First, I just have to say that I don't really care for cats. At least, throughout my life I have never cared for cats, I have always preferred dogs. I never hated cats, I just didn't really like them. When you try to pick one up, all it's guts run to the other end, they shed on you, they often dig their claws into your flesh just because they like to do that kind of thing, and frankly, I just didn't trust them around children. But that was before Charlie.
Nevertheless, we have had quite a few kittens as pets. Whenever the kids would talk me into having a kitten (or two) I would say "OK, BUT you have to understand that they are going to be outside cats, and cats do what they want. IF THEY CHOOSE TO STAY, then they will be our cats, and we will get them fixed, and shots, etc., etc., but DON'T get too attached, because they are cats and they might just disappear." I still stand by this advice, but I don't think we will be worrying about this problem for quite some time. We stuck to it and many cats have disappeared with no more than a token tear shed, but that was before Charlie.
We have had Charlie for many years. I don't know how many because he was one of many I figured would just disappear. I knew better than to get attached. We got him from one of the boy's babysitters, and got him fixed right off. He was actually the second Charlie we've had from that same place, the first on happily disappeared after befriending a recent widow in the neighborhood long ago. We wished him well, and were not sad at his departure. We were really doing good on the not getting attached thing at that point. But that was before this Charlie.
Somewhere along the line our most recent Charlie got his leg broken. I can't even remember how, but we nursed him through several weeks with a cast on his leg and when it came time for me to cut the tape away and take his cast off, he actually almost got mean with me. I stopped and said to him "CHARLIE!! You know I would never, ever, hurt you intentionally. I just have to cut off the tape." And do you know, he relaxed and let me do it without another protest. He always seemed to understand what your intentions were. He was not the kind of cat that would rub up against you, unless you invited him to. Even then, he would just come over and sit by you. I loved this about him because I can't stand cats that rub against me.
With the kids, he would let my pretend grand baby pick him up UPSIDE DOWN and I would see his claws come out, then a pause, then they would go right back in again. He would let himself go limp, to make it harder for her to drag him, and within seconds either I was there to help her carry him to the bench where he always hung out or she would give up and he would make his get-a-way. He seemed to sense that she meant no harm. "Eat! Eat! Eat bwekfas, Chaw lee". But he wouldn't even defend his own food dish, and I suspect I've been feeding quite a few cats around the neighborhood for a long time.
After my mom died, every time I went outside there was Charlie, and I resented even seeing something else that I needed to take care of. I felt bad about it, but that was just the way it was. One morning I went out and there he was and I thought "oh, no, not again. Just go away and leave me aloooooooonnnnne!" I was whining in my mind. At that moment, I heard my mother's voice give a little laugh and say "Just like God's love, that's Charlie. Never pushing up to you but just always there waiting for you to notice." And I realized two things. I was really, really angry, and I probably needed to deal with that. And my mother, like God, was still with me as close as my own heart. It might have been at that point that I started getting used to Charlie and even become fond of him.
Over the years, I got used to his thumps on the front porch, being startled when he would suddenly emerge from the somewhere among the wreckage of the top shelf of the garage and jump all the way down, leaving the garage door up a little at all times, and admonishing every single member of my family, including the Cyclist, from feeding him EVERY time they went out the door. He was probably the best fed cat, in terms of sheer volume, that ever lived. Which may also explain the other cats hitting the all day buffet if they are in the area.......
Several times he has disappeared for up to a week at a time and we would think he was gone for sure. I never could figure out where he went or what he was doing, but as he couldn't get anything pregnant, I figured it was nobody'e business but his own. And when he came back? He would meow outside and we would yell "CHARLIE?!?!" and he would meow again and Charlie would be back from whatever adventure he had been on and we would all rejoice that he was all right and now home. He never made noise unless he wanted something. No howling at the full moon or anything else from our Charlie.
Last night Charlie darted right out in front of a neighbor of mine, by chance my dentist and by God's grace one of the kindest, gentlest men I have ever had the privilege of knowing in this life. He stopped and sat with me and held onto my hand as Charlie quietly died, and I stroked Charlie and told him it was all right and that he was the best cat in the world. He told me when Charlie was gone for sure. He told me to get a bag from the house and the shovel and he helped me bury Charlie under the big grass where he loved to pretend to be a fearless lion. I hope it wouldn't embarrass that man to say that I can't think of a better person to have gone through that with, poor man, he felt so bad. I told him the same thing I have always told the kids, how you can't get attached because cats do what they want. I told him a lot of things and he just listened and dug. I told him I used to be pretty good at not getting attached, but that was before Charlie.
I watched the boys come down the street, one standing behind the other on 1 bike, laughing all the way down the hill. I will never forget that moment. I've never felt so old. I told them and held them while they cried. We put some lilacs on Charlie's grave and then we all went in and cried some more. Quite a lot, actually, kind of all night long. When I locked up for the night, for the first time in years, I let the garage door go all the way down. No Charlie to leave the door open for now. Then I cried some more.
This morning I saw the same look on my son's face as he let the garage door go all the way down for the first time he can probably ever remember. But he didn't cry. He just took a deep breathe and came on to the car. And I thought how he was growing up, and how losing a pet is part of life, and how he will never forget Charlie. We were lucky to have him at all.