"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 dip-shits 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."
Then again, I learned from good literature that nothing ever really ends.
When our loved ones stop living, we can still feel their presence, sometimes for just a few weeks, sometimes for the rest of our lives.
I remember one of my widowed aunts, in fact, saying from time to time, "I saw your Uncle Wilbert again today. He was smoking a pipe on the front porch." This was shortly before her loving family carted her off to a mental institution in Chattahoochee where she gradually grew old and died her own self, thereby rejoining Uncle Wilbert in the more time-honored, less creepy way.
Scholars of reincarnation, resurrection and reluctant-leaving are still uncertain if this phenomenon is due to the love of the departed for the survivor(s) or vice-versa or of the spiritual commingling of their love. In any case, they come back in many different ways, always surprising us by their presence. (But I've found it's rude say, "I thought you were dead.")
And so with my beloved brother Paulie Walnuts.
Almost exactly three years (isn't 3 always a significant mythic number?) after Paulie disappeared, I got a call from a friend (I'll just call her "Tori" to protect her anonymity) who had found a scrawny little black kitten with copperish eyes. She said it was shivering alone under a car during a thunderstorm.
God only knows what happened to its mother and the rest of the litter.
She brought it inside to dry it off and otherwise comfort it, and it immediately demonstrated its deep gratitude by attacking her bare feet and scratching her mom's arm. During his intermittent stand-downs, he stayed busy nosing around her house, inspiring Tori to name him George, after the curious monkey of the same name.
She couldn't keep him, so, knowing that I had become a cat-fostering volunteer, she brought him to my place.
When she handed me the tiny thing, he began to purr thunderously and then bit the crap out of my hand. I gently placed him on the floor and he attacked my feet. Oh, and he was covered with fleas. Since we already had three cats, my goal was to just get the aggressive little punk clean and healthy and find a family with high pain tolerance to adopt him, the sooner the better.
After I had fostered him for about two hours, though, he started to give off Paulie vibes, that is, he began emanating Paulieness, so I decided he needed the perfect home, and did not need to be transported around town in crates and cages and be shown off to little kids who would pull his tail and to bored teenagers who would leave him for college and/or ignore him due to severe social-media addiction.
He needed to be in my home, and I vowed to tell Mindy as soon as possible which would preferably be when he was full grown and an integral part of our zoo.
In the days following our adoption, he began to sleep on the skylight-warmed patch of carpet, just as Paulie used to. When he got in my lap, he circled and fussed and fretted until he was comfortable, glaring at me and purring all the while, then gave my thumb a nice chomp for good measure and dozed off to sleep. When he lay down, he flopped. He began to follow me around the way Paulie did. Like Paulie, he harassed Dr. Melfi.
|The much beleagured Dr. Melfi|
I was cleaning up in the corner of my yard the other day and found two of Paulie Walnuts' breakaway collars that the fence had rubbed off him during his escapes. His name on the tags saddened me a bit. I brought them inside, and showed them to our cats. Three of them walked away, but George pawed at them both for a while, sniffed them carefully, then picked one up and carried it to a secret place. That's all I needed to see.
|George and Beas nap.|
Paulie Walnuts wasn't ready to go and, even three years after his disappearance, I still wasn't ready to let go of him. So he came back as best he could -- maybe to give me a chance to make him more comfortable -- and this version of him seems intent on sticking around till the end of my retirement.
|Paulie Walnuts after coming back as George the Bad Ass, my boy!|