Last week, I said four words that I never imagined saying. Four of the most difficult words that I still have trouble comprehending. They entailed instant heartbreak and sorrow that visibly began to show and seeing this made it real, because everything else felt so numb. “I’ve lost my pet” is a phrase full of emotions that’s difficult to explain unless you’ve loved and cared for any animal that made your home and especially your life better for being in it but is no longer.
As hours turned into days and days into weeks, I’ve had time to reflect that if this is one of the worst things that has happened to me, I may be quite lucky and fortunate in life. However, that has not made the situation any easier.
It’s Friday and the window is slightly cracked on a chilly fall night in effort to hear any commotion. I lay upon my new makeshift bed, formally the couch, for the tenth straight night. Not only is it close to the scene where he went missing (due to a broken window screen), but it also feels like I’m no longer home. Everything is familiar but it shows signs of a very hectic lifestyle. What was once home, now feels like I’m involuntarily crashing on my second cousins couch somewhere out of town. It’s both as uncomfortable and unforeseen as it sounds. Flyers are scattered upon the kitchen table and the can opener in the sink has a strong smell of mackerel. There are flashlights in every coat pocket and a litter box sits prominently upon my porch. Sweatshirts and blankets are scattered around the outside of my house and my porch door is held slightly open by an old tie I once wore in a wedding. Life has been different as time circles slowly around me but has gone rather quickly in the real life. This, is a bad dream.
My back hurts and my arms are full of poison ivy. There is now a self-made walking path that circles around my house that now consists of compressed grass but mostly dirt. My head hurts from the unknown and guilt swarms my mind with the “what-ifs”. Back alleys are now my means of travel and the police know me as “the guy looking for his cat”. What I do know is that desperate effort, slowly turns into helpless silence and it’s another difficult transition that I am learning to deal with.
It’s Saturday afternoon and I’ve changed the cat traps yet again. Sardines no longer disgust me and the smell is tolerable because it assures me that I’m still trying. I see a woman walking towards me upon the sidewalk and realize it’s a familiar face. By familiar, I mean that I know her and like her but by no means would she be walking in front of my house under any other circumstances. She’s looking, I cry, and she consoles me. There will be a lot of this and when the sadness starts to slightly relinquish, you’ll appreciate these moments even more.
On the morning of October 18th, I had overslept and I haven’t done this in nearly six years. I knew instantly that something was wrong and panic set in. It was the first time that a paw had not touched my face with relentless persistence. This, among other simple routines and traits is what makes this adjustment even more painful. Every night, I wish to have them back.
The first full day is the most difficult. Everything looks the same but feels so different. Life is not stopping, even though I want it to pause and desperately rewind.
I attend work after a few days and it helps to distract me but as I arrive home and open the door for the first time, reality sets in. He’s not here. Toys grace the floor, the water dish is full and the food sits untouched. I lay upon the couch both mentally and physically drained and he does not jump up. He’s not there. I sit up and bundle up and walk. I search. I know that doing something could be everything. Giving effort will become your new companion and distract you from those silent quirky attributes that you are now deprived of. So, you walk, look, walk and look. This becomes your new routine.
I said earlier that these were four of the most difficult words I’ve said and I ponder that daily. I try to justify that this wasn’t just a pet, it was family. He needed me but I wanted him even more. This was all I had and although noting that I was both unmarried and childless, may make others mutter “Oh, this makes sense now”, it’s far from the case. Sure, if my circumstances were different, my sorrow may vary but you can never measure the sadness of another human being. Thus, here I am.
Is he scared? Is he hurt? Hungry or thirsty? Close or far? The unknown is a cruel reminder of every worst case scenario that crosses my mind nearly every second. It’s 3am on Sunday and I Google everything I can about trying to find a cat. Within a week, I feel like I’m an expert. The “have you tried this” questions, begin to quickly end in “yes” and again, knowing you’re doing everything you can, gives you some peace and acceptance that you need. We have shared information, called every place, and looked under nearly every porch. My dad hands me the last flyer as I lay it upon a porch, blocks and blocks from my home. My mom posts one more missing photo online. Knowing that I care (we care), replaces the care I once gave to him.
Time passes and the lost sign that hangs upon the telephone pole is fading. The colors are dripping down the paper as an awful reminder of how the weather has changed. It’s raining and cold and I once again feel guilty and helpless. The sound of cold rain drops, often feels like needles poking at my heart. I can no longer look at his sign when I pass by. It hurts. I never imagined this would happen to me but It has.
It’s 5am on Monday and everything is quiet. I put on some flip flops and sweatpants and check the cat traps. Nothing. I feel alone. I search the internet for stories about what this is like because I want to know I’m not alone. I want to relate to someone with this same unfortunate experience but all I find are stories with happy endings. These (at the moment) seemed like fairytale moments when all I wanted was honesty. This, is why I’m writing. To not only console myself, but to reach out to another because nothing is worse than feeling alone and that’s what I fear for both him and I.
This story isn’t all about loss though, it’s about gain and hope. Strangers will reach out to you, family will support you and friends will help you. Neighbors will look and co-workers will console. Perhaps even more than before, you’ll feel loved and desire to be around others at any available moment. You’ll get text messages and you’ll see effort. Mostly to show that they are there for your well-being and in time you’ll also begin to appreciate these gestures.
It’s Tuesday and I’m driving home. This is starting to become my moment of hope. The sadness of not seeing him as I open the door to my house, turns into sadness from seeing trap doors still open. I know that sitting on the couch is different and I know this all too well by now. Today, was the first time in six years that I left a cereal bowl filled with milk unattended and it still does not feel right. I walk down the street blocks and blocks away (far from the houses with flyers) and a lady is well aware of what I’m still looking for. She assures me that I’m not the only one keeping my eye out. This, brings me some comfort. I know how much of an impact animals leave on our lives and that puts us in the large majority of understanding. I head back home. As I do, I grab a screwdriver and unbolt a wooden panel on the outside of my house to check the crawl space one more time. Nothing. I walk inside and call his name even though I know the outcome. Still nothing.
My cat was adopted at the local humane society at an early age. He was ill and found abused. His front leg was amputated and I saw him laying in a small pale curled up. Immediately, I knew I wanted to rescue him but later in life, he was the one that saved me. He gave me responsibility and affection. He left me alone and yet wouldn’t leave me alone. He made my house a home and went from a pet to family. One of life’s greatest treasures and angst is love. I loved him and although the love transitioned from joy to sadness, knowing that something allows this in the first place makes life worth living.
I want you to know that this story will never be finished. I want you to know that a year from now every time I walk somewhere I will still be looking. It will stay with me forever. Hope will never fade even when you feel hopeless. Most importantly, you will never be alone. Trust me. This is my message to you. This is not about a cat, it’s about love and appreciating it when you have it. You see, I’m not missing him, I’m missing him and that makes more sense to me than anything else ever will because I’m the one that’s lost without him.
May you all find what’s missing from your heart. No matter what it is.