For the last seven and a half years of our lives, we’ve had a companion.
He was a long-tailed, short-haired, orange-and-wite cat named Dickens. We called him “Charlie” about half the time though. He was about a year younger than our other two. Our others are named Austen (“Jane”) and Clemens (“Sam”). Mostly, I guess, ‘cos we’re bookish nerds at heart and we thought it would be nice to name our cats after some of our favorite writers.
And today, we had to say goodbye to Charlie. Somebody careened through our neighborhood, killed our cat with their vehicle, and didn’t even stop. I guess the best thing we can say about the whole horrible deal is that he didn’t suffer; his death was as sudden as it was violent, and it’s reasonable to hope he didn’t have time to feel pain. Although that’s certainly more than I can say for my wife or myself, when we saw the condition of his still-warm remains.
Our other two know there’s something wrong; they know first of all that we humans are upset, and they’re clearly starting to be aware that they haven’t seen Dickens for a while. Austen has taken to jumping up on the spaces where Dickens used to hang out when he was in the house, and she’s looking around and snuffling after his scent in his favorite spots. Clemens has been looking for Dickens in the sunny spots in our yard where he used to snooze when he was outside. And, well, they’re not finding him. And they won’t. I don’t really know what that’s like for cats; I don’t think they mourn the same way people do, but on the other hand he was definitely “one of us” in their little world, and now that world of their family is diminished by his absence. Of course, they can’t understand us if we tell them what happened, nor know what we mean when we try to reassure them. They have to deal with it in their own cat way, and we can’t really help.
I don’t know whether I hope for, or dread, the thought that Clemens might discover a spot about half a block away where a splash of red stains the pavement of the road, and that his nose will tell him exactly whose blood that is. It would be closure, in a way, if he really understood what happened. He wouldn’t have to wonder or worry or … whatever it is cats do. But it would also be the same kind of process that my wife and I went through when we saw Dickens’ body, and if cats do that process the same way as us, I wouldn’t want to inflict it on him.
I took the body down to the SPCA for cremation and disposal, did the paperwork, and mostly managed to avoid sobbing like a baby. And then I came home, lit a candle, and sat down to try to remember all that was good and worthwhile and endearing and enduring about our orange boy. I want to keep those good memories, rather than just the pain of saying goodbye.
So, I’m sitting here at the computer, and Charlie’s memory is purring in my mailbox. And when I feed the cats tomorrow morning, Charlie’s memory will curl around my leg and stroke my ankle. The other two have things to say, but Charlie was always the quiet one who said what he needed to say with a touch. And when I went out this evening to gather the cats in before dusk, Charlie’s memory was waiting for me on the back steps, where he used to hang out in the evening sunshine until I opened the door. He could come in any time he wanted through the cat door, but he preferred to wait until I came to pet him and pick him up and bring him inside, and purred to me instead of protesting as we came in. When it’s time to get up in the morning, Charlie’s memory will be right there, purring loudly the way a cat purrs when they want something, waiting for me to open the door.
I like animals, and especially cats, but I try not to anthropomorphize them too much; I don’t pretend that they’re people. Charlie was a friend, and he was a cat. He didn’t think in the same way as a human, and he didn’t mean the kind of things humans would use language to express when he meowed or purred or gave us headbumps or brushed up against us — he meant, well, I guess the kinds of things that cats tell each other by meowing or purring or giving each other headbumps or brushing up against each other. I respected that, and I always tried to reply in ways he could understand. With touch, and caresses, and reassurance, and affection, and a calm voice, and by providing a calm home with warmth and safety and food. And a mailbox to sleep in, for whatever strange reason that made sense to him.
And his story… well, his story came to an end. I guess I have to respect that too, much as I don’t like the way it ended. I’ll miss him.