...

Very beautiful writing.

My Maine Coon was the love of my life (in pet friends). She was wild and crazy but I (confess) I loved her the most. She didn't live long--7 years. Her sister lived 11. My only outdoor kitty friend is 14.


Sandi said...

Oh Deb, if only Emma could live forever. So beautifully written, the story of your life together. Perhaps even more poignant because you've written it prior to losing her. Obviously, it's on your mind, and I empathize with your sense of losing her, even while she is still purring on your lap, batting at your face. She is such a sweetie, and so blessed to have you for her human.

Reading this makes me yearn for another cat, as I've been yearning since Katie died. Yet, for similar reasons, it just isn't yet the time for another cat. When it is time, I will know it, and the cat will present itself!

So glad I allowed myself to check blogs this morning, as I know it will be days before I get back to checking!!

Sending you and Emma big hugs of love and comfort-

writing and living by Richard P Hughes said...

My daughter's cat Goldie, which I more or less inherited when my daughter went away to college ten or twelve years ago, died recently at over twenty years old. Goldie lived through more close calls than I could keep count of. She was a bit feisty, a bit mean...I guess that's one of the reasons she lived so long.

Barb said...

Animals do teach us lessons about Life and how best to live it. I still miss my old Golden Girl, gone for 7 years now. Twenty years has seen you both go through lots of growth and changes - she's your soulmate.

DJan said...

One cat person knows another cat person. I will always love my lost and forever gone kitties. And your writing made me feel their presence once again. What a wonderful and beautifully written piece, Deb. Thank you.

yaya said...

Seriously, cats live for 20yrs? I have a cat but I'm not really fond of cats. I rescued my cat after we moved into this house 11yrs. ago. She's a bit friendlier than when she first arrived, but I'm afraid after she's gone I'm done with felines. I hope that doesn't make me a bad person? I take good care of her, but it's not the loving relationship you have with your cats. I'm sorry you lost a cat though because I can tell you loved them so much. I hope your other ones can live long and everyone is happy. Great post.

#1Nana said...

Our last cat, Edna, died just before my daughter (Edna's real owner) got married. I didn't tell my daughter because I didn't want to cast a shadow over the wedding. And then there was never a good time to tell her until six months later when she and her husband were coming home from overseas. My husband picked them up at the airport and had to tell her on the drive home.
Your story brought back many memories of Edna who also left us many gifts.
Beautifully written. You have a gift for putting the feeling into your writing.

Mark Lyons said...

A beautiful little cat (don't tell Emma I think she's beautiful...she'll get snooty and start ignoring me again)and a wonderful story of what she is in your life.

I love you

kario said...

There is just something special about the way cats claim what they want. I believe they are powerful models for us humans (especially females) in how to assert our needs and ask for them without fear or regret.

I love that you and this lovely girl have bonded for so many years and I suspect this isn't the first time your paths have crossed.

Witmer Family Reunion said...

We have two babies only 1 1/2 years old. My daughter adores them both and will have them as long as possible. This post reminds me of her and them.

Dee Ready said...

Dear Deb,
This post touched me deeply. It brought back vivid and comforting memories of Dulcy and Eliza Doolittle--one of the cats who came to me after Dulcy's death. Thank you for your observing eye and your tender heart.


Donna said...

I get it....I have loved my dogs that much. My little pooch misses his buddy a lot but I too, couldn't bring another dog into the house till he's gone. He's 12 and not a pup any longer and another dog would do him in.
It is a remarkable relationship that you describe and I think you are blessed to have it. Enjoy her as I know you will!!

Unknown said...

Beautifully written, so warm and loving.

I once had a cat named Ugly (long story) that lived 19 years. She was such a part of my life that I didn't take on another cat for 5 years.

If one is lucky enough to be chosen by a cat to be their companion there is nothing like it. Non-cat people could never understand the bond.......as I was typing this my current cat (Kit) just jumped up and walked across the keyboard (one of her favorite things to do when I am absorbed in something other than her!). kt

Terri Tiffany said...

I can't believe your cat is 20! Mine never lived that long. I wish after reading your lovely post that I could have another cat but my daughter married a man who is allergic. Ugh.

Linda Myers said...

How lucky we are to be able to have these special relationships.

Katie Gates said...

Oh, cats! So much to comment on, I don't know where to begin. My elder, Vesta, is doing a lot of the yowling and circling, while Lotto, the younger (awesome Maine Coon), provides constant comic relief. I've learned, over the years, that two cats is the right number for me, and at this point, I am hoping that things will work out whereby I always have an older one and a younger one. Of course, sometimes a cat just shows up in your life and all plans go out the window. Sometimes, too, the cat goes out the window.

Enjoy your aging babies for all they are worth!

Unknown said...

Sniffles here as well.
Love is give and take. It's more than worth it.
I have a smallish dog ( who thinks he's large no doubt ) and agree wholeheartedly with all of this.
I cannot even think about life without him.

graceonline said...

Beautiful tribute to your friendship with your feline companions. Do you find Cooper visits you? My cats seemed not to know they were gone for quite some time, and they managed to make their presence known, with tails in my face and jumps on the bed, sometimes scents as well.

Heidrun Khokhar, KleinsteMotte said...

What a bond and that from a bird watcher and a feline!
Our cat is from a shelter and she is not as affectionate. he'll sleep on the bed but seek out a spot to call her own.And with both girls who gave her much fuss and played more,now gone she'd adjusting to life with slow pokes.