By: Everlyn A. Hunter
I have a cat. Her name is Gracie. This is the story of how Gracie showed me the path to love. I’d recently returned from a trip back East to visit family. The crowded, noisy nature of my large family’s dwellings reminded me of growing up where I felt surrounded by imperfect love and human company in spite of the dysfunction and periodic urges to flee. So when I returned home to my large, sunny apartment, the space felt empty. I was alone and I didn’t want to be.
I called my cousin, Max; my only blood relative on the West coast, and asked if we could make a regular monthly ritual of my hanging out with her, her partner, and the kids. Being the magnificent human she is, Max readily agreed. But ultimately, this, along with regular meeting up with friends, didn’t quite do the trick. I still felt alone in a beautiful empty space called home. The problem was not simply feeling alone, but the feeling that my home was empty. The obvious solution was to fill it. But with what? Instantaneous families, replete with intimate lovers and possible offspring take time to cultivate and this empty vacuum demanded to be filled sooner rather than later.
It had been exactly 10 years since I last had a pet; a companion and best friend, eager for my return home. There was only one problem. Ten years ago, I also discovered a severe allergy to cats and a milder allergy to dogs. The solution: Hypoallergenic pet! Now I had this great apartment with loads of light and windows for a cat to follow the arc of the sunlight, and a huge backyard that was enclosed with trees to climb, birds to chase, and squirrels to taunt. I googled hypoallergenic breeds and settled on the loyal, intelligent Siamese breed.
A few weeks later, I found the perfect Siamese on the website of the Long Beach SPCA. I planned the acquisition meticulously. I would adopt on a Friday of a three-day weekend, so that we could bond before I had to go off to work. Off I went, only to arrive and find that the replacement for every pet I’d loved and lost had already been adopted. Listlessly, I combed the two cat buildings, passing by hopefully yapping dogs to the two remaining Siamese in the facility. In a cage, way in the back, lay a tiny 5-lb, cream-colored, Seal Point Siamese. She didn’t meow, nor did she look at me when I tapped on the bars. She had a fresh scar on her stomach and she wouldn’t eat. I asked about her and was told that she was a stray that they had picked up three days before. She had been pregnant and had been given an abortion and fixed at the same time. She had just been medically released for adoption within the hour that I showed up. I asked to see the second Siamese. In the cage, lounged a hairy beast who filled the inside of the regulation sized carrier. He was an angry, male chocolate Siamese who exuded a malevolence equal to pure feline evil. I hightailed it back to the sick Seal Point and said, “ Gimme that one.”
They brought her out in a cardboard carrier. I opened the top and she began to purr; a deep, rumbling motor of contentment. I was infatuated and did what infatuated people do; dropped a couple hundred dollars on necessary accessories, put her in the car, and headed for home. I opened the top of the box while she was in the car, she crawled around a bit, made it to my lap, crawled into the crook of my left arm and feel asleep, purring. When we got home, she ate, pooped and crawled into bed with me. All was well…until…I noticed a slight cough that became worse over the next three days. Using the coupon for one vet’s visit within five days of adopting, I took her to the pet hospital where they told me she was close to death; dehydrated with a respiratory infection she had probably picked up at the shelter. She needed to be injected with fluids and had to be on three different antibiotics for up to three weeks. It wasn’t a given that she would survive. They asked what I wanted to do.
I was pissed. How dare they give me a sick cat! They had to have known that it wasn’t just the surgery that had her being listless! Scumbuckets! I wanted to return her to the SPCA within the 15-day window, but that was a death sentence. Each night as I contemplated her death, she continued to crawl into bed with me and purr. That gave pause to my angry death dealing mood. The other option was to nurse her with no guarantee of health or life. But the deeper question was, If I made a commitment of time, effort, love and money to the relationship knowing that she might die, would it be worth it?
The memory of friends and family who lived with or had died of AIDS resurfaced, and I asked myself the same question. If I had known that they were going to be sick and would die, would it have been worth it to have loved them in the first place knowing the pain I would feel when they died? We all die. Couldn’t the same question refer to each of us regardless of health status. The answer became self-evident then. I kept her, resolving to go through at least one complete treatment of antibiotics before revisiting the question of life or death. And moreover, I resolved to love her to the best of my ability for as long as I had her in my life.
She was mine. I was hers. I was in love. It is not in the moments of getting love or caring that we make commitments or fall in love. It is in the moments when we decide to give deeply and profoundly of ourselves; something for which we have no promise of remuneration or reciprocity. It is then that we find our connectedness to someone or something larger than ourselves. In those moments, our empty spaces are filled, and we are no longer alone.