The Moment

I was hers.

I was her from that very first moment, and from that very first moment she was mine.

When I was younger, there was only one thing I really wanted—and when I say wanted, I don’t mean the half-hearted want that all kids feel. It wasn’t that want of a new toy or pretty dress or that Disneyland trip. No, those were finite things—whims—something. This want was something more—something I felt in my bones. Something that parents couldn’t say no to in hopes I would forget in a year or two. It was desire…my first raw desire.

So I asked for it. I asked for it time and time again. “Daddy, can I get a cat?” “Mom I want a cat.” “Can we get a kitten?” I painted my desire in every manner I could. Year after year. Holiday after holiday. Birthday after birthday.

The first time I asked for a cat, I was given one with plush for fur and beads for eyes. It was added to my clout of stuffed cats, but it would never animate into real life.

The second time I asked for a cat, I was given a book. “Now you can have all of them.” It was an encyclopedia of cats that detailed breeds and diet, and all the things you should know about how one cat differs from the next. I read it back and forth, picked out my favorite breeds and then read it again. But no matter how many times I flipped those pages, they would never leap from the pages and into my arms.

The last time I asked for a cat, another book was placed in my hands. 100 ways to pamper your cat. For the first time, I was excited to read this book back and forth. To pamper your cat—your cat—I fixated on. It was like a promise that my cat was coming soon but as weeks turned to months and months turned into a year, it became nothing more than a cruel joke.

I gave up asking after that, but the desire never left. I was just tired of talking to a wall. I remember receiving a puppy in lieu of a cat one year even—and while I was happy and loved her dearly, she was never quite the same. But I let my love of her momentarily try to convince myself a loving pup would be enough.

I remember my best friend’s cat had kittens one year and I went over often to play with them. I begged my parents to keep one—just one. I told them all I would do to take care of it, told them how well we got along.

The kitten went to a loving home. But it wasn’t ours. I let the defeat sink in this time. I’d never had something so close in my fingertips to only have it ripped away. But it was a nice taste of reality…we all don’t get what we want.

Until one day I did.

One summer around the end of May, a mother cat gave birth to a litter of what we can hope was only three. The mother was either a stray or an outdoor cat who’d never gone home to show it’s owners it’s litter. When the kittens were old enough to leap and pounce, the mother cat lead them to an empty parking lot where they lived off the mice and birds that scurried on through. Until a lady found them.

“My friend MJ found some stray cats.”

My mom and dad had called me down to tell me the news.

“She wanted to know if we wanted to keep one.”

I could’ve cried I was so happy. I don’t think I could hide my excitement and it felt as if the words I heard were the starting line to a joke. But they weren’t. Finally, they weren’t.

The car ride to MJ’s house was all an excited blur. I’m sure my brother was playing a game on his Pikachu Gameboy color and my parents likely talking about something random in the front seat. But I was vibrating. Every fiber of my being as alight in anticipation and my heart was pounding in my chest.

I was surely imagining the life I would have with the kitten I was on my way to meet. But my mind would’ve never known just how wonderful that life would be. I remember the car stopping in front of MJ’s house…and I remember my breath being held as we knocked on the door.

MJ greeted us at the door, telling us the cats were upstairs and she’d go get them and bring them down. But I wasn’t paying attention in the slightest. All that I was, and all the breath I still had in my tiny body had come to a stop. Just behind MJ and to the left, a small black cat appeared on the stairs.

She was running down them—stopping just as I did as her huge green eyes—reminiscent of a doll—met mine. And just like that our fate, our lives, were forever intertwined.

I tried playing with the other cats. I’d wanted a tabby—a cute tabby, but it wasn’t the same. I tried playing with the runt of the litter—she was cute. Small. But it was never the same. It was not the same as the green eyes I’d met with. It was never like the doll-like eyes that focused me. Like the gentle paws at my feet that wanted to play. Like the sweet meow that drew me to her.

We were sealed. Intertwined. One. There wasn’t another option.

She was the one.

The day she came home I was so excited. She came out of her traveling case. All shyness. All hesitance. But when she saw me it didn’t matter. It was new—but we knew each other. Somewhere, somehow, we would always know each other.

I named her myself.  

Lullabell.

Written the way a fourth grader would write. Never sounding the way the letters were stitched together.

Lullabell.

Because I was urged not to name her the first thing I had in mind.

Lullabell.

Because it was the name of a fictional cat—a fluffy cat—one that looked nothing like her but frequented my writing journals.

Lullabell.

Because it just…fit.

She was everything I wanted. Everything I needed.

We spent our days, happy. Happiest I’ve ever been. And she was so small. And so brave. And so energetic. And sassy. And cuddly. And comforting.

She was everything—my everything.

I used to have a canopy atop my bed. I remember the night she climbed it with the tiny claws. I awoke, 1am or later, to look up the stars and see the universe—my universe—to see her hanging above my head, claws stuck in the net.

A soft mewl. A gentle apology. A faint cry for help.

And I would be there every time, fetching her from the stars and down to earth. Holding her close.

I took the canopy down the next day.

I remember out first argument. Her brooding self not wanting anyone nearby.

I remember her throwing a hissy fit—the only time she’d turn her ears back at me.

I remember she had been spooked. That noises outside were too loud.

I remember her retreating and trying to be safe only for a box to fall next to her.

She was scared. She felt trapped. Threatened. She was panicked. So I soothed her. I took away the scary things. But she was still afraid. She reached for my hand that day with fangs and claws as I moved the box. It stung so much. But I surrendered to her and let my hand fall limp. It didn’t take long for her to stop. For her fear to fade, for her to realize she was safe. For her to lick my hand in apology—to crawl into my arms, to hide her head in my neck—to be safe.

That was the day I realized…sometimes love was painful. But that love, unconditional, was worth the scars.

I remember the day she saw her first Christmas tree. I saw how the lights reflected in her eyes—glittering with the innocence of the season. I saw how she looked at the decorations and color in awe. I saw how her nose twitched as it sniffed the pine she’d never smelled before.

She knocked the tree down that year. She climbed through the branches, knocking baubles every once and a while. I remember wondering where she was, when she stepped just in the right spot, and the tree went toppling. I cared more about her than the broken ornaments, and while scared, she was safe in my arms.

It took two more years before we learned to fasten the tree to the wall. It took another year for her to learn not to climb it in the first place.

I remember the day she got out of the house. We had company over—old friends. People were everywhere—chatting—friendly. Nobody knew the door had been open too long. But I noticed her not there. I looked, I scoured—I turned blankets and cushions upside down. And then—a knock. The pizza delivery man who had brought provisions for us kids. I was called to dinner—and she was there.

Dad said she’d run in when the door opened. It was then we realized. She had wandered out—but did not wander far into the night. No, she had stayed right on the porch—stayed where she knew it was safe—stayed where she was home—and waited for the warm light of an open door to invite her back in.

She never left the house again. When we’d sit on the porch, she’d cling to me desperately—head tucked under my chin as I rocked her gently. I wouldn’t let her go.

I wish I could remember all the days. I wish I could remember them in detail. I wish I could breathe them in like air. But the truth is they are a blur—the days, the years, they become one great shining memory with her at the center.

She was my friend, my therapist. My daughter, my mother. My caretaker, my secret keeper. She was the only constant in my life. She was my everything. On the darkest days, she was there. Quietly, softly, but there. There was never a need for words. There was just understanding—a language only we could speak. A language only we could understand.

I never taught her anything, but oh did she learn. When did a snap become a word? I can hardly remember. But it became part of that language. Come here, stay, listen to me, it’s okay, I’m coming, it’s dinner time, relax, I’ll protect you, I love you. It meant everything all at once and only we could hear the gentle differences.

The meows became song, the looks became direction, the tail flicks her way of speaking. And I understood them all. She was teaching me as much as I was teaching her. Seamlessly flowing together like a river and the ocean, feeding into each other.

If I could paint happiness, I would paint her over and over again. Because she never slowed down. With me she was youthful—always playing, always talking, never showing the years. The vet used to be shocked when we’d tell them how old she really was. She was too young looking, and small—so small still even though she was never the runt. And her eyes—those doll-like eyes were filled with too much life. And her teeth never rotted, never grew weak, was only ever strong.

But she had had a life before us. And when she aged, we learned of it. Likely hereditary. Kidney disease.

I paid for everything straight out of my pocket. I didn’t make a lot at first…but every penny went to her. To make sure she had everything she needed. To make sure she was healthy as she could be. To make life easier for her when finally she began to walk a little slower. But she never stopped. She always moved, always played—never changed.

Until one day we did not change—the world did. Our world. A simple visit, a monthly check up. The month before they told us it was good, she was putting on weight. This month, devastation.

A growth. Something that had added on the pounds. And it was a flurry. The ordeal, the visits, the specialists and x-rays, the waiting rooms, the panic attacks in a corner of my office where no one could hear me gasping for breath. Where my vision could dot in black, where my tears could flow from red rimmed eyes. Where I was called poor. Where I was too poor to pay for her bills. Where I was told there was no aid for a cat of her age. No matter if she was otherwise healthy. There would be no help.

I took her home the day I was belittled. The day I felt my chest constrict. The day my world came crashing in.

A month ago they told me everything was fine. How could so much change in a month?

How could her, who had never changed, be at the end of the rope? I watched her like they said. But she was fine. She played with her catnip mice. She followed me around the house. She woke me up to be fed in the morning and slept by my head at night, cuddled up where I could feel her heartbeat. And when I cried and held her close, she looked at me with eyes that for once, didn’t quite understand.

It was the toughest choice I had to make. And it was all mine—no one could help me. Not with the money. Not with the choice.

It was the worst experience of my millennial life.

To grow up and be told you were too poor to keep your whole world alive.

No cavalry would be coming. All because the remaining days left were an unknown—and she had seen so many already.

A hurt has never gone so deep. I didn’t want to make the choice. But there was no other choices left. And the whole time, she just snuggled to me like it was any other day.

…The night before I couldn’t sleep. I haven’t been able to since. I remember holding her close, and all I could do was apologize. I told her a story, I told her a happy story. About a girl and her cat. And how they never had to leave each other. I told her of happy times, of trees falling down and staircases. I read to her the night before Christmas, knowing that this year she would not get to hear it. I sang to her the lullabies she always seemed annoyed with. And she listened to it all, curled up and purring. Meowing every so often as if responding to my stories. And then when she was tired, all I did was stare in silence. I studied her. Every part—those soft paws, her sharp claws. The way her warm brownish-black felt underneath my hand. The curves of her whiskers. The small white spot on her chest and the feel of her nose. The way her tail curled around her feet, and the way her body curved into mine. The weight of her against my side. And her doll-like eyes. Those doll-like eyes that stared at me…and seemed to tell me it was okay. At last…it was okay. There wasn’t a need for words anymore. There was just understanding.

I didn’t let her leave on a cold table. I didn’t let it happen surrounded by strangers. With what money I did have I made sure she was comfortable at home. And I held her in our bed. I wrapped her in my arms for one last time, and she relaxed into my chest—that furry head tucked beneath my chin.

“Let’s go to sleep.”

I whispered to her as the first shot kicked in. And her eyes stared at me the last time as they closed into sleep. And together we fell back into the pillows, like any other nap. Her weight was at my side…cuddled close like always. A soft snore emitting from her little nose. I had promised I would never let her go. We were comfortable, and as she snored, I recited our story again. Meaningless words. But words all the same—words of a time—a happy time—when a girl and her cat would never be parted. Because I knew she could hear…and so I would tell her of canopies and opened doors and falling boxes. And she was curved against me where we could feel our hearts beating in a rhythm that would never match. I told her of times when a cat would steal chicken from her girl’s plate. Of Christmas tinsel on the ground not meant to played with. Of rough licks against human skin. Even when the two became one—I told stories of a girl who belonged to a cat and a cat that belonged to a girl.

There would never be a day that that girl wouldn’t think about her world. There would never be a day that she didn’t see it in everything she did. There would never be a day she wouldn’t wake up and remember that something was missing. Never a day where she’d be able to sleep in an empty bed. Never a day I didn’t cry, remembering what was lost. Never a day I didn’t miss the warmth. The understanding. The purpose to be.

Her blankets remain unwashed. The floors in our room unvacuumed. The toys collected and kept in a box. Her furniture untouched. But her space, my heart—empty.

I wanted her to have a few more years. I wanted her to slow down herself. I wanted to give her more—so much more—than she got. I wanted the one thing we are always denied—time.

Time for goodbye.

Time for her to decide she was ready.

Time that we had already lived.

Time that we’d been denied.

I wanted it more than I wanted to breathe—I want it more than I want to breath. Time. Time to go back and relive it all—every moment, every breath, every heartbeat, every good time and every bad time. Time to have everything again now that I am nothing.

Time to look into those doll-like eyes. Time to pet the silk like fur. Time to listen to the soft mews and feel the rumbling purrs. Time. Because now that it was gone…I was never the same. A piece of me will always be gone, taken—placed deep within her soul.

Because from that moment—that very first moment when those green-doll like eyes looked into my heart from the stairs—it was clear.

She was mine.

She was mine from that very first moment, and from that very first moment, I was hers.

And we always would be.

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