Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Darling Darcy: Measuring Time in the Life of a Cat

(Recently I joined a newly-formed writers critique group in our community called Writers Haven. Although this piece was originally written on February 10, 2015, I saved it for publication in order to use it as a submission to my fellow group members.)

We all measure our lives in different ways. As a former teacher, my life used to be measured by the school year. While others used January to December, I measured the year from September to June, the months when Life was in its highest gear. Much was expected, much was given, and downtime was rare.

Now, 5 years away from the classroom and married to a shift worker, Life is a series of 4-4-4. Four days on, four days off. Four nights on, four off. Activities like writing in quiet solitude, reading for pleasure, and nosily bumping around doing housework revolve around my husband's schedule. Trust me, I'm not complaining. I much prefer Life as it is now.

Three weeks ago I was reminded of another of Life's yardsticks. Measuring time through the lives of our pets. What? You say? Well, if you have loved a pet, you'll understand. Relationships with our furry companions are some of the most enduring.

After 18 years and several months of declining health, it was time to say goodbye to my cat, Darcy, on January 21st. I realize it is playing God and, for me, the best thing to do is make the decision and make the appointment. The sooner the better.

As I knelt on the clinic floor, my hand under Darcy's chin while the sedative took effect, I thought about all that has transpired since that October afternoon in 1996 when I adopted a beautiful, blue-eyed seal-point kitten and his adorable black-and-white sister.

It had been a milestone Saturday morning. A small group of friends had helped me move into my first apartment in Alhambra, California. I was finally on my own, a few months into my first teaching job in Los Angeles, and still going to school to earn my credential. Sure, I had practiced living “independently” during those years at college, but this was different. I had picked my own living space, bought my own furniture and, best of all, there were no roommates. All I needed was a couple of kittens to add warmth to the atmosphere.

Yes, Darcy and his sister, Ashley, who died in 2013, were the kitties I had as a real grown up, doing grown-up things with grown-up responsibilities.

Darcy was my talkative love bug cat. He followed me from room to room, and slept between my feet or stretched out alongside my leg under the covers.

Over the years we lived together in 4 different places in 2 different states. We cuddled through the stress of changing jobs, losing a parent and grandparents, and even through the horrific loss in 2006 of a man I thought I would marry.

Darcy was there in January 2009 when a very nice man contacted me online. He was there a few weeks later when that man and I met in person. He was there when my future husband got on one knee in my California living room and proposed.

By the time I moved to Washington, in October 2010, Darcy was part of the older generation of pets, accompanied by his sister, Ashley, and my dog, Bailey. The new generation started with Ramius, an abandoned kitten I found under the hydrangea in my front yard.

At 6 o'clock in the morning, September 30, 2010, my new husband and I put my remaining belongings in the car and set off on an 18-hour trek up Interstate 5. The 3 kitties huddled, terrified, in a roomy carrier in the back of my SUV and 100 lb Bailey dominated the back seat. We arrived at our recently purchased house in the Old West Side at 1AM, exhausted and dazed from the whirlwind of the last few months.

And here it is, almost 5 years later and the end of an era. Ashley, Bailey, and now,Darcy, are all gone. Of the critters who made that journey, only Ramius remains, along with our newest kitty, 6 month old Maggie May.

I know it sounds silly to some, but our pets are part of the family. They don't replace children or friends, but they do carve unique marks on the heart. Of course, the greatest thing about a pet is that they offer no judgement, cynicism, or advice. All a pet wants is for its basic needs to be met. In return, it will give you the unconditional love that you'll be hard-pressed to find anywhere else. 

Confession: this is not actually Darcy. Although he was a beautiful cat, he took terrible pictures. But this gorgeous one looks identical to him when he was at his healthiest. (Picture borrowed from musicgirl094.wordpress.com.)

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