I am a long time owner of cats. Funny, really, because when I was a girl we had a dog: Gwener, a Welsh Pembroke corgi. She was Devourer of Table Scraps; Squirrel Chaser; Roller of, and with, Dead Toads; and Warrior Against the Demonic Vacuum Cleaner. She was adorable, with deep brown eyes, a foxy face, and red and white markings. She died during my college years; or rather, my parents had to put her down. They loved her so much they have never had a dog since. But she was there for my childhood and adolescence, and her passing was the end of that era.
After college, when I ended up getting a house with my fiance, we ended up getting a cat. And then another. And then two more. Four proved to be unsustainable and we ended up re-homing the friendliest, and then there were three. Years passed, we had two kids, three cats, a house with a stream, and a backyard with peonies and an apple tree. There are different stories about that time in my life, but if you know me, you know that also ended. I am divorced–I left the house, took one cat, split the kids, and never looked back. Though I only moved a town over (which is good for my girls, they deserve time with both of their parents), it was, and is, a whole different life.
People always get sad about endings, about changes, as though life is changing the rules. Sometimes it can be sad when we’re not ready to let go–but life IS change. Those are the rules, and there is no stopping it. You can choose to try to plant your feet in stubbornness–and then be swept away against your will, in a direction you didn’t choose–or you can accept that this is the nature of being, and guide with the grain.
In the last year, those three cats have passed away. Kiku, the eldest. Kinoko, the middle that lived with me. And last, Kashi, the sweetest. They each lived to be about sixteen, the same amount of time I was with my ex, now my co-parent. Both of the kids are in school–no longer as young as they used to be.
I cried over Kashi’s death today. After all, she brought a lot of joy. She was always a cuddly cat, the one who loved me pregnant. My belly was so warm she would lay on my belly shelf, until Rowan would kick her off from inside the womb. (Rowan was a feisty fetus, never still, and she didn’t like to be hot, even inside me.) But here’s the thing–she was never meant to live forever. I can love the memories of her without being bitter. After all, once I put Kinoko down, I adopted immediately–because love and loss define another. To know love, to love a pet, is to make yourself vulnerable by knowing that it ends. It ends before you do, and it doesn’t matter, because it’s worth it. Love, and risk, is worth it.
Today, I have two different cats. Boys, both black, sometimes assholes. Tearing up the screens, chewing electrical cords because they know it annoys me, breaking mugs and pushing glasses of water off the table, because they can, and they are young. But also coming in the night to body flop against me, chewing on my fingernails (a sign of love, I swear), and sometimes I can hear the purrs and their heartbeats through my pillow.
And my girls–one growing into young adulthood, and one growing into herself. Rowan and I were watching Parks & Rec the other night and with our sense of humor, we burst into boisterous laughter in tandem. Rowan looked at me and said, “Do you think our neighbors ever get annoyed that we laugh so much? Because we’re pretty loud.” I thought about it, and it’s true, we are laughing about something every single day. Not a day goes by where we don’t. How freakin’ great is that? And my youngest–she’s a queen of the side-eye, but I can still make her smile. She doesn’t like to admit that she thinks I’m funny.
Those two, of course, came from my marriage and are one of the reasons I have no regrets about the past. But someday, that will also end, by my death, or theirs. It would be better if I ended before they do–after all, that seems to be more natural, doesn’t it? Having children makes your heart so vulnerable. I’ve already decided not to worry too much if they go before me–I doubt there is a way to protect a heart from that kind of heartbreak. The only way to do so would be to distance oneself from love, and I have already decided that I don’t do that kind of thing.
It is the risk of all kinds of connection, human or otherwise. The divorce was hard, make no mistake–I am fortunate that both he and I really did live up to our ideals of keeping the kids first, and it shows. And I can’t say if I will ever marry again–though frankly, it is not something I dwell upon. Because the greatest gift and truth of all is time–with our pet companions, and with our human friends.
Time reveals all: the true nature of things, the true being of animals, and the true character of people. I love my cats. If I didn’t have kids, I might have dogs, and I would love them too. And I love my friends, my family, the souls that are my kids, and dare I say, my boyfriend. I love the people I share my time with. I do get frustrated with my mortal life, and I do get a bit worried by the magnitude of humanity’s problems, but there is still so much to love in this world, to love in this life. I can accept the closing of doors, because there are other ones that are opening. Change is a flow, life is a current.
So goodbye, another phase of my life. Goodbye, another beloved pet. I am grateful for the joy you brought, and thankful that I got to experience all of that. Welcome, life. I look forward to another, yet different phase. Because I can cry and smile at the same time, and neither has to take away from the other.