Sophie the Christmas Miracle Cat ran out of miracles on Mother’s Day morning, and we had to say goodbye.
There’s a special kind of loneliness in letting go of a pet you shared with a spouse who has died.
Sophie’s warm fur was a lingering, physical manifestation of specific memories of Mike – how she’d sit on his left leg, crossed ankle to knee over the other, so his left knee was elevated a bit; he’d stroke her as she settled herself there in the triangular cradle his legs made, to stare over that knee and watch the hockey game with him, intensely following the movement of the puck, as if it were a mouse she wanted to devour.
There was the time he called to me to come see how, as he lay on his bed reading, she had demanded his attention by arranging herself with her butt at his chin and her tail extended straight up his face.
Months after he was diagnosed, we remembered how, months before, she’d daintily walk up from her end of the couch to his, to lay lengthwise on his torso, facing him, gazing at him with concern. It was as if she knew before we did – as if she could sense the disease that lay beneath: as if she was trying to warn us, or commiserate, or tell him that she cared, or ask him if there was anything she could do. As if she was preparing to miss him.
Saturday afternoon, I bought 36 cans of cat food (coupon) and a new green jug of cat litter. Sunday morning I carried them back to the car, sobbing and streaming snot, trying to think of where I could donate them.
The cat bed – her too-small, clam-shaped tiny Hollywood bowl of a cat bed, coated with her fur, went straight to the garbage. I couldn’t look at it for another moment.
When night came, I was overcome with a loneliness so intense it nearly made me sick. Sophie was our substitute third “person” in this house, and now, it was genuinely, really only the two of us, here with far too much hollow space around us, especially in the darkness of the night.
I asked the vet to take Sophie, and not to bring us the ashes.
If Mike had been here to make that decision with me, would it have been the same?
Since Sunday morning, every time daughter sighs and says, “I miss Dad,” (which she has been saying daily for nearly three years, and probably will say daily for decades to come), she adds, “and I miss Sophie.”
I do too, sweetheart. I do too.
Maybe it wasn’t fair to tell her we’d get a sign from Sophie, to tell us she had found her sunny spot in heaven, with Dad. More abstraction for an autistic person to try to process.
Late Sunday night, in the midst of that nearly-sick-making smackdown of loneliness, I had a sudden impulse to start watching a cable comedy that I’m a few seasons behind on.
Halfway or so into the pilot episode, the Mom gets a phone call. It is brief and when it’s done, the daughter asks who it was.
In the scene, the Mom didn’t want to talk to Sophie’s Dad, who seemed like an awfully nice guy in the few seconds he had on screen. If we think of Mike as Sophie’s Dad, I damn sure would want to talk to him. But maybe our Sophie was just doing the best she could, to find some available, if slightly awkward, way to send a signal through.
Monday evening, sitting on the twin chaises on the deck, enjoying the late afternoon sun and the green of the lawn and the birds swooshing around the yard, I noticed a grey bird landing on one of the neighbor’s fence posts, right across from us, looking at us.
It made a loud, meow-y kind of sound.
Is that a cat bird?
“Sophie? If that’s you, come to the bird bath!”
The bird flew closer, but was headed off by the male cardinal, protecting his turf.
I Googled for a YouTube video or recording of the call of a cat bird. Cornell’s library of bird sounds.
Yep, that was it, exactly.
I googled the territory of the grey cat bird. Cornell again.
Yep, could be here, this time of year.
Oh, Soph. Thanks for calling. Thanks for telling us, as daughter says, that “you have arrived at your destination.”
Now climb up on Dad’s lap and watch some hockey. We’ll be thinking of you both.
Sending love and gratitude to pets past Lucky, Buddy, Barbita, Rocky, Phantom and now Sophie too, I remain,
Your sobby, snot-smeared, Sophie-missing but certain she’s found her forever sunny spot,