I felt like a negligent mother as I made the last minute frantic stop at the store. I stared at the wall of toys and wondered which one she’d like. I used to know what she liked 9 years ago, but what if she’s changed. I mean she had to have changed in 9 years I think to myself – right? I choose the catnip mouse toy and then grab a bag of chicken treats. I put them in my bag and head off to Grand Central Station. I was headed for Connecticut to see my cat that I gave up 9 years ago.
Would she know me? Would she look the same? Would she recognize my scent or voice? I told myself “yes” to simply reassure myself. But truth was, I wasn’t sure. Not only had 8 years gone by since I had last seen her before I left for Vietnam, but she was now also 18 years old. She might not even be able to see me for all I knew.
Leaving Pets Behind to Travel
Over the last few years whenever Linda, her new mom, would send me a note on Facebook I would open it gingerly, thinking this is it…bracing myself for Palucci’s death. But every time I would be pleasantly surprised, instead finding out that Linda and her husband Keener had added a dog to their family, then a son, and recently a daughter. I breathed a sigh of relief and my sadness turned to astonishment, as I’d look at the pictures she’d send. I’d stare at the photo of my cat next to a new baby or dog getting along. How could this be my cat…my mean cat who hates everyone? How is she getting along with a dog…and babies? I thought I knew her, but maybe I didn’t.
I gave my cat up in order to travel and I still remember that fateful day driving away and leaving her with Linda. It was hard to leave my salary, nice apartment, secure life, and dating – but it was definitely the most devastating to leave my pet behind to travel. I felt like I was giving up a child, and in some weird way it made me believe that I could never be a mom myself if I couldn’t even keep my cat – my one piece of responsibility in the world. So when Linda recently told me that she moved to Connecticut and it was only a 2 hour train ride from NYC, I immediately knew I had to go see Palucci while I was in NYC for the month.
As we pulled in the garage and Linda was taking her daughter out of her baby seat, her husband Keener came out with a little ball of black and white fur in his arms. I could hear her purring just like she used to do with me. At first I was astonished that she let a man hold her, as she hated all of the men I dated – and even bit them occasionally. And then I had to remind myself – she’s changed – it’s been 9 years and she has a new family now.
My normal stoic demeanor deflated and a smile slipped onto my face as he handed her to me and I held her. She felt frail, and she was much smaller now at 18. We were both a bit awkward at first trying to remember how we knew each other. Pretty quickly she squirmed away and hopped to the floor where she turned and looked at me inquisitively. Do I know you? I imagined her thinking with her little pea brain.
As Linda and I sat in the living room and caught up on life in the adult world of jobs, kids, and friends, I had one eye on her – watching her move stealthily as she used to, just like she was a kitten again. She gingerly took her treats from me, and happily played with her catnip mouse. I was amazed at how much spunk she still had.
And I also watched as Linda managed to tickle and take care of both of her young kids at once conducting the orchestra of “Mommy look at me” and “I’m hungry” and playing tickle monster, and changing diapers all in one swift motion that only a mother can do. It’s impressive to see mothers in action.
I think to myself – it’s good I never had kids; I could’ve never done that. Hell, I couldn’t even keep my cat, I left my pets behind to travel! Linda on the other hand was a born mother; she had found her calling and I was thrilled for her. We spent the day catching up, playing with kids, and we even went to the beach to watch sunset and let the kids runs around.
But the time had come to catch my train. Linda coaxed Palucci over and handed her to me.
My kitty didn’t really want to be held as she squirmed around and prepared her tell tale signs that she was about to get really angry, but then a weird instinct took over in me. I remembered that she liked to be held like a baby – cradled and rocked. I put her in that position and pet her neck. She started to let out her little meows that sounded so familiar. I meowed back to her mimicking her sound just like I used to years ago. We lobbed meows back and forth and soon I felt her tail swishing comfortably. It all clicked all of a sudden for both of us.
For 10 minutes I cradled her and we ‘talked’ back and forth just as we used to in Minnesota, San Francisco, and New York. She closed her eyes, nestled her head into my elbow, and purred. Tears rolled down my cheeks. I was happy that she had such a great family to grow old with, and I was equally happy that she hadn’t forgotten me.
And then I said goodbye…again. Wondering if this time would be the last.