I grew up with cats, have always had cats in my life. The years I spend living without them, I missed them very much. My mother was partial to Siamese cats and when I was very little we had two Siamese, a blue point, Rasha and a seal point, Sappho.
Rasha died suddenly when I was seven and we were living in England. It was my first real devastating loss. When we returned, we moved to a new house and Sappho decided that I was the person to sleep with. She came in my room every night and put her two paws on my arm and I slept on my side with the cat. In the morning, she would meow to get out to eat but she came every night to sleep with me. I thought this was nothing extraordinary, but as I look back on it, I realize how extraordinary it was for a cat to bond like that with a nine year old child. She wouldn't sleep with anyone else, occasionally my mother but it soon became obvious that the cat preferred me at night. She died when I was eleven and my mother didn't get another cat after that because we traveled so very much.
When I was 17, my boyfriend gave me a cat named Charlie. He picked him out of a litter of five. This was not the kitten I would have picked for myself. I was favoring a little gray tabby named Ashes that was friendly and outgoing. This nervous black and white cat was so shy he was afraid to play.
But when he was handed to me on my birthday, I was happy he was mine.
My boyfriend and I moved in with the couple who owned the cats and soon decided to give me the little gray cat as well. And it was like Charlie understood he was my kitten. Pretty soon, I was the only one he would sit on, the only one he would be near. He would hide good portions of the day and wait until I was quietly reading and creep up on my lap and purr. It soon became obvious that I was the only one he would come out for. He was particularly afraid of my boyfriend but would come out for no one but me. The room mates would call and he would ignore them. When he heard my voice, I would hear his little meow and he would come creeping out and run for me.
A year later, my boyfriend and I broke up and I moved back in with my parents, pregnant and alone with two cats. My parents were very welcoming of the cats and happy to have the house populated by kitties again. Ashes was very friendly but both parents worked very hard to get Charlie to come out his shell and accept them. Eventually, he grew to trust them and would even sit on their lap but as soon as I walked in the room, Charlie would jump down and fly to my side. All I had to do was talk and he would come. I have never had such a loyal and loving cat, his devotion was amazing.
As I grew up, Charlie went through all the years of difficulty and disappointment with me. He was the one who comforted me through all my tough breakups. I used to tell him "No human will ever love me like you, Charlie." and I am pretty sure no cat will either. Still to this day, I am amazed by what that cat saw in me. Charlie was my first baby and he lived for 18 years. I had an inkling that when I was going on this long trip to London, I might never see him again, and unfortunately, I was right.
He died two weeks before I was to return. His organs were shutting down and to keep him alive for those few weeks would have meant he would have had to suffer in the hospital, not at home and not with me and with no guarantee he would have made it those few weeks anyway. The fact was, he was just dying. The other bitter pill was, there was no guarantee that if I booked a flight that day and flew home that he would even be alive when I got there. I could hardly bear it. For two days, while we waited for the verdict from the vet, I could do nothing but cry. I couldn't go out in public because I was bursting into tears so often. I felt a lead weight on my whole body. Everything was dark, I could barely leave my flat and my whole being was in pain and grief. I walked around with the weight of a bowling ball on my chest. Every step was heavy, every moment was laid with guilt and despair.
I was on the train, on the third day, having managed to get out of bed, leave the flat and go into the world. I felt the train rock back and forth and in this rhythm, I took in one deep breath and felt it all let go. The weight dissipated, the heaviness left me, my soul took a deep breath and exhaled.
It was later that I learned, this was the exact moment Charlie died. My dear friend, who cared for him so lovingly for me, told me she found an old shirt that smelled like me, and he had curled up in it for comfort in those final moments.
I have never gotten over feeling that I should have been there. I don't think I will ever get over not being there.
I got a Siamese kitten in 2003 and named her Sophie. She's nothing like any of the previous cats we owned but she likes to put her two paws on my arm and put her face under my chin. I always thought that was funny, and it reminds me of Sappho.
Several years ago, my son went through a bad breakup and called me up, wanting me to keep his very young cats for a month or two while he moved back from Oklahoma.
I said no. I think I said it several times.
But you know, he still showed up one day with the cats.
I know me and cats. There is no way I won't bond with them. And it wasn't going to be just a month, I know him. And if they stayed for longer than that, I wouldn't want to let them go. I informed him of the risk he was taking even bringing them here.
He brought with him an all black cat he had named Jager and a black and white tabby called George.
When I went to bed that night, George came up and got in bed next to me, curled up and announced he was home and that I was his person. In a few days, George was following me everywhere, and crying for me to sit down so he could sit on my lap. He sleeps at my head or my feet every night and after about a month, I heard my husband call him Charlie by accident. I had almost done it myself a half a dozen times, but I thought it was just me.
"He does kind of look like him." I said."But he isn't shy at all."
He gave a small meow and demanded my lap again.
"Look at the way he's looking at you," my husband said.
That boyfriend who gave me Charlie, it was our son who brought me George. That was about three years ago by the way. I don't know if there is such a thing as reincarnation. I know that I have always been a cat person, a cat whisperer, have always felt a special kinship with these animals. And I know a thing like the reincarnation of cats is probably a preposterous notion, but if there was a way Charlie could have found me, I have no doubt in my mind he would have found a way.