Sunday, February 9, 2014

THERE WAS ONLY ONE. In Memory of Big Red.

Words and photo by F LoBuono

He was just a stupid, little cat - just under seven pounds when died. He was not remarkable in any way, really. Just an orange tabby. But he had this enormous impact, not only on me, but on everyone he came in contact with. How can this be? How can something so small, so seemingly insignificant, effect so many?

Some of you who read my work are familiar with the story of BIG RED and how he climbed through an open window in my apartment one late summer's evening and, despite my repeated attempts to chase him back out whence he came, stayed. And stayed. And stayed. For over nineteen years he stayed. He was a good-sized guy then; about 15 pounds, and full of the dickens. I originally named him Erik The Red, because, with his red/orange coat and fierce sense of adventure, he reminded me of the legendary Viking warrior. Eventually, I shortened it to simply BIG RED. It suited him perfectly. And I began to see him for the special gift that he truly was.

For nineteen years he was my constant companion. During that time, he experienced every high and low, every birth and death, every triumph and failure that life doled out to me. We moved four times. We survived a broken marriage and other failed relationships. We experienced joy and pleasure, too - more joy than anything else. We had a full life together. In fact, without any hint of anthropomorphism, it was one that many couples can only aspire to!

But what did Big Red actually contribute to the quality of my life? It seemed that I did all the work. After all, I labored so that we both could eat. I brushed his coat, made sure that he had water, and even cleaned his pee and poop. In a practical sense, what did Red give back? Well, practically? Nothing. To quote the bible, neither did he reap nor did he sew.  And it certainly is a lot of work to keep an animal, especially at the end of his life when care becomes critical and challenging. So, why then?

It seems to me that Red had such a huge effect, on me, anyway, because he inspired me to be a better person. Red was one of the most consistent beings I have ever been around. For a "character", Red's behavior was as steady as the North Star. Many cats are prone to unexpected behavior that can produce unpleasant results - like you bleeding. They can be as fierce as they are unpredictable. But not Red. In 19+ years, I can count on one hand the times that Red struck out against anyone. I think the right word to describe him would be steadfast. It gave him a presence. He had an air of confidence without the hint of arrogance. He enjoyed the company of humans without clinging to them. In other words, he liked people without really needing them. He was a CAT and that was good enough for him. It SHOULD'VE been good enough for you, too. His very presence was enough to make you feel good. This lead to a natural bonding between us that went beyond pretense. It was genuine and it was unwavering. Red's life reminds me that I need to be like that - always.

We also connected in a way that went beyond words. Humans are very proud of the fact that communication, i.e. spoken language, separates men from beasts. However, if you believe the spoken word to be the best, or only, form of communication, you will miss a significant part of the equation. Sometimes, the strongest connection comes from that which is non-verbal. Through this, a bond is created in the realm beyond what is verbalized. It is a feeling, an intuition, a mind-meld that can only be reached intrinsically. It brings us to a deeper level of understanding - we don't have to hear, we KNOW. So it was with Red. I knew his moods and rhythms as he knew mine. And after so many years, this provided a wonderful comfort level. This is where the love is. You develop a feeling of trust and contentment in each other that is so rewarding. In fact, it's measurable. When we are in the presence of our trusted and beloved pets, our blood pressure is reduced and a feeling of well being is produced. You don't have to SAY it, you FEEL it.

Some might say losing this is one of the strongest reasons for our grief. We miss that little, daily, consistent, rote behavior. When they are gone, we think we hear their foot-falls or a meow in the distance and we react, momentarily. This is natural. We also think "how will I replace that missing love, that feeling I got in their presence"? I'm aware of that. All of it. I miss my friend. Terribly. Again, this is natural. Despite the fact that I cared for Red through his rather long, and steady decline, his passing was still so painful; more so than I had anticipated. He was so unique, so rare. He was neutered and, to the best of my knowledge, he produced no offspring. So, he was truly one of a kind. How can he possibly be replaced? Well, he won't be. He can't be. No other creature possibly could. Each animal and our relationships to them are always unique, anyway. But as the days and hours pass, so does the pain. 20 years of love, trust, and faith cannot be removed by a few weeks of misery. The ache of losing him is gradually being replaced with the lasting impact he made on my life and the fact that he has become truly a part of me - one of the best parts.

I miss his gentle, steady presence. The very thought of returning to an empty apartment without that presence is not very appealing. In fact, if I let it, it can be downright depressing. I want to see him, to hear him, to smell him, to touch him. But I can't. That phase of our lives together is over. However, his life was a light that death cannot extinguish. And I feel him. I always will. Not bad for a stupid, little cat.


  1. And so it goes Frank. You see I too had that same Orange Tabby along with 3 other kitties that would come later.....But there was something about that Orange Tabby, my "Pumpkin" that stays with me to this day. As I have told you Pumpkin was also with me for just over 20 years. I found him when he was maybe 1 or 2 months old under my neighbors deck , abandoned by his mother, and all alone....His eyes still closed because the were filled with gunk. How he was still living at that time I have no idea except that I believe he was waiting for me. At the time I found him I was single, living alone and extremely lonely. my family had all moved away and I was left here in the County I had come to know and love. And so the friendship had begun....with a trip to the Vet the Doctor had helped open his eyes and he saw me for the first time and with that came a little meow....from then on I promised him I would take care of him as long as he lived. He became my family.....and so our friendship began. And like yours with Red , Pumpkin saw me thru some of the most wonderful and Darkest times in my life. He was not a good traveler and did not particularly like other people with one friend George.....When George would come over he would jump right in his lap, It was so amazing .....Pumpkin also moved 5 times with me and each time it was a very long adjustment for him in the new place....but somehow I believe he knew it would be ok because I was always there for him. As the years passed and he began his decline It was so very hard for me....after all we had now been together for over 19 years almost half of my life at the time.....His final year during his decline I cared for him as you did Big Red .....Dinner in bed .....holding him up so he could peep or poop.....It was all to heart breaking and when the day had come when I knew it was time to say good bye I had made arrangements for my Vet to come to our house and give him peace. Since he was not a good traveler and did not like the vet offrice I did not want his last hour with us to be filled with fear and anxiety....I was the first human he ever saw and I wanted to be th last his own home not in a vet office.Now Pumpkins favorite place to sleep was on the couch in the Basement TV room but he hadn't been able to make it down there for probably 6 or 7 months as had become too weak to make the the morning I would say good by to him I could not find him in the house .....The kids had gone to school and my wife had gone to work.....There was no sign of Pumpkin. I though he might have snuck out of the house when someone was leaving that morning and had gone off to die.......I was devastated......I thought I had failed him and could not be there for him......I then decided to check the Basement for him with very little confidence that he might be down there....and to my surprise and sadness there he was on the floor right next to his favorite spot on the couch.....he had left us on his own terms some how making his way down to his favorite place to say I have had enough.That morning before I would bury him I snuggled him into his box and I took him in the car and drove by every house that we lived in together one last time stopping briefly at each one. I felt I owed him that last visit to each house that he had kept me company in. You see he too was that stupid little cat, but he had such a profound effect on my life and I truly believe he made me a better person as Big Red, the stupid little cat did for you. Sharing you story with all of us brought back all of my memories with my Pumpkin as him and Big Red seemed so much alike......Rest in Peace Big Red go and play with my Pumpkin, Cloe , Sammy and Chester......they will totally love you !!!!!
    Your friend...

    1. What a wonderful story!! Thank you, Todd for taking the time and making the effort to share it with me and all who loved Red. Yes, thank you, my friend!