I was cleaning out a cedar chest today, when I found a photo of him. I hadn’t thought about him in a long time; he was my first.
I could feel my heart beating faster as I gazed at the photograph. He’s the reason why I’ve been so hesitant to commit myself again, despite the fact that my friends tell me I’ve got to put the past behind me and get on with my life.
I wasn’t at home when he first arrived. I was on a Christmas vacation trip to Disneyworld with my son, then five. When Andrew was tucked into bed at night, after a long day of Disney, I would go to the phone and whisper covertly into the receiver, “Is he there yet?”
Weeks before, I had answered an ad in the newspaper. “I want an active cat for a little boy,” I said to the woman who answered the phone.
“Oh, I have the cat for you,” she replied.
Coe was one of those strange, dog-like felines called Siamese. I’d never dealt with cats before, but he taught me everything I needed to know.
He taught me to know my job and do it. Early on Christmas morning, we were awakened by our son calling out, “Help, help!” We rushed to the bedroom to find that Coe had somehow sneaked out of his hiding place in our bedroom and snuggled into bed with Andrew. He knew whose pet he was without being told, and was eager to get on with the job.
He taught me not to get too stressed-out. So many times I would be bustling about the house, doing yet another chore, and I would pass him as he lay stretched out in a sunbeam. He would look up at me disdainfully, as if to say, “What’s the rush?” I still try to remember this lesson.
He taught me the importance of touch. I don’t come from a demonstrative family, so I’m not a natural hugger. Coe loved to be petted and fondled, and with his silky fur, it was impossible to resist touching him. I found myself touching other people more, as well, sometimes to their great consternation.
He taught me how to lie. Once we heard the loud sound of breaking glass coming from Andrew’s room: “Kee-rash! (tinkle, tinkle).” A minute later Coe stumbled from the room looking confused, and gave an enormous yawn, as if to say, “What was that?” I knew he was the culprit, but I was never able to pin it on him.
He taught me not place too much reliance on my instincts. He had none, himself. Everyone in our family remembers Coe’s Big Adventure, when, after much begging and pleading, we finally let him go outdoors in the country. He disappeared immediately, just as we’d feared, and after several hours, when it was growing dark, Whitley went out to search for him. He kept walking until he heard pitiful cries, then followed the sounds until he found him. Coe had crossed a stream at a narrow point and returned to a place where it was wider, and he didn’t want to get his feet wet. Of course, he used the catbox as soon as he got home.
He taught me that the good die young, especially if they’re purebred cats. Coe was ranting a lot, so we took him to the Vet and found out that he was filled with cancer. The Vet opened Coe up, saw the situation was hopeless, then closed him again so we could go in and say goodbye. Whitley and I took turns burying our faces in his fur for the last time.
When I called up Andrew, who was away at school, to tell him the news, he said, “You know, Coe had a great personality.”
“Honey,” I said, “He was nothing but a hank of hair. That cat was ALL personality.”
And can’t the same be said of all of us, in the end?
So for now, my heart is taken. I pet cats and dogs at other people’s houses, but it just isn’t the same. Coe was the one who introduced me to the secret world of cats. How can I give my heart to another when I’ve known the best?
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