The picture is of Sadie on a day trip last December. These recent years she hasn’t much been Traveling Cat and I’m sorry for not doing better by her in this regard, unavoidable though that is because cancer, treatment and recovery have proved so draining on both energy and finances. I have myself been out of town overnight only seven times since diagnosis; she’s gone along on four of those occasions, including the Lost Coast/Oregon in spring 2016 and the Visalia area twice last year.
These days I compensate best I can for her lack of adventure by bringing her when possible on my housesitting gigs around the East Bay. She gets new dwellings and sometimes yards to explore for days or even weeks and I get to have her next to me at night. Something makes me think she misses the wider travel although it could be just me projecting. (I certainly do.) Admittedly though it’s hard to tell if it makes any difference to her; Sadie is a cat who seems content just about anywhere as long as she’s with me.
That she’s always been that way is why I felt confident taking her on the road when I left Austin in 2010. I mentioned this to a friend and he good-naturedly replied, “Think very highly of yourself, don’t you?” No, not really. She and I just have a super-strong bond, stronger than I’ve had with any animal and for that matter most humans. When she does die – and now she’s 14 even I can no longer deny that’s on its way – it’s going to go very hard with me.
Her physical decline has become very evident the last few months: she can no longer jump any significant height, with even low furniture requiring a visible effort. When we’re home she stays very close, picking sunny spots within spitting distance of the door if she goes outside at all. Her rambles through neighboring yards appear to be a thing of the past – she can’t negotiate passage over and along fence-tops, and while I’m OK with no longer sweating out her return after dark I’m also sad for that part of life she’s lost.
On the plus side she can still get up and down the ladder to the sleeping loft with relative ease and does so on average half a dozen times daily. Generally she otherwise seems perfectly healthy besides the mild asthmatic she’s been since a kitten. I can’t guess beyond that because I had to skip her checkup last year for lack of funds. (I fear it’ll be the same this year.) Mostly now she just sleeps and while she’s always done that – she is a cat after all – I find myself watching her do it more than I used to.
My minimal knowledge of Buddhism includes an understanding that the cause of all suffering is attachment. That makes sense to me; it must, because throughout my life I’ve let myself become truly attached to things and people only when I couldn’t avoid it. Yet I put aside that defense mechanism to let Sadie into my life and 14 years later I’m glad, immeasurably so, for my deep attachment to this 12-lb loud-purring ball of calico. Glad for the love I’ve been able to give her without reservation even more than for all that she’s given me. Through this love I’ve come to what I know has to be a bare shade of what my friends with children feel: a fierce desire to keep her from any and all immediate harm, a paralyzing fear that she will come to it anyway, a resentment of not knowing whether any of it is connected to future reality. What I do know is this: during times when depression reigns, when I feel doubtful my own existence has been/is worth much of anything, I sometimes tell myself that at the very least I’ve been able to give my cat a good life. That one little thought provides great comfort.
I do look forward to Sadie and I again traveling real distances more than once or twice a year, whenever that will be. I suspect it’s far off enough that by then she will rarely want to venture outside the vehicle, preferring mainly to hog the warm spot my butt leaves in the driver’s seat. I can accept that knowing we’ve had our fun and plenty of it. What remains are a few pictures and my memories triggered by taking my hand off the wheel and reaching over to the next seat to pet her, to press my hand against her side and feel the purr that engine noise drowns out. As long as I have that now and then I will believe I’m still doing OK by her.
(Cross-posted from my other blog, Walk Into The Sun.)