"To live in the hearts we leave behind is to live forever."
-- Carl Sagan
|Really, why would he leave?|
Just about bedtime on the night of his escape, we see Paulie Walnuts sitting at the sliding glass door, looking at us with typical feline indifference: “You dimwits can open this door anytime now, otherwise I’m back on the road.” We opened it, falling all over him and each other in our relief and gratitude, but he ignored us as he walked, tail straight up, to his food dish.
Once I caught my breath, I actually felt embarrassed, getting worked up like that over an animal we couldn’t even have given away, just a plain-looking thing with no pedigree, distinguished to strangers only by his copper eyes. I mean, really, he was just a cat, for God's sake!
So for once in my life, colored black as it is by chronic pessimism, my worst fears didn’t come true. Paulie Walnuts stuck around and grew up. He became eccentric and a little moody and would occasionally take out his anger and jealousy on our eternal kitten, Dr. Melfi, trying to do things to her no neutered cat could ever successfully accomplish.
|Young Dr. Melfi|
Another dog joined our little menagerie and busted out the screen on our patio, and Paulie bolted again, then returned. We fixed the screen, but Paulie was used to going out now, so he continued to rip the screen, leave for the night, then return at dawn. Soon, he found being inside 24 hours at a time unbearable, so we had to let him go every night.
When he would start his late-night whining and yowling at the sliding glass door, Mindy or I would get up, give him a hug and say, “OK, P., but be careful and come back.” And he did.
Sometimes, he’d be out in the morning and find me working in the yards, and he’d drop by for a visit. If I was squatting, he’d hop up on my thighs and touch my chin with his white paws and make me pet him for a while before he got down. Then he’d follow me around the yard from chore to chore.
I’ve loved a few cats and dogs in my time. As I've written before, dogs reminded me to love them wholly and unconditionally, regardless of how many pieces of furniture they chewed or doors they scarred with their scratching. But my cats have usually made it perfectly clear that I could love them all I wanted, didn't really matter either way, it wasn’t any of their business, they had stuff to do.
But Paulie Walnuts, God bless him, he loved me back. And I speak as a rationalist with a heart of stone. I speak from knowledge, from tangible evidence. Paulie Walnuts loved me, and he’d seek me out to show it. I'm sure of it.
Anyway, one night he never came back. We never found out what happened to him. We papered this godforsaken neighborhood with signs pleading for info. We got in touch with every agency in this county and the one next to it. We left food on the patio and the light on, pleading for his return. And every morning that damn patio was emptier than a black hole.
For almost three years, Paulie only came back in our dreams. We saw him there lying next to the sliding glass door as he always did, asking, as he always did, “You jackasses gonna let me in or shall I take another walk?” Or we would spot him strolling through that eternal Dark Forest. Or we would see him sneaking out in a flash under an opening garage door. Then we'd wake up, Paulieless.
Yes, we awoke to that good old-fashioned sense of reality we've all felt: "I know this is real, because something is missing and it is not coming back."