Saturday, May 15, 2010

Dear Kitty

It's a sad day today--much sadder than I realized it would be. When my mom called yesterday to say that she was finally going to have to put down Daisy, her ailing cat of fifteen years, I knew it would be a rough few days for her. But I had no idea I would feel affected in any significant way. I'm not an animal person. I haven't lived with my mom for six years. I rarely even interact with the cat when I go to Mom's. But it's funny how a little creature who I always considered background, like the furniture or dishes, seems to be leaving such a hole in my heart by her absence.

I suppose if I dig a little deeper, the reasons for my sadness begin to come into focus. Daisy has been a constant in the life of my nuclear family for fifteen years, even as that family itself was fractured. That little kitty has been with my mom through the darkest days of her life. As a result of the insidious double life of my sociopath former step-father, in the space of four years, my mom went through a divorce, four moves, the loss of two homes, and other losses too numerous and painful to recount. For myself, those years were marked by witnessing the stuff of my childhood get tossed out or carted off with each wave of my mom's necessary downsizing. In her defense, she always gave me the opportunity to keep things myself, especially if it was rightfully mine. ("Do you want your old dollhouse?" Yes. "Do you want the plaster model of your teeth from when you got braces?" No.) In the end, though, so many things just had to go. Let me tell you how bizarre it is to be shopping at Savers and realize you're looking at the pink juice glasses you drank out of every morning for a dozen years. Or how odd it is to watch a Mexican family walk into your living room during an open-house garage sale and heave your couch--the one you've slept on, done homework on, and made out with your boyfriend on--out the door and into their battered pickup. Each of these material losses always brought feelings of grief, of course, but also a certain insecurity. When the physical reminders of an era are gone, fear creeps in and whispers that you have lost contact with that time forever. I imagine myself in a lifeboat that can only hold so much--the materials and realities of my current daily life--but on either side of the boat are ropes that attach to boxes. Inside the boxes are memories and reminders of former times. And every time I saw things from my past let go, it was like another rope pulled and unraveled and snapped, the package drifting out to sea, leaving an empty space on my boat's perimeter. (And then every time I shouted, "WIIILLLSON!!!" Okay, no. No, I didn't.) So now that it appears that the waves of downsizing the past have calmed for the time being, I realize that the loss of one little striped kitty who seemed as natural as the dishes or the furniture means so much because the dishes and the furniture are already gone, supplanted by smaller, cheaper versions of themselves.

I also begin to realize that I trusted Daisy in a strange way to be there for my mom in her singleness--as much as a ten-pound animal who needs someone to clean her litter box can support a human being. Like I had taken her aside and had a little heart-to-heart, coaching her on how to be a good listener and intone the right meows when Mom had a hard day. Now that she's gone, that simple companionship for my mom will be no longer. And then, too, I'm going to miss her for my own sake because she was just a sweet, kind little presence in my life for more than half of my years.

I wish I could have a heart as tender as Gabriel's. He cried openly as he petted Daisy goodbye this morning. I wish I could tell my tears they are not foolish for being shed for a cat. Daisy, wherever you are, you were a good kitty--a gestalt kitty, more than the sum of your whiskers and tail and paws. I place you in your little box like Schroedinger's cat on the side of my boat and release you out to sea.

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