My Jasper kitty died on Easter. My dad called me two days later to tell me. I was in a coffee shop, working. I could tell as soon as I picked up that something was wrong, so I went outside. I thought maybe it was one of my grandparents, but it was my kitty. My Jasper kitty, who got hit by a car sometime on Sunday. They found him after they came home from my grandparent’s house for Easter dinner.
The grief was immediate, and I had to focus hard to keep from curling in a ball on the sidewalk and bursting into tears. I succeed, and we discuss other things, distractions, my job this summer, tax rebates. I’m good at keeping things sealed away, keeping my emotions hidden deep inside, pretending I’m not breaking, that my heart isn’t sobbing. There’s nowhere to go to let it safely out, nowhere to be alone to comfort myself. I need to run away, but I can’t. I wait until I’m in the shower that night, so no one else can hear me.
I hate these phone calls. You know they’ll come, eventually, but you like to pretend that they won’t. I’ve had two others, both about kitties. My mom called me about Furball during my internship in North Carolina, while I was grocery shopping. I didn’t get phone service up in the mountains where the bunkhouse was, and she wouldn’t tell me over the phone, just that something bad had happened and she wrote me an email (by the way Mom, not a fan of this method). So I had to finish my shopping, then drive the half-hour up the mountain to the bunkhouse, desperately trying not to worry but concocting all sorts of scenarios. I forced myself to put everything away before I checked, because I knew I wouldn’t want to after.
Furball was my first kitty, the one from the litter I had named (I was maybe 4 or 5, and Furball was the best I could do at the time). He was a sleek black panther of a kitty, with a semi-regal air. He liked to lick your hand while you petted him, and had a great purr. He was 19 years old, an old man, and I distinctly remember that just a few days earlier I was thinking about how much I was looking forward to curling up with him on the couch in front of the wood stove when I got home next month. The neighbors across the street found him in their backyard, and the conclusion was that something had gotten him and dragged him over there.
I grabbed my coat and ran out the door as far as I could get away from the bunkhouse, which wasn’t all that far but just far enough, and sat on the ground in the woods, in the dark, and cried. I remember looking up at the stars, which were brilliant up there in the mountains, so far from the lights of town. It took awhile, but eventually it was okay.
I remember when I got the phone call about Tiger, Furball’s mom, who had adopted us when she was pregnant. I was a sophomore in college, standing in front of my desk, in the middle of working on a lab report (not sure why I was standing, I didn’t normally work standing up, but I remember I was standing and gripping the back of my desk chair). She was old and tired and sweet, and went gently in her sleep. It didn’t hurt as much, knowing this. But still, it was hard to focus that day.
Molly, the yellow lab we had while I was growing up, died when I was in middle school (this was back in the day before we had cell phones, and before I left home). We grew up together, she and I, and I spent a great deal of my childhood running around in the woods with her. She had cancer, a large tumor in her stomach. It was awful, but I remember very clearly thinking that if Molly wasn’t in Heaven, I didn’t want to go either. If we don’t see the ones we love, all the ones we love, then why go? I like to think she’s up there running around and playing with my cousin, but she wasn’t especially affectionate in this life so I’m not sure why she would be in the next. She’s probably pigging out to her heart’s content on steaks and chocolate cake and hickory nuts (she never got sick, which was fairly impressive for someone who would eats napkins, cupcake wrappers, or anything that smelled vaguely like food. She also would stand in the yard and crack hickory nuts with her teeth and eat them, shell and all).
It’s all the little things that bring it back, like knowing that Jasper’s hairs are probably still all over the comforter on my bed at home, and that once they’re gone there won’t be anymore to replace them. I haven’t been home in two months, and now I desperately miss having his blond hair all over my clothes.
He won’t wake me up early in the morning with his meowing outside my second-story bedroom window to be let inside, which means I have to take out the screen so he can come in. He won’t be there to sleep on my feet, or cuddle on my stomach as I fall asleep, won’t be there to snuggle in my twin-sized bed with our yellow lab Bogie, the two of them curled up back-to-back, or side-by-side, Jasper with one paw reaching out and touching Bogie’s back. He won’t be there to look up at me with that slightly annoyed look when I squeeze myself in at bedtime, nudging him out of the way so I can stretch out my legs.
No more Jasper on the couch in the evening, watching television, or curled up on the window seat, napping. No more Jasper trying to get up on the counter, even though he knows better. No more Jasper going on walks in the woods, going off to investigate something and then bounding along the path to catch up, not wanting to be left behind, but then loping just past, pretending that he was running to smell that tree, not to be with you.
I want to always remember the way he smelled, like no other cat I’ve ever had rub their butt in my face. Like a combination of loam and cat, if I’m remembering the smell of loam correctly. He smelled like nature, like the joy of being outside, a slightly unusual smell, but one that always made me happy.
Jasper kitty, I love you, and while we didn’t have nearly enough time together I’m so so glad you came into our lives and we into yours. Thank you.