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I have a cat that loves me to bits. She can drive me crazy at times, especially when I am running late and trying to get out the door and there she is weaving herself between my legs and begging me not to go. When I return, there she is waiting by the door with a reproachful look in her eyes. When I lie on the living room floor to do my Pilates stretches, there she is doing her stretches on top of me. When I read in my favourite spot under the window, there she is on the back of the couch kneading my shoulders (sometimes she hits the right spots). When I’m working upstairs in my office, there she is batting around my stacks of books and papers scattered on the floor and finally laying her head on one of the piles to sleep.
I should feel honoured to be the recipient of such unconditional love, but so often I fail to respond as fully as she would like and instead I distract her with food. Alas, she has become a very large cat. I try to remind myself to pause, to feel gratitude for her attentions and to shower her with love, but I do wish she wasn’t quite so needy.
Of course, we always love the ones who don’t love us as much in return. A few years ago I also had Archie, whom I adored even though he believed in minimalist displays of affection. He was a beautiful grey tabby who came to us as a feral kitten through a friend. He was shy and nervous around people and for the first few weeks I would begin each morning searching for his latest hiding place behind a piece of furniture and then spend the rest of the day trying to woo him and build some trust. The next day I would start the process all over again. I felt like I was in the Drew Barrymore film 50 First Dates.
Archie and my husband had an instant, visceral dislike for each other and Archie wasn’t afraid to show his disdain. Never good with the litter box, he began urinating in Steve’s gym bags whenever he left them open on the floor. Our neighbours noticed that there was a different gym bag at the curb every few weeks and wondered what was going on. Then there was the time when Steve was going to a business function out of town that required a tuxedo. He carried his tux in a suit bag and packed his dress shirt in an overnight bag. When he arrived at the hotel, with minutes to spare before the function, he opened his overnight bag and found his dress shirt saturated with cat urine. Now that was pretty funny – such a clever cat!
I decided you can’t train a cat but it might be possible to train a man, so Steve learned to keep his things off the floor, to feed Archie and to occasionally pat his back. I thought we were making some progress, but then came a summer’s day when Steve returned from a long-distance cycle, took off his expensive, steaming cycling shoes in the garage and left the garage door open. Archie, an outdoor cat with the entire neighbourhood available as his litter box, made the decision to steal into the garage and urinate an equal amount into Steve’s shoes. I was impressed with Archie’s ingenuity and cunning but unfortunately that was the final straw for Steve. There were repeated threats of dropping him off at a farm somewhere in the countryside.
In the end, Archie decided to take matters into his own paws (sorry). One beautiful fall day, a couple of years ago, he sauntered out the back door, past the garden and just as he was about to go around a corner he paused, turned his head and gazed at me for a long moment. We don’t always know when we are experiencing something for the last time – the last time our child asks to hear her favourite lullaby, the last breath of a loved one, the last time we have coffee with a friend – so we aren’t prepared for the pain of an ending. That cat broke my heart; it was the last time he lived with us.
Initially, I searched high and low, I told my neighbours, I walked the neighbourhood streets calling his name and I went to the humane society. I knew he was a smart cat and would likely survive by his wits but I spent that winter looking out the window into the garden, always hoping that he would come around the corner again.
The next spring he showed up at our back door and once again we locked eyes as I happily opened the door. He looked healthy and well fed but he wouldn’t let me touch him and quickly slipped away. More inquires in the neighbourhood revealed that someone had seen him going in and out of a house a block away. Ah … so he had found a new family and was living his next life. After considerable pondering, I decided to honour his wishes and let him go, even though I grieved again.
He has continued to drop by on rare occasions. Last summer, Steve was running up a street and Archie was sauntering down the same street. They both screeched to a halt (I am picturing Road Runner meets Wile E. Coyote), looked each other up and down and then carried on.
Sometimes, on lovely spring nights, my stay-at-home cat seems to hear a siren call. She suddenly insists on going outside and becomes quite agitated if I don’t respond quickly enough. I open the door and let her go (knowing she will always come back) and imagine that she is frolicking with Archie somewhere in the moonlight.
D’Arcy Farlow lives in Waterloo, Ont.