Winter Heartbreak, Hope Springs…Maybe
By Adrea Gibbs
Honest to goodness, my husband special ordered her. When he dropped off her pregnant mother, he made sure the staff was well aware that if one was born, it was his. He called every single day to see if the mother had given birth. It was getting to the point of ridiculous. We already had three, but he wanted a fourth. Oddly enough, I answered the phone the one morning he had yet to make his daily call. His request was fulfilled. A calico kitten had been born.
That was how we got Angela, the final member of our cat tribe. As a tiny kitten she was absolutely adorable trying to keep up with the others, working her hardest to master the cat door that accessed the basement where the food, water, and litter was kept, all on her own. She would try to climb up and push time and time again. A major triumph when she finally succeeded.
My husband would go upstairs to the bedroom and she would follow him like a puppy, made sure she was noticed, then flop, expectantly waiting for the belly rub she always got. As she grew, she came into her own, in particular, making sure her older siblings were well aware that she was as capable of running things as any of them were. She could be a bully over some things, but her nature was to settle into one of her favorites spots, knowing that when passed by or came into that room, she would be the recipient of some well-deserved love and rubs.
She also liked to go into the craft room, where she wasn’t permitted, but understandably it was hard to resist And, the baskets, yarn, ribbon, plush, and other fun things that probably come close as possible to being a cat heaven here on earth. She was constantly getting chased out of there. It was her game and hers alone. If ever we needed to round everyone up for one reason or another, Angela perfected her ability to hide back there. Calico makes for an amazing camouflage in a room filled with colorful fabrics and all variety of textures. She became quite adept at playing hide and seek, but when found, never fussed or struggled. She just allowed herself to be gently chastised while getting cuddled and taken to wherever she needed to be. One particularly memorable moment was when we searched high and low for her in all her favorite places, including multiple trips in and out of the craft room. Finally, she was discovered. Angela had tucked herself into a pile of stuffed animals with only her head poking out. It was straight out of “E.T.” She sat so quietly staring straight ahead eyes opened wide, not moving a muscle, even as we stood there laughing hysterically. On occasion it would come up and we would laugh as easily as when it had happened. The only regret? We didn’t have the forethought to take a picture. The image, however, remains indelible in our minds.
Angela was the snuggler of the tribe. Those who love cats know their personalities are very strong and, with that, they either love to be held and cuddled or want nothing to do with it. Unless, of course, it is their decision, which is all a part of cat’s charm and charisma. She was always amiable and spent endless hours helping my husband watch football and movies by holding him dutifully down in his chair. The perfect kitty pin and excuse for not answering the phone or helping with chores. She also loved coming upstairs at night and hanging out first in the bathroom, then in the bedroom, patiently waiting for me to finish my evening activities before getting into bed. It was a very specifically timed ritual. She knew exactly when I was settled, then came up to take her place. Getting as close as possible, often reaching out with her soft paw to place it on my hand as I typed or read, nuzzling into the crook of my arm to position herself in a way that she could look up at me with her big eyes, purring all the while.
My husband called me a cat thief, as when I was away on business, Angela’s evening location of choice would be stretched out alongside him on the bed to catch the movie du jour. When I was home, she made a show f purposefully jumping over him, often landing where it was not particularly appreciated by my spouse, on her way to curl up next to me. It was a nightly tradition in the same way that waking up every morning you could be sure that her little white hind paws were peeking out from under my husband’s side of the bed. He was certain, in spite of her making an overture of jumping over him every night when I was there, that she was, as he liked to call her, his little “watch cat.”
Angela did seem to be a protector of him, of sorts. The two of them had a special relationship, of that there was never any doubt. She would come when he called her and when she sitting with him, she always looked up at him with adoring eyes. She was his baby. It was as if she knew, from the start, that he had really wanted her. He had, after all, placed a special order.
I remember how we raced down to see the kittens following the call. On the third trip, when offered to hold her, he refused because she was so tiny and he didn’t want to hurt her. But he couldn’t stop saying how beautiful she was. When she came home, after who knows how many visits to see her, Angela was small enough curl up in his palm for months. But, as all things do, eventually she grew up, a beautiful, fluffy, lovable calico with just a smidgeon of attitude and so much love to share.
I think we forget, sometimes, about the hold our pets have over us, especially when they are embraced as our family, and every day they bring so much joy into our lives. Day in and day out, through thick and thin, they are by our sides at the ready to sympathize or celebrate. They fold into the fabric of our day-to-day existence, sometimes more noticeable for when they aren’t where they usually are than their consistency at being present. And we worry and fuss over them when they aren’t acting like themselves doing what we can to comfort and heal and return with us to our grounding patterns of normalcy. Sometimes all the love in the world doesn’t help.
I recently returned for a very short business trip and didn’t think much about the fact that Angela wasn’t at the basement door to greet me as she did every time one of us came home. It was her job. I would count on hearing her calling out from behind the closed door leading garage to basement. But I was juggling my bags and the few items requested for pick-up while on the way home, so heading upstairs I dropped everything and sat down, chit chatting all the while. Suddenly, something changed. The house, I noticed, was eerily quiet. My husband, who is disposed to be a chatterbox, looked at me and with a hushed tone, the kind reserved for information you don’t want to share, but to which you are obligated, told me that we had lost Angela that morning. He quickly continued he hadn’t wanted to tell me earlier, knowing I had work to do and a long drive ahead of me. He also knew he had to tell me as soon as I got inside as, like clockwork, I would be calling for her and the other cats. He knew he had to beat me to the punch.
And a definite punch, it was. Everything inside of me swelled and poured forth. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. In fact, I wasn’t even sure what was hearing. But all I needed to do was look at my husband’s tear-filled eyes for confirmation that what he said was the absolute, honest truth. Our baby was gone. There would be no snuggling tonight or any other night. That part of daily life had vanished with her as easily as if a random breeze snuck through a crack to snuff out the brightest candle in the room.
He had found her that morning in one of her favorite places and thought she had been sleeping, but soon realized that was not the case. He took care of her as gently and lovingly as he could with his little girl, taking back to the same vet where she had been born. I was glad that he was there to say good-bye to the sweet calico that had stolen his heart.
To say this doesn’t hurt would be a bold-faced lie. To say that I will be able to just pick up and move forward would be likewise. To say that when I come up the stairs during my coming and goings with laundry or paperwork and not be able to take that brief moment to pet her soft fur and tickle her under the chin will be quickly forgotten would be the biggest untruth of it all. Angela was a living, breathing piece of our existence and that does not pass lightly.
Things never will be the same as they were with her little presence lighting our home. I won’t be able to do a sit-up in the basement without wishing imagining her “helping” me through my exercises, walking around and through my arms like some obstacle course just for her entertainment during push-ups. Having the treadmill was well-warmed following her requisite cat nap on the belt. She won’t be outside of the shower waiting for me to get out, rolling over requesting a belly rub, or sleeping in front of the fire in some random position that always had us peeking for a look over the coffee table and laughing. Her feline family has been looking for her, too, but soon enough they will realize she won’t be there anymore to share the slice of winter sunshine on the floor they all too happily shared. And when I look at my husband, sitting in his chair, and see he is not really watching the TV, but at the drape she liked to tuck up under to watch the birds and snowflakes, there will be no question in my mind of the impact Angela had on all of us in this home.
There are those who will say that what I am feeling, joyous at having had her in our lives for much too short a time, guilty at not having been able to do anything for her, and tearful each time I crawl into bed or get out of the shower because she isn’t there, is silly. It’s just an animal. But anyone who loves their pet knows what a hole it makes in both your heart and your soul. It isn’t easy to get over…nor should it be. In the dead of winter, when everything outside is cold and sharp and cloaked in savage white, Angela kept us warm just by her presence. I feel a bit like my insides are the very reflection of the cold, snow-covered outside at the moment. I will eventually thaw out, but for the moment, even with the comfort of our other cats and my wonderful husband, it doesn’t make losing a pet, no, a family member any easier.
I remind myself that spring will come and with it time will have passed and I will be in a better place. But for now, I will allow myself to cry at strange moments, keep to myself, and mourn for our little baby whose life was over much too soon. When I cast a quick glance at my husband, seeing his own struggle wrapping around his mind what has happened, I know we both need time to grieve as much as we need to be thankful that we got a chance to have Angela be in our lives.
Angela, our sweet girl, we are all the better for having you and will see you at the Rainbow Bridge. You more than lived up to being a special order kitty and, for that, you will always be cherished as the embodiment of true and unconditional love. Good bye. We love you.