Goodbye My Old Friend

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Sharing a moment in Ernie’s favorite doorway, a few years back.

I thought of fifty different ways to start this blog post: a silly quip about my cat’s sinister knack for catching chipmunks; a deep, philosophical mention on the passage of time; a quote from Hamlet on how best to interpret life; or a lighthearted musing on pain and grief. But in reality, sometimes things happen that just suck, and there’s no other way to say it. So, here it is: losing my beloved cat, Ernie, at the beginning of May sucked, plain and simple.

In the midst of this chaotic quarantine, we are surrounded by bad news, death, and the fear of illness, but our furry friends are here to love us through the unknowns. It is a difficult time to lose anyone, and the loss of Ernie has been devastating for us. Not only was he a comfort — albeit a fiery one — but so much of our days revolved around loving him, his mere existence the reason for leaping out of bed in the mornings.

Driveway security is always serious business. He managed to catch a lot of prey, even draped in jingle bells.

Ernie wasn’t an ordinary cat. He showed up on my family property more than ten years ago, a feisty little tuxedo with an appetite for wild game, an ambition for territory all his own, and a need for all the free health care a cat could want (my Uncle is a veterinarian). My sister and mother first spotted Ernie chasing a wild turkey across our backyard. I was on the phone with them when this drama was unfolding: a little black and white cat running after a football-shaped bird that could barely fly. He was determined and hungry, even then. Skittish and unwilling to be the center of attention, he continued to come around for years, enjoying the hunting spots near our drains, the warmth that emits from a laundry vent into a sunken grate, and snoozing on our weedy driveway. With enough time, he stayed, even when the freeze of winter descended on our neighborhood.

He was determined to live at our house, whether we liked it or not.

Well, lucky for him, we did like it, and we liked him. Despite a tough exterior and a side-eye with too much petting, Ernie charmed his way into every part of our lives. He loved the fridge, knowing that all the best things came from the magic within. He hated other cats, especially the ones in the neighborhood with whom he regularly had territorial disputes. He was missing one of his fangs, having broken it off at some point many years past — but like everything he did, he bore it with distinguished strength. Ernie was a tough cat. Even in the end. He fought to eat, and he fought to stay alive.

So fierce.

That’s one of the things I adored about him: his sheer force of will. While we can’t all live as if we’re the most important thing on the planet, cats are afforded that luxury. When it was cold, and we were all coming inside from the car, Ernie pushed his way to the front of the line. When we picked up food, and he could smell lamb, he didn’t wait until we handed him a piece, he jumped up on the table in a craze, demanding the best be served to him without delay. And now that he’s gone, I know that this is the way to live: for today. Savor everything you have and enjoy it with gusto. Carpe diem. Don’t wait.

Ernie had a simple life. He loved his driveway and the little bramble of woods that spans the property-line between us and our neighbors. His world was very small, but it was all he needed. In the last two days of his life, as we knew we were losing him, we stopped everything to enjoy the things most important to him. We sat with him in the mulch as he smelled the wind. We fed him an excess of junky cat treats and whole milk. And we learned how to live a little bit like him, outside in the wild. He reminded me that the best life has to offer is the simple moments with those you love.

In my heart, Ernie will always be catching the last rays of sunlight as they angle across the cobblestone driveway. He will always be annoyed by the invasion of “chippies” in his neighborhood, popping up uninvited in corners and brush. He will always beg for the chicken from my sandwich, or respond to the subtle sound of the plastic milk jug gliding along the refrigerator shelf. He’ll always be there with me while I garden, moving away in annoyance when I begin to water plants or do anything too close to him while handling a hose. And he will always be with me; my little footman with a dirty tuxedo, marred by years of fights, a few surgeries, and eyes like a snoozing dragon.

With my friend, Ernie.

Goodbye, my prince, we’ll miss you forever. May you rest in happiness across the rainbow bridge.

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