Never quite long enough

(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.

19 thoughts on “Never quite long enough

  1. I’m sorry for your loss. Thank you for writing such a beautiful tribute and sharing it with us.

  2. hb

    I’m very sorry for your loss but I have to agree and thank you for sharing. This was strikingly beautiful. I’m going to go kiss my kitties again for good measure.

  3. caro

    thank you for sharing that, i was sad to hear about leo, he was a special cat for sure. so tough. thinking of you through the sad time.

  4. I’m sorry about your Leo, Barbara. What a lovely tribute to him.

  5. Barbara, my heart is aching along with yours. It’s just never, ever long enough but oh, think of the reunion!

  6. What a beautiful tribute. I am so sorry for your loss – Leo was a very special cat (and companion) indeed! (((HUGS)))

  7. This brought tears to my eyes. And reminded me of all my own cat companions who are on the other side with Leo now.

  8. Peggy

    I’m so sorry for your loss Barbara. Your post made me want to go home and hug my cats. It is beautiful. Leo was very loved and you gave him a wonderful life.

  9. Ah, he’s got good company in my Lion who passed last fall at 20 and a half, and that wasn’t long enough either even though he was quite ga-ga at the end.

    What a beautiful kitty with a beautiful spirit. I’m sorry for your loss.

  10. Really, why did I worry? I should have known you would all share this in the spirit it was intended. It’s just hard not to stray into maudlin territory.

    Thank you for the hugs and warm words. Very much appreciated.

  11. And aren’t they just great companions? Pets are our friends in a deep and genuine way.

  12. Melina

    I said good-bye to my beloved Buster last March, just short of his 17th birthday. It never gets easier. Thank you for sharing this with us. I hope your memories stay fresh and give you comfort.

  13. Mel

    Oh, Leo was beautiful and sounds like a great cat. I always struggle with the quandary of cat co-habitating is whether to let them be cats and go out. One of mine would happily live in but the other, no, no, no. It sounds like Leo had a wonderful life with you.

    They never live long enough, even if they lived to be as old as us it wouldn’t be long enough.

    Big big big hugs


  14. Tapsi

    I’m so sorry for your loss Barbara, I can only imagine the pain of losing someone so beloved. I dont think you’ll ever quite forget him in your life, and the space you shared together.
    Much love,

  15. Thank you, Tapsi, for saying someONE.

  16. Robyn

    I’m so sorry for your loss. So sorry I’m sitting here at work making a mess of my mascara. But what an uplifting and beautiful post. Blessed are the cats that live with Barbara Samuel.

  17. Sorry to make you cry, Robyn. But thank you for the blessedness comment.

  18. Robyn

    I’ve had some of my best tears over your books. There’s something about your writing that makes me cry and yet always leaves me hopeful about life and the beauty of it. Tears of sadness and joy.

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