I’m sweeping black sunflower seeds across the cement and into the shell-strewn dirt when I hear a funny noise. (I’ve just filled the feeders in my house finch corner of the courtyard, and a handful or two of the dark seeds always spill out.) For a long time I thought this sound I am hearing now was made by one of those extended leashes when you reel them in fast. (We have a lot of dog walkers here. Funny, isn’t it, how we make up things in our heads, trying to make sense of the world?) But now I recognize the sound. It is not a leash. I look for the source and spot the road runner perched at the edge of the swamp cooler on my neighbor’s roof. He is facing north, away from me, surveying his domain. When I talk to him, he swivels his head around, listening. “You’re so beautiful,” I tell him. And then I am crying, all this love welling up in me and spilling over like the sunflower seeds. I think of my cats now, that ache never far away. I marvel at how quick love comes, like that first day I brought Sofia home from the shelter all those years ago. I remember how she walked from room to room in our home over the garage in Sebastopol. She was hunting for signs of other beasts, and she was so relieved and so glad when there were none to be found. (Old scents maybe, of Trair who’d died four months before, but nothing that would threaten her.) Already I loved her so much, as much as I’ve loved anyone. I remember my surprise. I didn’t know then it could happen like that, thought love needed time to grow. That’s how quick it is this morning with the roadrunner. I am filled with the blessing of it. Then I think about how it’s not the same for me with people most of the time. It makes me sad. I guess there are too many things in the way. It’s complicated with humans. For one moment I worry. If I don’t let myself get another animal for the time being, will I not get to feel that kind of love? And then I remember the roadrunner, how it came to me today. I can love wild animals in the meantime. And maybe even other human beings, along with roadrunners, ravens, coyotes, lizards. And me, too.
I think, I hope, I am done agonizing over Sofia. Did I miss some signal? I knew she was close to the end. I asked her about it every day. “Are you ready to go?” Oh, my love. There were two times in the last few days when I saw that glazed “I’m enduring” look in her eyes for the first time. She was lying under the bed in the hot afternoon. Was that my cue? I can’t count the number of times I traced those grooves in my mind, replayed the weeks, the months. Did I miss something? But then I remember her face when I opened the closet door on that last morning and she looked up at me. I remember her clear eyes, the look she gave me. Calm. Matter-of-fact. Here you are again. Good morning. I’ve heard the vet say the time comes when there are more bad days than good. But who is to say life isn’t still worth it, isn’t still precious when all days are “bad” days with good, good moments. Morning on the chair in the courtyard. A bowl of tuna water pressed from the can. Sitting in the sun in the corner of the garden beside the marigolds and bougainvillea. A visit in the middle of that last night, head firm beneath your human’s chin, fingers stroking the edges of your mouth, a purr rumbling deep within you. Oh, my love.
Today I finally build a small altar for my cat Sofia on the table in the courtyard. Tomorrow she will have been dead for one week, but I spent a good part of that time agonizing, torturing myself, replaying things over in my head. There was a lot of blood, too, on that last day. It took time for the shock to fade. So only today do I feel clean grief. It makes me grateful. I want to write about it. I have a lot to say. But I am vulnerable and exhausted and not ready. Still, I can’t say nothing. The first day or two after she died, I kept thinking I could smell her terrible cancer breath. (I wanted it to be true.) And there is that weird presence, that lit up place she used to fill, that keens her absence like a ghost. She is not lying under the bed. She is not in the closet. (The door is no longer ajar.) She should be here, but she’s not. “She’s never coming back,” I tell my boy cat. I think it’s sinking in. I still can’t walk into the back room without checking the floor to make sure I don’t step in pee. I want to go back in time and tolerate every annoying thing she ever did. I want to remember the clear look in her eyes on that last day when I slid the closet door open to say good morning. I want to kiss her soft furry head again and again and again. I feel like I have a whole book to say about her inside me. Here is the first snippet. Know you are loved, my darling girl. We miss you. Be well. Oh, please, be well.
[Photo courtesy of Marylou and Richard, shot the last time they tended my two little ones when I was away. Thank you.]
Sofia’s been gone since yesterday morning. I cried when I woke up in the middle of the night. She’d done this already three days in a row, but the latest she showed up was midnight. I remembered Richard talking about the poems he’s writing for their cat Sunny who died only weeks ago. He’s wishing he’d been as loving, as open to her, as appreciative of her in her coming as he was in her going. I tortured myself in the dark with memories of pushing her off the bed with a pillow when she returned at midnight two days before and wouldn’t settle on the bed with us but kept making determined strikes for the bolster above my head. I wondered if she had found a home where she’s happier, where she is better loved. Even as the thought broke my heart, another followed on its heels. How could I deny her that?
Logic tells me she is only up to independent cat things. But I can’t remember when she had a stretch like this. Sebastopol? Over a decade ago? It’s an upswing in her cyclical illness, I think. She must be feeling better to take off like this. She’s hardly left the courtyard in months, almost always returned in an hour or so on the rare occasion when she did. She would disappear like this when she was young, first a response to her adoption, feral cat that she was. Later because the Hopland countryside was irresistible. I’ve gone through this with her for years.
I am sitting in the courtyard in the late morning, telling my mother about it on the phone. She’s been gone for over 24 hours now. “I tell myself she’ll be okay,” I say. “But every time I wonder if this will be the time she doesn’t come back.”
And then there is movement beside me. Sofia appears in the courtyard on her quiet cat feet. She acts as though she never left, or had been gone only for a moment. I tell my mother she was the magic talisman. I cry again, a muddled combination of relief and gratitude and fear. And then I laugh, kneeling, hugging her, shaking teardrops around us on the cement.