Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Memories live on—even if they're not your own.

"Charlie was a boy, right?"

"He was."

It's not the first time Jules has talked about our dead cat. From time to time he even draws pictures of the spicy orange tabby he's never met, the one I adopted in 2002 after my boss Carla rescued him from a vacant lot near a church in Harlem. I'd taken the subway up at lunchtime with my friend Gabby because... who doesn't love kittens? Of course I did. But I didn't love cats. I didn't even really like them. But we got there and, as soon as I spotted the tiny ginger starting trouble—again and again—with his more subdued siblings, all shades of grey, I wanted him. He had sparkle. He had spirit. He had verve. Plus, I was moving to Vermont in a couple of months and I didn't know a soul. Jon had no real timeline for leaving San Diego. This cat could be my best friend.

It was a rash decision, one that my roommate (and BFF) Holly graciously blessed. We covered the couches and Chuck joined us in our tiny Queens apartment. A few months later, Charlie made the move with me to Vermont, where he lived out his years fiercely—a cool king, who reigned the neighborhood, who attacked ankles and who, when he wanted to, perched close for a pet—before he succumbed to congestive heart failure at five-and-a-half. We, of course, were devastated. Chuck was our first "kid." We mourned for months. And then we mostly moved on. We took the ferry to the Humane Society across the lake and brought back Olive and Tina, sister cats who act like dogs, to live with us: Jon, me and Digs.

A few months later, I got pregnant with Jules.  I'm not close with Olive and Tina in the same way I was tight with Chuck: they have each other, they have Demps (and they actually like him, unlike Charlie, who merely tolerated him) and we have a lot going on, with two jobs and two kids. Fortunately, these kids love the girls and, now that the boys are old enough to move through space in ways that don't totally spook the cats, they've forged some pretty solid relationships.


Olive has taken to resting on Julian's chest, particularly during the time, just before bed, when I'm lying with Jules, listening to music and talking. It sort of freaked me out at first—having heard all of those stories about cats snuggling up on dying people in nursing homes. But I've come to the conclusion that Olive is just sometimes starved for sweet attention and this is where she finds it—while we're relaxed and calm and still, welcome to petting a purring creature. Here where no one is screaming or dancing or yelling or screaching like a bird of prey. (Literally, a bird of prey. The boys got an eagle costume for Christmas.)

"We're lucky to have such a sweet cat, aren't we?" I ask.

"She's not a cat, she's my sister," he replies. And then, "Charlie was a boy, right?"

Yes, he was, sweet boy. And, crazy as it may seem, it means so much to me that you care.

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