“The ones who love us never really leave us.” – J. K. Rowling
I’m sitting on my back porch, the South Mississippi air is thick and hot, an oppressive blanket that has settled over thigh-high rain-soaked grass two-weeks past its scheduled mow because the afternoon storms just keep coming, and I’m struggling to write. There are three synopses on my laptop for Trouble books I’ve yet to start, four completed first drafts of novels waiting for edits, and a grinning, wide-eyed toddler slinging bubble solution across the bricked patio with a green plastic wand longer than she is tall. All of these things matter. All these things need my attention. Yet, all I can think about is how much I miss my cat. Though the rhythm of my life has been wildly out of synch for about six years, in part due to the impact of grief, loss, trauma and change, strangely the loss of my cat has sent me into a tailspin I can’t find a way to steady.
In March of 2002 my husband and I drove three hours to a friend’s parents’ home in Jacksonville, Florida from Tallahassee to retrieve a kitten from an unplanned litter of full-blooded Maine Coons. After insisting that we still wanted the kitten we’d come for, because she was such a beauty the friend’s parents wanted to keep her, we coaxed our twelve-week old female mackerel tabby out from under a dresser and realized life would never again be the same. As a married couple, this little life was our first true commitment as a couple. It was a step into the kind of responsibility neither my husband nor I had been ready to take. Yet, we decided it was time to take that step and took the responsibility with great seriousness. We’d prepared at home and brought a carrier for transport, as good pet parents do. We had every intention of keeping her in the carrier for the three-hour drive home. The soft-sided mesh bag was safely buckled into the backseat and rule following was paramount. We were starting this kitten out right and laying down the law. Sabrina lay dramatically on her back with her pink and black nose pressed against the black mesh of the cat carrier, mewing in agony, spotted paws stretched toward me in a helpless incomplete embrace. It was an Oscar-winning performance. She was named for the Audrey Hepburn film Sabrina and she was in my lap asleep purring before we reached the interstate. The kitten played us. Like well-worn instruments, she played us well for fifteen years.
It was happenstance that Sabrina’s introduction into my life coincided with a growing desire to write again. I hadn’t written since high school. But having a kitten around just makes life seem happier – full of possibilities. I don’t know if it’s all the pouncing and clumsy kitten antics or just having unconditional love in your life that makes you surer of yourself. Either way, I quickly became dissatisfied with my lot in life as a retail manager and wanted more. That more came in the form of following my dream of becoming a published writer… and more kittens.
I went back to community college. Sabrina was there for every paper and study guide typed. We went through a hurricane. She was there with me in the bathtub, purring in my lap, when I feared the walls would come down around us. I was accepted to university and Sabrina was there for every page turn and cram-session. After graduation, I spent hours writing the great American novel that would never be. She lay stretched in front of my monitor during each keystroke of every word. For nearly a decade and a half Sabrina draped herself over my open books and computer keyboard. We have other cats, but nearly every word read or written in those years was done in Sabrina’s presence. She even crowded me while I lay uncomfortably in bed at night, leaving me awake with my imagination. The cat meowed her discontent and purred her approval constantly, based on how many head rubs I gave her between the tasks I was trying to accomplish. She ruled me. She tempered me. She paced me.
Sabrina was also the cat that stayed with me during each moment of illness. She was the first to greet me when I returned home after I miscarried my baby during a writer’s conference. She sat by me as I cried every day for weeks after my mother suddenly passed. My constant companion and confidante, and as any cat owner knows, cats claim their people. I was her people. She was my cat.
We lost Sabrina in April of this year to aggressive renal failure. She’d been bobbing in and out of health issues for the last six years. But she was with us for fifteen. Not a short life for a large breed-cat that we expected to have health issues due to being part of an unplanned purebred litter. It was still not enough time – time is always too short with the ones that dig in their claws deep. We bought her for a discount, shots and papers, as the runt of her tainted litter. Her worth to me could never be measured.
I won’t say I’ve lost the ability to write now that she’s gone. That would be untrue and unfair to cats and writers everywhere. But I will say her absence is felt. Significantly. I can’t quell the urge to stroke her fur when I pull my fingers away from the keys. When I gather my thoughts or form the next words that will be typed, my eyes and my heart instinctively search for her. Even now on this porch writing about Sabrina’s absence while my daughter picks weed blooms in late summer and chases love bugs through the tall wet grass, new memories of a new muse forming in front of me, I have to stop myself from checking over my shoulder to look for that pink and black nose pressed against the glass behind me. Instead, I force myself to look at the gathering afternoon clouds, dark and heavy with the coming rain. My little one is batting seed-sprays away that brush against her shoulders. I think of my cat but I focus on the sunlit grin of my daughter’s face despite the coming storms and I write.
Michelle Ladner is a writer and stay at home mom who lives in Vancleave, MS with her scientist husband, precocious toddler, and three worshipped cats. After obtaining a B.A. in English at University of South Alabama, she pursued her dream of becoming a published commercial fiction author. Still in pursuance of that dream and still writing, she enjoys travel, photography, overanalyzing motherhood, and ordering fantasy fandom subscription boxes. Beyond her writing goals, she also holds hopes for one day owning a tiny animal farm and a full-scale velociraptor statue for holiday decorating.