We had a dog when I was growing up. An old black mutt that just showed up one Sunday morning while I was in second grade. My parents were not going to keep that dog, no way, no how, but three weeks later my mom was making sure it had water every morning. Two weeks after that she picked up a bag of food to add to that. Somewhere down the line a flea collar was purchased "only because we don't want fleas near our house". We were told not to name her because she was not our dog, but when we took her to the vet two years later for vaccinations, "just in case", my mom said she was Baby, because we always called her Baby.
Baby was there when Granny died. She eased the transition from Texas to West Virginia. She weathered many a sad high school break up with me. She was always the first to greet me when I returned from college. I loved that dog.
One winter day when I was in graduate school, I returned from work to see my mom sitting in her car in my apartment parking lot. I knew why she was there before she ever made it out of the car. Baby got sick. She could no longer walk. She cried a lot. My parents couldn't watch her suffer anymore so they they put her down. My mom drove three hours immediately to me, my dad drove four hours immediately to my sister. They didn't want to tell us over the phone. My mom and I cried for two days straight. I am guessing my sister and my dad did too.
Going home after that was strange. No wagging tail to great me at the car door. No lumpy dog to sit under my feet. No one to sneak food to under the table. We talked about another dog, but no one was ready for that. We already had the best dog ever, how in the world could we love another one like that?
But we'd never had a cat. We never loved a cat before. Maybe that would be good. But the parents were againstit. They never wanted another animal again. They just die and make you cry and you can't go on vacation on a whim! No, no animals!
So on a rare day off, I had nothing to do, no friends in my college town for the summer, so I spent ten minutes thinking that I really needed a cat for company and found the animal shelter in Morgantown and went looking for a sweet, yellow cat.
I found one too. So pretty, that cat. I wanted that yellow cat.
But the volunteer was crying. Sobbing, actually. She wanted me to look at a different cat. Plllleeeaassseee would I look at this other cat? The other cat she was taking to the back room? The other cat who would be put to sleep in forty minutes that the volunteer couldn't take home with her because her husband was already mad about the twelve other cats she'd taken home with her?
Ten minutes later I was driving down the road with a kitten clinging to my neck. Because, you know, I'd never had a cat before and didn't know she could just climb right out of that cardboard box I'd brought.
On June 1, 1993, I brought Haley home. She was not yellow. She was not sweet. She was black. She was tiny. She never meowed. She never purred. She would jump out from under the bed and bite my ankles. She nipped at my ears while I slept. She erased messages from my answering machine and killed the fish in the fish tank. But she had the most beautiful green eyes I'd ever seen. And she was always waiting for me at the door when I came home. I liked that.
When I moved to Virginia to start "My Life", I lived in an apartment that didn't allow pets, so I left her with my parents until I could buy a house and bring her home. Nine months later, my parents brought her to me as promised, but I sent her back after seeing how attached she was to them. She was sweet to them. For two people who'd complained incessantly about being saddled with a cat, they seemed pretty happy to be going back with her.
So a few months later I got my own cat. My parents were enjoying "their" cat. After years of being dog people, we were suddenly cat people.
But as animals always do, they age. They get old. Haley did too. She lost some weight. Her bones became brittle. Her hair became matted because she was too tired to clean it. She got picky with her food. She didn't run from the kids anymore because she could barely hear them. But she was still Haley. Her green eyes still sparkled. She still ran to the door when I came, just a little slower. She was okay.
But she really wasn't.
Haley died two days ago.
We don't know if something was wrong with her or if she just got old.
I am voting for old because my parents feel bad enough about it already.
Either way, she lived fifteen more years than she would have if I hadn't been bored and impulsive one summer afternoon.
She was a sweet cat.
Total Eclipse of the Mind
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