|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.