How many ways can a heart break? How many jabs will it withstand before it simply stops beating? Whose heart am I worried about? It could be Ms. Poppy’s heart, which must surely—after over ten days of living primarily off the air she breathes—be ready to stop beating. Or it could be my own, with each hourly attempt to interest Ms. Poppy in a new flavor of food, a new preparation of food, a new combination of bowl to food to placement of food-filled bowl.
It was 18 years ago that this indefatigable little feline pried herself into my walled-off heart. At the time, my then-husband and I were still recovering from the drawn-out demise of three geriatric pets. I was counting forward to my retirement, determined to be fully unencumbered when that longed-for freedom finally arrived. A new pet would interfere with my plans! I was firm. No more pets!
Until the day Poppy locked her gaze on mine. I was on my letter carrier rounds, which took me to a run-down heating oil business that accumulated more stray cats than customers. The proprietors spent oodles on cat food, which they portioned out in pie pans for the myriad strays that proliferated on their desiccated, jungle. I had become inured to stepping through a swarming sea of fidgety, feral felines as they hungrily wolfed down crispies. But that August day, a small, self-possessed, square of tuxedo sat at the top of the stairs to the building, surveying the milieu below and willing me to bend down and pet her and then, of course, open the door so she could entertain the secretaries by jumping on their desks and knocking papers and pens onto the dilapidated floor.
Said smirking, smoking secretaries watched this tête-à-tête from the window of their break room. They grinned knowingly and encouraged me to take home the little black and white bundle of joy. “She’s already house broke,” they promised. “The only problem is that she likes to dig around in the potted plants.” (Potted plants that were half dead and fully disguised by stacks of paper and boxes of bookkeeping records.)
“Oh no,” I replied confidently. “I can’t have any more pets.” And I waltzed back out the door stumbling over the little black and white menace, who seemed quite entertained by my clumsiness.
The hex was laid. That night, a little black and white sprite danced behind my eyelids like Dasher, Dancer and Donner the night before Christmas. In the morning, as I rubbed my eyes open, I rolled over and cooed to hubby, “Mmmm, maybe we should have another little kitty?”
And so it began. And now it must come to an end. I will miss her curling up behind my knees, or in the curve of my stomach or, heaven forbid, my crotch as I snore the night away. I will miss her greetings, both the loud, after she lost her hearing, and her quiet little “prrrrew” as she jumps onto or off my lap, or more recently, when she’s had little energy for a larger greeting. I will miss the lengthy back and forth conversations we had before she lost her hearing. I will miss her pointing to the catnip stash, waiting for me to get the hint. I will miss her tiny paw fussing my face early in the morning, wanting to burrow under the covers to escape the icy cold bedroom. I will miss her crawling precariously up to the top of the chair behind my head for an elevated gander at the little black ants crawling across the screen in front of me. I will miss her strolling across the keyboard when my back is turned, or worse yet, lying on the warm keyboard, editing my copy and sending her own messages. I will miss the mat of cat fur accumulating under the keys of my laptop. I will miss her droopy form draped languidly over my wrists as I type, and her furry body perched in the center of the book I am reading. I will miss the clothing and décor quandary of what to wear with an ever-shedding black and white cat in the house. I will miss the rattle of her pawing through her basket of toys to find the one mousie she craves. I will miss the tidy black tufts at the peak of her ears, and the perfect weave of white hairs on the black backs of her ears. I will miss her adorable black heart nose and the question mark of her tail. I will miss cat box duty.
So much life we’ve shared. So many changes we’ve navigated together. Such mutual love and admiration. An era of my life is forever bookended by this little tuxedo cat. I will miss your beautiful little soul, Poppy.