Cat Lessons


You don’t know, when you first meet each other, how this new relationship is going to unfold. You just know that your heart is open to it.

Emily and I met 17 years ago. I opened the local paper one day and saw a classified ad that read Kittens! Kittens! Kittens! Free! Free! Free! An hour later I was driving home next to a tiny gray and white creature with beautiful green eyes. Emily Kabuki — Emily after my favorite poet and Kabuki, because her first Mom and Dad thought her face looked like a Japanese theater mask. It was Emily K for short, then Em Shoo, and later sometimes just Em.

What I didn’t know that day was that Em was a one-person kitty. She loved to sit with me in my chair. She loved to curl up in the crook of my knee at night. She loved to be the center of attention.

She did not love to share. So when I adopted a cat named C.J, and then Crystal came to live with us, Em turned from a tiny lovable little thing, to a big, grouchy cat who wanted nothing to do with her sisters, or with me, quite frankly.

Em was the alpha kitty and never us forget it. She beat up on the other cats pretty often. She ate all their food and gained lots of weight. She didn’t like to be pet or touched too much. She was not the most fastidious of cats, and her litter box indiscretions were notorious.

There were times over the years when I’d thought I’d had enough. When I thought about finding her a new home and a new family. But who would take and love this fat, stinky, mean cat?

I would. And I did, because on that very first day I made a promise that I would take care of her and love her. I made a promise.

And because of that promise, I learned an awful lot about love and tolerance, about patience. About trust.

C.J. left our family in 2008. We said goodbye to Crystal in 2011. And then there were two — Emily and me.

In the fall of 2010, Em had surgery on a couple of small tumors near her ears. When she came home from the vet, I realized, almost immediately, that she could no longer hear.

Over the years, Em had developed a pretty impressive vocabulary of understanding that included Bluejay and Cardinal, Smartfood and bagel, brushin’ and outside. Knowing she could no longer hear them, I began to use hand signals for the most important: come here, come up, hungry? and it’s OK.

She started to understand, and so did I. No matter my indiscretion of bringing other cats into her house, she trusted me. And she knew I would take care of her.

The past two years with Em were like living with a totally different cat. She loved to be in the house by herself and quickly let go of her defenses. Her deafness brought a new layer of calm, since she was no longer startled by loud noises or the traffic outside.

Her days were measured by light and vibration, shadow and touch. She greeted me at the sound of footprints and meowed at shadows across her face. She knew morning by the flicker of the bathroom light, and night by a soft pat on her belly — come up.

She sat with me in my chair again. And slept curled in the crook of my knee often.

And that is how we spent our days, the two of us here in this house — because our hearts were finally open to it.

14 thoughts on “Cat Lessons

  1. i firmly believe one cannot evolve properly into a decent human being without including a “fur person” in one’s life…

    “Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, Love leaves a memory no one can steal. ”
    ~ from a headstone in Ireland

    goodbye, miss emily


  2. It took our Phoenix 12 years to let us pet her. Now she sits on the couch next to us. She never ever did before. It’s nice when they finally come around. Love is love. Take it as it comes. 😉


  3. So beautifully written, Jen. I especially love how the beginning and the end – the ‘bookends’ – of your relationship with Emily were the same. There is something significant about how relationships are at the beginning and at the end – the hello and the good-bye, if you will. Yours and Emily’s was a special bond.


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