(I debated whether to post this, but I would not be me if I didn’t tell you this story, so here it is.)
I’m thinking tonight of my cat Leo, who was killed Saturday night by a fox or a coyote. Probably the fox I’ve seen trotting down the street so boldly, owning it. The fox who steals my strawberries and leaves his poo in my whiskey barrels.
I don’t know why Leo was out in the middle of the night in the front yard. He doesn’t (didn’t) do that any more really. He stuck close to the house, sunning himself in the backyard, never straying far away. Or so I thought. Maybe he was out every night all summer long and I never noticed because he was home by morning, weary and sated from his hunting. The dogs have access to the backyard through the patio doors, and Leo used it, too.
It seems so odd that he’s gone, that he was there on Thursday afternoon, grooming Athena. That he sat with me on Friday night, in the basement, watching movies. Purring, glad to have me to himself. Sudden death is so hard to encompass. He was just here and now he isn’t and how is that possible? How does the earth go on, while he’s missing from it? I remember feeling so surprised when a friend of mind died suddenly in college, that everything was just the same out in the world, that we all just kept on. It’s so shocking. Joan Didion talks about it in her Year of Magical Thinking. How can it all look the same for everyone when it is so different for me?
But therein lies the beauty of our individuality, our own attachment to THIS one, and THAT one. This very specific being, never to be repeated, individual life. There are so many of us in the world and all through history, and so many cats who have lived and died, so many the world over; and yet, this one, this one, is never to be repeated, ever again. Not in all the history of the world, in all the countries, in all of time. This cat and I lived together in this particular time.
I keep worrying that I will forget his very particular ways, his himselfness, all the things that made him uniquely Leo who lived now, with me, all these years. There is no reason to think that I will, since I remember them all. My delicate little Piwacket and Thoreau, slim white shorthairs, so alike and so different; but I found each of them under a car at different times. Moses was a big black and white male, like Leo, but he was tougher and rougher and never loved anyone but me. Before Moses was Giovanni, a rather nervous cat at times, who lost a leg somehow in the middle of the night. He lived fine without it. They’ve all been with me, stayed with me. So will Leo.
I was grieving Moses when my father found Leo at a PetSmart. We went to lunch and my dad took me over afterward, and Leo reached through the bars to grab my sleeve. He had a funny way of focusing, maybe he was a little nearsighted, and would sort of shake his head in a fast, focusing way, and he did it that day and made me laugh, so we bonded from that moment on. He was black and white and long haired. Not so long it was annoying, but long enough to be very soft against your hands. He walked a little awkwardly, so from behind he sometimes looked pigeon toed, especially because his back legs looked like pantaloons. Waddling a little. So cute, that tail up in the air. He was not a terribly big cat, but he always thought of himself as much bigger. When he was a kitten, we called him Walter Kitty, because he was so full of himself, stalking humans or dogs or the biggest, wildest things in grass. He was always a good hunter, specializing in baby birds and cicadas, from which he would eat only the tender green middles, and leaving them twitching on the sidewalk. More than once brought down a squirrel, which he didn’t bother to eat, but left on the porch for us. He was a very confident fellow, very sure of his place in the world, serenely so.
He used to like to sit on my front porch in the old house, with his paws propped up on the lower rung of the wrought iron, his lower body flowing behind. The front paws looked like he was wearing spats. So pretty, and he liked it when I stroked them. Through the winter, tiny white tufts of long hair grew between his toes, and he loved going in the spring to be groomed, getting all that old hair off his body, being washed and combed and petted into perfect beauty.
When he was a young cat, he loved playing hide and seek with me. We ran through the house, first him chasing me, then me chasing him. Hiding, trying to freak each other out. He would play for literally hours, and I made a fool of myself running through the dining room, dipping behind doorways.
He was eleven. He arrived in my life on exactly the right day, when I was slightly blue and feeling changes in the air and he brought VERVE! And HAPPINESS! And SNAKE HEADS! into my life. He stayed through the deaths of my grandparents, and my divorce, and my boys leaving home, and our move to Colorado Springs. He was never ill or unhappy a day in his life.
Christopher Robin found him in front of the house on Sunday morning. A violent death, but quick, and not a car, which I would have hated. If Leo himself had chosen his exit, it would have been something dignified enough that he could tell the tale as a lion would, on the other side. Shrugging—sometimes the hunter becomes prey. I keep thinking of an afternoon over the winter when he came rushing into my office and jumped up on the windowsill, and I looked outside to see the fox trotting down the street. How it all lined up, in the end!
Yesterday, I went to get his ashes (the box is like a beautiful gift box, white and slim and tall, tied with blue ribbon) and I planned to come home and get some work done. I was so sleepy on the drive that I put them on the table and took a nap, and then, when I woke up it was rainy and cold and I still tried to get some work done. But I only wanted comforting things. Brownies, cheese, graham crackers with cinnamon sugar. I made a cup of tea.
Finally, I gave up. Not all days have a big sorrow in the middle of them. Sorrow is a true and honorable feeling. It is not the opposite of joy, but a part of it. I love, therefore sometimes there is the sadness of loss. I still choose love. I still choose joy.
They never stick around quite long enough, do they? And yet, how thin and small and dry my life would be without them.
See you on the other side, baby. Love ya.