I vanished from posting late on Monday night, the 14th, and this should explain much about why. While I was in the midst of working on my annual Solar Returns for India and Pakistan, my beloved cat–a member of my family for the last 14 years–made her transition. It hit me very hard and in some ways, it brought back when I lost my mom since both had returned to me after I thought they were gone only to have them gone a second time relatively soon after. Losing one’s mom isn’t the same as losing a beloved pet–at least not normally. In this case, it was extraordinarily the same, and I’ve needed the silence and time to spend before Holly’s burial today. Thank you for understanding.
Many things in life may be described as tiptoeing in on silent feet. I can’t say that’s been the case very often in mine. It’s been more like the thunderous, echoing thud of feet in the halls of one of those foreboding Transylvanian castles one has often seen in old black and white Bela Lugosi movies. But my relationship with animals–wild and domestic–has been different, more like Life tiptoeing in on those silent feet. Maybe it’s because I was 19 before I ever had my own pet–that is, something other than the turtles and the salamander I had as a child. In fact, I don’t even remember if I named the turtles. The salamander’s name was Swiggles. I was even told when I was 3 and asked what we were having for dinner one Easter (we had a definitely ecumenical family because of our mix), one of my brothers answered, “the Easter bunny.” You can imagine my wails.
I wasn’t yet 10 when I also tried to keep my feathered prisoner I’d captured inside my father’s shop (Mom had kept it going for ten years after my father’s death when I was 4). That too was a short-lived effort since my little hands grew sweaty as Mom and I walked home that day. The sweet little songbird I held quickly slipped free and flew away again. My friends on the other hand had what can best be described as “normal” pets, mostly cats and dogs that lived on in their lives while mine always seemed to disappear quite mysteriously, come to think of it.
So I went through close to the first two decades of my life never having owned a “normal” pet–at least until T, or Tee if you prefer, adopted me.. He found me in the parking lot of one of those tiny shopping malls. You know the kind–with perhaps a half dozen small shops and restaurants on the side of the road. I had seen him when I first pulled into a parking spot. Cute little thing, I thought, and went about my business in one of the stores. A few minutes later, I came out. He was sitting there waiting for me, like I imagined puppies do! But this was an orange striped kitten!
I held open the door to the car and thought, okay, if he gets in, guess it’s meant to be. And son of a gun, he hopped in! (Isn’t that a dog thing???) I took him to a vet to be checked out. The vet said he was about five months old. Not understanding that this cat had adopted me, not the reverse, the vet also said it was good that I’d found him or he’d have been dead within a week or two at the most. That was that. T had me, hook, line and sinker.
T and I had a great relationship. He even loved riding in the car with me and often let me walk him on a leash. And he grew and grew–and grew to an astounding 2.5 feet in length and topped 20 pounds. I found myself reassuring people that no, he was not part mountain lion. He was, however, very protective of me.
Now here’s where I need to remind you that I’d never owned a cat before. But about 4 years later, I found myself with T as the head of a little adopted family that included CC (I don’t even remember where she came from!) and Squeaker, the first cat I actually adopted–from the woods where I’d found him. Mom and my grandfather loved Squeaker since he’d gaily prance across the ivories on the piano keyboard with the most melodious, gentle tunes. T and Squeaker eventually made their way to a farm. I didn’t send them there! Mom decided they should go. sigh
Peaches was next. She came as a gift, and we developed a very close relationship. She chattered a lot with me, waited at the door for me, knew the sound of the car engine when I pulled up, loved the smell of roses bubble baths and once fell in. She smelled like that bath for a week. Another time, she dove into an empty roaster pan where a fully cooked turkey had been just minutes before. (She was a mess, btw, covered with all of the drippings!) She also loved olives.
It was totally different from what I had with T who was something of a watch cat for me (and he did an incredible job!). Peaches and I had a very close relationship, like Holly and I did. In fact, the way Peaches, a lynx and bluepoint Siamese mix, gazed at me was just like Holly did. I often felt Holly might have been another incarnation of Peaches and used to talk to her about it. The two of them used to talk to me and knew their names, and each would be there at the door when I came home from wherever I’d gone.
I have already noticed myself cautiously opening the door when I’m coming back inside. I hear her sweet meow, hear her eating her food, and catch her out of the corner of my eye as she stands there looking at me, or walking by. I know her physical living presence is no longer here, but it’s so obvious to me that her spirit is.
I finally managed to sleep 4.5 hours last night after not sleeping a wink the night before last. That night will now be indelibly impressed in my memory, how I lay down after realizing Holly had made her transition, closed my eyes and lay there seeing blackness covering my eyes for what seemed like seconds, and yet the period I lay there seemed like at least 5 hours. I got up. Only 30 minutes had passed and I was wide awake. My eyes were still red from the tears, as they were all of yesterday.
I’ve managed not to cry today yet but she’s still here. She’ll be buried today. This photo so many recognize of her will be the face always in my heart and frequently shared because I don’t want to lose it. Hopefully someone in my family can print out a color photo of her for me so I can frame it. Maybe it’s silly. I don’t care. She wasn’t just my cat. She was my Holly…oh God, here they come again…she was as much a part of my world as my astrology and writing are. She knew when I was sad, she knew when I was ill or worried.
Those who have never had pets would not understand perhaps, but it’s an unmistakeable phenomenon. I’ve heard stories of animals who knew when their owners had cancer or were already in the midst of dying. She was one of those animals. So was her brother Buddy. But Buddy wanted me all to himself, and he used to push her away–even off the bed when she wanted to snuggle up with me. He’d eat her food, and it showed. He grew to be enormous, but he was a bully, not only beating up Holly but also Bullet, the dog we had.
Buddy and Holly came to us in 2003 to fill the gap in our hearts that Toffee had left. Toffee had grand mal seizures and died way too soon from an accidental overdose a vet gave him. The vet called a week later to apologize. When I was in the hospital following the operation to save my life in 2005, Buddy had a heart attack and died. While he had a very brief recovery period, I was told this week, it was much less time than the span of time Holly had. Because of Buddy’s belligerent behavior, I just never had time to develop feelings for him. He had been so mean, the complete opposite of Holly–far beyond Holly’s having been born without a tail (a domestic manx). This difference extended to dispositions as well.
It seemed like Holly didn’t mourn his leaving either. She quickly blossomed into the adoring member of the family I’ve known and loved all 14 years of her being here. Holly was sweet and shy, very affectionate and loving–and completely devoted to me. Not that she didn’t have another side to her: Despite that she and brother Buddy had both been declawed before coming to us (and named, and yes, a deliberate choice of names by the previous owners who loved Buddy Holly), Holly was the mouser all mice should have been rightfully afraid of coming near. She heard them, sensed them, and no matter where they were–from a large house to a tiny apartment–if one was in a space where it shouldn’t be, she would find it. The last two were the only ones who got away after being caught for play a few times. That lack of claws never stopped her. (And when she was very young, she’d sound like a lion giving warnings before attack if she had one in her mouth!)
Holly wasn’t just a presence in my life. She was a presence, living large despite her diminuitive size, ever protective, always loving–from the birds and squirrels outside the window to that adoration of me and anyone visiting. Always loving, that is, except for mice.
So many have sent condolences. I’ve read each, but please understand my heart is so shattered by this transition, I just can’t individually thank all who took time to write to me. I pray you’ll understand. She’s not the first one I’ve lost since T came into my life when I was 19. but she was my Holly as she’ll always be. More than “just” a cat, or a pet if you prefer.
I’ve had incense burning since her transition the night before last, and today I will honor her in a Chinese tradition of burning incense with oranges that her journey will be sweet and fragrant now. She was my Holly, always in my heart as we take time to bury her today.
My Holly, I will always miss you–but I will always love you. Rest in Peace, my sweet Holly.
July 1, 1999 – August 14, 2017