When I saw the email from Linda, my heart sank. I opened it trepidatiously and read the first sentence….
“Not sure how to transition to this, but I think Kitty might be nearing the end.”
Immediately tears welled up in my eyes, my chest tightened and tears started flowing. I have no idea what came over me; I’m not really a crier. However, I knew this day would come –yet I still wasn’t prepared for it. My cat, Palucci, was 20 years old…this wasn’t a surprise.
I spent the next 12 hours in a slow bus to Chile thinking about all of the tears I shed for this cat…my cat. From the first time I moved her to San Francisco scared for her and myself equally since it was our first time leaving the Midwest. Then there were the surprising tears when I became allergic to her after I had her for 7 years. And the downpour of tears I cried when I left her at Linda’s back in 2006 as I prepared to go on my career break and travel. And finally, the tears shed just 2 years ago as I visited Linda, her family, and saw Palucci for the first time in 8 years. Now these tears come streaming down my face again leaving my eyes stinging and my heart aching.
I wasn’t ready to let go.
Giving up a Pet to Travel
The tears are tears of guilt, and sadness. I don’t know if I will ever come to grips with the fact that I gave up my cat to travel. I frequently think about the day I left Palucci with Linda – it was the hardest thing I had to do in order to go travel – and I second-guessed it a million times. I questioned my moral compass; leaving the only thing I had responsibility for with someone else. Was I giving up? I felt like a mother leaving a child behind; was I a horrible person?
I nearly turned around that day in 2006 as I was driving back to NYC sobbing; I came close to calling my whole trip off. When I got home to my apartment and there was no kitty at my door waiting for me I cried more. What had I done?
“The only piece of responsibility and commitment I have in my life is my cat. I’m totally serious. I don’t own a house, no car, no boyfriend, no ex husband, no kids, and no debt. However – I have a cat that is totally and unconditionally in love with me. She honestly thinks that the earth revolves around me…that is, if she knew what a planet was.” –from my initial excerpt in 2006 when I gave her away.
As I sat on the bus to Chile feeling the sting of guilt and sadness of tears, I thought about what might have happened if I turned back that teary day in Connecticut in 2006 and called off my career break travels for my cat.
I would have spent the next decade continuing to climb the ladder at Coach and likely never leaving my Information Technology career. I would have bought an apartment in NYC. I would have traveled minimally on my few weeks of vacation at a time. I would have had really expensive camera equipment that I barely used. I would have spent another decade handwriting in my personal diary by my bed. I would have been terrified of all of the new technology and social media changes that happened in the last decade…fighting them instead of embracing them. I would have continued to go through boyfriends, maybe even found Mr. Right and got married. I would have been normal.
But then I thought about all of the things that wouldn’t have happened if I had called off the career break to stay with my cat.
Cats I met around the world…
I wouldn’t have built a strong bond with my nieces. I would have ever traveled with my father and realized how much he means to me; and how much I’m like him deep down. I wouldn’t have learned how to drive a motorbike, or a rickshaw. I wouldn’t have understood the beauty of slowing down. I wouldn’t have learned that people with less are happier in the world. I never would have gone to Antarctica…twice! I wouldn’t have ever been exposed to the beauty of people all over the world providing me beds and showing me their culture. I never would have improved my photography or ever called myself a writer (that still sounds weird when I say it!). I wouldn’t have realized the importance of family and health. I wouldn’t have appreciated the concept of ‘less is more’. And I wouldn’t have had that beautifully exciting feeling of satisfying my intense curiosity and experiencing something new every day. I wouldn’t be the person I was meant to be.
This all happened to me because I was willing to give up my cat and take a risk – a leap into the world; even though the guilt of leaving her was killing me.
Sometimes you have to let go to go.
The Traveling Cat
I thought about when I picked up Palucci for the first time from the farm in Indiana; she was only 3 weeks old. she fit in the palm of my hand and had a little high pitched “Mew, Mew!” I thought about all the times I moved her across the country for my career (Indiana, Minnesota, San Francisco, NYC) and how she handled each move. I gave her a pretty exciting 8 years. She moved around with Linda from Connecticut to North Carolina and back to Connecticut. And from Linda she got things I never could have given her; a house in suburbia, a husband, and kids – she got a family. She too had a life of curiosity and experiencing new things.
When I got off the bus that night in San Pedro de Atacama and got to wifi again, I contacted Linda. Even though I hate goodbyes, we hopped on Facetime where I could have a last moment with my Palucci. Even though she was frail, I knew she had an abundant life full of feistiness, independence, and newness. “This cat really is you – she always has been; fiercely independent, grouchy, adventurous, hates men, and driven by emotion,” Linda said with tears in her eyes.
I knew she was going to pass away soon; she was old and dying. But still somehow you are never really emotionally prepared for someone leaving you for good. But because I took the cat to Linda and introduced her to a whole new life without me, I was able to introduce myself to a whole new life. And for that I’m forever thankful.
That was the last time I saw her. Linda told me she passed away the next day not letting anyone hold her – fiercely independent.
It was time to let go.