Coco the Wonder Cat

Some of you might remember that last year right around this time, our kitty Coco ran away. It was completely unexpected and left us heartbroken. And it’s especially hard to say goodbye without having any closure. I’m not sure that I really want to know what happened to her, the possibilities are pretty grisly. But, maybe it would help me heal a little to know and be able to move on. A year later, and I still check the animal shelters and neighborhood boards. When someone posts “found cat” to Nextdoor, my heart still skips a beat. Could it be her? It never is, obviously, but I hold out hope.

Since she’s been gone a year, I just wanted to write a little piece about her. Her eulogy, if you will. I wrote one for our kitty Nashua when he passed away, and it was very healing for me.

Coco came into our lives as quickly and bizarrely as she left. Our friend had found her in a tree near his house. She was tiny and scared, but sweet. She needed a home. I had mentioned wanting to get another kitty. Brien and I had just gotten married a few weeks before, and he said we could take her in, as a gift to me.

She wasn’t sick, and aside from her umbilical hernia, which they fixed when we had her spayed, she was a perfect little orange and white ball of fluff. It took us a while to name her, but we settled on Velcro (the nickname Coco came later), because she literally stuck to everything she touched with her claws. She was always, up until she left us, a very timid and high-strung girl. So when she landed on something, or someone tried to pick her up, or someone was holding her, or she was trying to jump up or down, always with the claws. She got stuck a lot, and it was fun to tell people, “well, that’s how she got her name.”

She and Nashua didn’t hit it off right away. She was scared, and he was pissed. He’d been my only fur kid for 10 years. What is this nonsense, he seemed to be saying. But they began to tolerate each other, and lived in peace. Well, more like a cease fire. A year or so later is when we got Newton (our beagle). After that the cats were absolute best friends. Thick as thieves. Inseparable. United in their hatred for the dog.

The cats rode in the car with me and my stepdad on the long drive from Wisconsin to California. She immediately hid, and didn’t make so much as a peep. Somewhere in Nevada, we had stopped for the night and upon pulling into the hotel parking lot, discovered that the car could no longer go in reverse, only in drive. I’d find out later that a simple bolt fell out, but at the time we were like WTF, and had no idea what to do. My stepdad opened the door, got out to look, and left the door open. Velcro made a break for it. She hopped out, ran ten feet or so, and then stopped and I scooped her up and tossed her back in. So, ok, it’s not like she hasn’t tried to escape before.

When we pulled up to the apartment in California, we couldn’t find her anywhere. I had that thing packed floor to ceiling and I started getting scared she’d been crushed by a shifting box somewhere along the line. But, when we were down to just a few boxes, I saw her. Terrified, as always. But seemingly grateful to be found.

When we moved from that apartment in Mountain View to our first flat in San Francisco, the first thing she did was find the smallest opening in the wall under the stairs and climb in, refusing to budge. But, it was dark in there and I didn’t know how big that space was, or where it went, and I asked our landlord if they knew. They turned out to be some of the nicest people we have ever met, but I didn’t know that yet. Anyway, one of them, a big burly guy, came down and started ripping out the wall. I’m not even kidding. He’s just pulling drywall and boards away, and then he said exasperated and teary-eyed, “I found her.” It was a tiny space. Maybe 4 square feet. Just a little nook under the stairs. And she still sat there, staring at us with her glowing eyes, until that evening.

When we moved to our second home in San Francisco, it had a big yard (well, relative to San Francisco it was big). And we were in the middle of the block, so back there she could not get to the street. I think she probably found a way at some point, but I liked to tell myself she couldn’t to feel better. We let her be an outdoor cat for the four years we lived there. THIS is why I was so confused when she full-on left last year. Back then, she always came meowing at the door at night, came in and ate and slept. She often showed up with an injury.

The vet told us, “She’s one of the tough ones. The scared ones get injured in the back, when they run. She gets injured in the front, fighting back.” Good for her. Not for our bank account. This girl had multiple bladder infections (where she peed blood, it was SO great for my anxiety), a huge infected abscess on her face that ruptured, a twig stuck right into her gut that I ended up pulling out myself (barf), another abscess or possible fracture on her arm, intestinal blockage. The list goes on. I showed up at the vet one time and the tech told me, “Her file is really thick!” That’s Coco, nothing done halfway.

We moved from that house into another, with a much less protected backyard. We also kept her there illegally. Well, against the lease. I tried to find someone to take her, even just temporarily, but I couldn’t. And the thought of giving her away to strangers was just too much for me. But, anyway, we kept her inside there. It was a tumultuous couple of years of life for us there, but she was my constant calm. She was always ready to snuggle, and I was always relieved to have her. Two years we lived there. Two years of hiding her in the car when the landlord came by. She stuck it out through heavy construction noise, while they re-stuccoed the whole house and replaced some of the windows.

She was ok on the drive from San Francisco to Tucson. It was a long haul, and she spent most of the time under the passenger seat, but not a peep. She’d come out occasionally to look out the window and meow at my face about how long we had been in the car and where the heck are we going anyway.

And once we arrived, she did fine. She adjusted well to the new house. She was used to not going outside and she was very grateful for the extra space. She found a zillion places to hide and curl up for a nap. She was the only pet at that time, and loving it.

A few months later we adopted Wrigley. And she definitely didn’t like having him around, but she wasn’t mean to him. He was a tiny kitten when we got him and I guess she figured he was harmless, but she had to hiss every once in a while so he wouldn’t forget who was boss. My lap was definitely off limits. Especially after I got pregnant with Finley. It was Coco’s job, according to her, to curl up to the growing baby bump and make sure things were ok. She was always very tender and attentive when I was pregnant. I feel like she knew on some kind of biological level, being a girl herself and all. It was very sweet.

Then the baby arrived. And soon after that was when we took Newton back in. And I knew it was a lot of stress for her. But she still snuggled with me. She still loved me. I could tell that.

Our house already had two doggie doors built in when we bought it, so we opened one and the rest is history. Newton came in and out according to his needs, Wrigley went out and stayed very close, he’s what I call a “backyard cat.” But Coco. She went out that day, and never came back. I expected I’d see her back that night, the way she did in San Francisco. Then I expected her back sometime the next day. Then I posted on Nextdoor and was reassured that lots of kitties go on weeks-long adventures and come home. So I waited. And waited. And waited.

And after a month, I was at the shelter several times a week. Peering at all those kitties’ faces, hoping to see her sweet heart-shaped nose. I left in tears every single time. One time it was so bad I had to sit in the lobby of the shelter on my way out and let the sobs out before I could drive home.

It’s not the prospect that she has died that hurts. And it’s not even that she ran away, because I know she was stressed out. And she’s a very independent kitty. And it’s not that she might have gotten taken in by another family, because at least I know she’s being taken care of. I’m ok with all of those prospects. What I’m not ok with is never knowing. I’ll never know what ever became of my sweet girl. I’ll never have closure. That’s what bugs me. Like, if I stop looking for her on neighborhood boards and animal shelters, then what if she suddenly shows up, and I wasn’t looking for her anymore. These are the thoughts that keep me up at night.

So, I write this for you today under the assumption that she is gone forever. Wherever she is, or was, she’s not coming back. I miss her like hell. And I thank you all for listening to all my Coco stories over the years and for listening to this one too. She was my princess. My love. My sweet wild girl. And I will miss her forever.

coco collage

The Road to Now

A few weeks ago, I snuck off with zero children to a coffee shop (ok, the Starbucks cafe at Target) and wrote. It’s a thing I do every once in a while, when the stars align and the boys are being good, and the baby naps early in the day, and I’m actually feeling like writing, and Brien has the time. He jokingly asked if I was going to write him a love letter. And I thought well, since the end of July marked our FIFTEENTH anniversary, I could try to pull something together.

I’m currently filling out this book for him, which was supposed to be a birthday present (February) and then an anniversary present (a month ago) and I justĀ finished it becauseĀ that’s a heck of a lot of things to come up with, no matter how much you love someone. But the questions in the book have really got me digging into my memories of us as a young couple, unmarried, in college. Then married. Then moving to California. Then having babies. Then buying a house and moving to Arizona. Then having another baby. And all the small things in between. It’s been quite a journey.

We have been through a hell of a lot together. Some really low times. And I mean LOW. Like, losing a baby to miscarriage low. Like me being in rehab low. Like me living a life that warranted a stay in rehab low. Like me getting a cancer diagnosis low. Like losing friends and family to horrible accidents and diseases low. Like weathering the storm of a special needs kid low. And we always, somehow, seem to come back together afterward, as strong as before, if not stronger.

Our first apartment was the size of our current dining room. I’m not even exaggerating. I dug up an old photo.

the old place

The only thing you can’t see here is the tiny kitchen to the right, with tiny, miniature appliances along the wall and no counter space. We spent our first year as a couple in this comically small apartment. We moved in together after only 5 months of dating. It was an insane decision, honestly, looking back. But, he had been subletting my apartment for me for the summer while I worked and lived at an amusement park a few hours away. At the end of the summer, I asked if he’d just like to stay. We felt really comfortable together and things were going well, so we moved in together. In a studio apartment. A tiny one.

We fought sometimes. All couples fight. But when we fought, it was either sit and deal with it and don’t go to bed until things are resolved, or truck your butt into the dark and the cold and the snow, and hope your car starts, and go who even knows where because we were both flat broke. So, sit and deal with it we did. I mean, I guess one could have holed oneself up in the 6 square foot bathroom if one wanted to, but not without looking ridiculous and getting a little claustrophobic.

I think that tiny apartment taught us a lot about relationships. About compromise. About resolving issues before they cause huge rifts. We have watched a lot of couples around us go their separate ways. And I know full well that sometimes a divorce really is what’s best for everyone involved. The statistics are pretty depressing, though, and I often wonder if we’ll be able to escape what feels inevitable. After 15 years, and a lot of bumps along the way, things still feel strong. Steadfast.

My love letter to him is just this: thank you for staying.

There have been plenty of opportunities for us to call it quits. I think neither of us could imagine getting by without the other. We have a very symbiotic relationship. But, things have been thrown in between us that were definitely difficult to move past.

He has seen me at my absolute worst. My lowest moments. I said and did a lot of horrible things when I was stuck in a slimy web of anxiety, depression, addiction and emotional baggage. But, he did not give up on me, and he did not leave me behind. He stayed. It was touch and go for a while, but he stayed. And for that I am forever grateful.

He has also been a great father to the three amazing children we created together. He’s always there to step in when I need help, or when I just need a break. There’s been zero reference to “babysitting” when he’s with them. He is their father. My co-parent. My partner in all things.

We are not perfect people. We have disagreements, petty and otherwise. We make mistakes. We still face problems and struggles. But I feel truly like we face them together. It has always been like that. Our relationship faced a lot of opposition in the beginning, but we stood there tall and proud and united, and now it’s been 15 years and I can’t imagine handling life any other way.

For everything you are, and everything you are not, I love you Brien. Here’s to the next 15.

wedding

Silk or Linen

When I look back at myself at 24, I see a naive, doe-eyed, Disney Princess of a child. So sure she had all the answers. So sure adulthood was going to be a breeze. So sure that there were no wrong life choices to be made. And somebody let me get married!

He was just as wide-eyed and princess-like as I was. And in the first few years of our marriage, it was more us clinging to each other for dear life than really embracing each other in holy matrimony. Adulthood came at us fast. And never quit.

Adulthood has changed us so deeply and in so many different ways. And in the past 5 years, our relationship has endured tests that many other couples don’t survive even one of. I don’t even know how we made it through the past year. Except that I do know.

Over the years, the clinging for dear life has turned to you support me now, I’ll support you later. With my husband doing so much of the supporting in recent years, but refusing to keep score. I look back at his patience, kindness and determination to see me happy, healthy and successful, and that’s how I know he really loves me.

Rather than turn and run when things got sad or hard or felt impossible, he stayed. I stayed. We faced it head on. Together. Twelve years doesn’t seem like enough years to house the lifetime we’ve lived together. I love you so much, Brien. Happy anniversary.

 

The Tree

We read The Giving Tree a lot in our house, it’s one of munchkin’s favorites. Today, he made a connection:

Out of the blue he says, “Mommy, you’re the tree and I love you.”

“I love you too.” [kiss]

“No, mama. Trees don’t kiss. But, trees can hug.”

“Ok.” [hug]

“You are my tree and I love you.”

MIND = BLOWN

But, you know, I think that’s maybe the underlying message of the whole book? That I haven’t figured out in 25 years of reading the book?

The tree loves the boy and gives him everything he needs to be happy, expecting nothing in return. Yep, that about sums up parenthood.

Support

The first thing out of my mouth when my doctor had told me what happened was, “But, I told so many people.”

In those first moments, that was my biggest source of stress and fear and sadness: having to turn around and tell everyone the terrible news.

And I went over it and over it in my head for days before figuring out what to say and how to say it. WHY had I told everyone? WHAT had come over me? WHO did I think I was?

I knew I had to just say it, to get it out there in the open. Like ripping off a band-aid. It would be painful, it would be awkward, but it just had to be done.

When I did start letting people know, I got the hugest heaping helping of love and support from so many people, some of which I have never even met in real life. Many of them had suffered similar losses in the past, and had gone on to have a full brood, and I found that really helpful to hear.

It helps me deal with things to have all that support and understanding, which is helping me cope with the whole “telling people too soon” thing. I thank you all for your kindness, love and understanding as I tread these very murky waters.