Eight years ago, I went to the ASPCA & made a deal. I sat down on the floor & smiled at the striped, spotted cat that hopped into my lap & declared me home. I ran my palm over the black line of his spine, where the stripes converged into a solid line, not knowing yet that these multi-colored strands would work their way into the weave of every article of clothing I would own. & I made a deal with this rumbling, big-pawed mutt, that I would stick around. It wasn’t a promise I was used to making, not even to myself. But I made a deal with him. & every morning he greeted me with a series of scolding meows because I’d stayed out too late the other night, every time he head-butted his way into the tight knot of my body I’d made to hide my crying face, every day he leaned against my legs & set them trembling with his purring, I remembered that deal. I got out of bed, I planned for tomorrow, I stopped throwing myself through life without knowing that I’d climb out of the wreckage the next day. But when he got sick, I knew that, somehow, despite the deal I’d made & tried to honor, I’d failed him.
People always commented on how big he was – he finally grew into those paws – but when I slung his carrier over my shoulder for the last time, his emaciated form was so light that the bag felt empty. I ran my hand down the black line of his spine, each of its knobs stuttering my progress, & he kept his back turned towards me, his motor silent. All deals off. Carrying the empty carrier home, its weight feeling no lighter, was too much; I sank down against a fire hydrant & sobbed into my knees. No one wriggled into my lap to bring me back to the world.
Corduroy died almost 3 years ago. Every time I think I’ve forgiven myself, something sets me back. I share my apartment with 2 cats now, Dizzy & Noche, & yesterday Noche had to be hospitalized for emergency surgery. They shaved a patch of his forearm for the IV, leaving a strip of grey in his black fur. He nestled his face into my elbow as the sedatives worked through him, & I stroked that velvety shorn patch, marveling at the moon-pale color hiding underneath his fur. When they sent me home, they offered to keep my carrier, but walking home alone didn’t feel much better.