A tribute to my dear 18.5 year old first child who died a year ago in my arms.
I’ll always remember the day she came home to live with me – so small she could sit inside my open hand, so cute I just wanted to cuddle and never let go. From day one, she was a talker, always interacting with me using her various Meows and other sounds. I loved the uniqueness of her tortoise-shell fur, the sincerity in her brown eyes, the way she followed me around like a puppy would.
From that day on, we were inseparable. Wherever I was, she wanted to be. She’d sit on the edge of the bathtub while I bathed or showered. That lasted until she got hit by water one day and decided she didn’t like water and began staying away. One day, while I showered, the answering machine went off. She stood in the hallway meowing as she looked back and forth between the machine and me, as if to ask: “How can daddy’s voice be there, when he’s over here?” It was amazing how human she could seem sometimes.
She slept beside me from the beginning. One day, early on, I woke up to muffled meows and realized I’d rolled over on her. That was the first of a serious of guilty accidents for me, when I first saw that look she’d give me as she shook her legs one at a time. It said: “I can’t believe you did that! Grow up!” Lucy always seemed more adult than I ever felt.
That was her name – Lucy, after the Peanuts’ character because she was so stubborn. I carried her around on my shoulder, as I drove, bought groceries, etc. She was so cute that we both got lots of attention, and she was fun to play with and have around.
For many years, while I was single and working long hours, Lucy was my closest companion. She greeted me with purring as she rubbed against my leg when she came home. She’d hop into my lap and curl up or meow for me to pet her. She scolded me when I left her alone too long – avoiding eye contact and keeping her distance to let me know she wouldn’t tolerate that kind of behavior from me again.
In all honesty, she changed my life forever. My first sole pet after moving out of my parents’ house, Lucy was like my child. I had to feed her, change her litter box, give her attention, etc. In some ways, I spoiled her too much. She was never that comfortable around other people. It had just been the two of us so often, she’d never gotten used to others being around. My sneaking up and surprising her made her skittish.
I taught her tricks, too – things people assured me cats could never learn. I taught her to kiss my finger when I held it in front of her face. She learned to shake and hold my hand, to give me five, and to put both hands in mine and “dance with daddy.” Sometimes, she liked the dancing so much, she would put her hands back after I let go and bite me if I didn’t let her do it again. I taught her to speak and to jump, delighting in her intelligence, her personality, her spirit.
Lucy taught me a lot, too. She taught me about friendship and how to learn to live with another despite their imperfections and irritating habits (mostly mine, not hers). She taught me about parenting, serving as my first experimental child – both playful and stern as the moment required. She taught me about forgiveness. There were the times I stepped on her tail or smashed her foot. The time I awoke from a dream to find myself swinging her by her feet (I’ve never felt so guilty in all my life). There were times I left her for international trips or forgot to fill her water or waited too long to change her litter. Each time she came back to curl up next to me and purr, kissing my finger to let me know she’d forgiven me, and life could go on as it had always been.
What she taught me above all was unconditional love. I had learned about unconditional love in church – the love of God for us, the love of a Savior – but I’d never truly seen it manifest until Lucy came along. She always wanted to be with me, wherever I was, whatever I was doing. She didn’t always demand my attention, content to lie nearby where she could see me, or just hover on the periphery. When she needed attention or food or something else, she let me know, but most of the time it was enough to just be near me. Until I got married, I’d never known another person I felt that way about. No matter how ugly I was when I woke up, how stinky I was until I showed, no matter how unfashionable my clothes, or how scruffy my hair, she loved me. I was her “daddy,” and none of it mattered as long as we could be near each other. Who couldn’t appreciate a love like that? If you’re like me, you probably wish there were more of it.
Eighteen years later, as I ponder our life together, facing the end, it’s hard to believe that soon I may have to live without her. At forty years old, I’ve known her almost half my life. We’ve been together through eight moves, across four states, and too many apartments and houses to name. She’s hung with me through job changes, frustration, depression – even times when we were broke and didn’t know where the next meal might come from. She’s bore the indignity of a new dog joining the family, of being displaced from her usual position on the bed by my wife, and all sorts of other challenges.
Above all else, she’s loved me and adored me, and I have loved and adored her. Now, as her kidneys fail, her hearing decreases, and her walk becomes more strained, she loves me still, and I love her, and somehow I know we always will.