The other day I broke the old stoneware water bowl I’ve used in the kitchen for about 20 years. I immediately thought of Cookie and felt a big pang of regret, and even a little flash of anger, for my carelessness at placing it where it could be knocked to the concrete floor in the basement. As I picked up the three large chunks of tan ceramic and briefly considered gluing them back together I also thought how symbolic it was to break something that, for some reason, I associated with Cookie now, near the anniversary of her passing. Of course, I’d watched her drink from that bowl for years, but I’d also watched dozens of others, and watched her do a lot of other things too.
Years ago a storm blew over one of two coleus plants on my deck, knocking stems and leaves off and nearly destroying the plant just days after I’d lost Kublai, and then, as well, I’d felt that pang of regret and was bereft at my loss. I’d doted on those two coleus plants, turning and trimming and providing rich organic soil all summer as I also walked with Kublai through his last months, spending lots of time together out on that deck.
And just last September I removed the octagonal walnut table from my kitchen after about five years of use, the table that provided the backdrop to so many photos of all my cats from lovely Lucy to Cookie’s acrobatics in the kitchen to Kelly’s last summer with us, replacing it with a white enamel-topped table that fits the space and is a better backdrop for all those black cats. It would have been a better backdrop for Cookie and Kelly as well, and I felt like a traitor for having waited this long to make the change.
What is the nature of these attachments, which we don’t often notice until the tangled relationship is threatened or broken, literally or metaphorically? We don’t often realize all the emotional connections we make with the things we perceive during either just a brief moment that settles forever in memory, or a lengthy period of time and all that happens during that time. What we remember is constituted from what we see, hear, smell, touch and taste through our own emotional and intellectual filters, and while we might remember the sound of water filling the ceramic bowl, we don’t remember a thing about the season of the year and how that influenced our clothing and surroundings.
We remember what is important to us in that moment, but while visual memories are easiest to place and are usually our most obvious memories, we sense other things in that moment as well, and don’t even realize it. Later, we may hear the water filling the bowl, feel the mild September afternoon breeze on our cheek, smell the soup we made as we set it on the table, and it all comes back to us, even decades later, all the precious details of a common everyday moment for some reason stored away, ready to unfold as our conscious mind rebuilds the connections with each of the sensory, intellectual and emotional details.
Our animal companions and our communications with them are so deeply intertwined with each moment of our day even when we’re not together, and in every moment we are thinking of them even when we don’t realize it. Is it any wonder, than, that these random moments cause us to build emotional attachments to random objects?
The association with Kublai and the coleus to me is obvious—he and I were sharing a happy time out there on the deck, and I was nurturing the coleus at the same time as I was nurturing him, though watching the plant thrive and grow more beautiful while watching Kublai grow thinner and less capable each day. The plant came to symbolize his continuation, even after he was gone, that I would have this thriving plant that he and I had nurtured together.
I know I associate the water bowl with Cookie because I was closely monitoring her in her last few years without often realizing I was doing so, watching her at the water bowl, remembering how many other times in the day she’d been there, how long she’d lapped at the water, if that had changed from last month or last year and knowing surely it had. That association was a part of my realization and even growing acceptance of her loss to renal failure, and the water bowl came to symbolize that in my subconscious mind. Even though the bowl was not a happy memory, it was an important connection with her.
And the table, I do wish I’d taken the time to change it out while the girls were still here, and that could have been the connection within a room full of memories between the years they were with me, and the years without them.
Today, February 3, is the first anniversary of Cookie’s transition. My best friend for just a few months shy of 20 years, Cookie was strong and supportive in ways I never realized until her last year when I saw that my own emotional roller coaster that year took its toll on her, yet she never lost her authentic cheerful nature or her vigilance in caring for me. She is intertwined with everything and every moment practically since I moved into this house, and the water bowl is only one example.
It was also the day my entire household began its transition from my feline friends of yesterday to my feline friends of today. Kelly took Cookie’s loss very hard, and was emotionally lost for weeks afterward; I nearly lost Kelly as well in March. I changed her diet and began a course of supplements and homeopathic remedies that enabled her to turn around and have a healthy few months before her transition in August.
But with the loss of Cookie and Kelly, the last two of my long-time household, so close together went the last of those who had seen me through my own changes from the day job to successful self-employment, from aspiring artist to experienced artist, the years of caring for my mother, the losses of other cats and all else that fell in that time.
I’ve been more than a little emotionally lost myself, trying to accustom myself to this new household. For the first time in decades, I have fewer than six cats. I still think someone is missing at mealtimes when I only count to five. And all five are healthy and emotionally well-adjusted, no special care, and no one peeing where they shouldn’t be. And I adore these five black cats—now there’s an understatement—but it’s so different from my former households of rescues, with each of whom I’d developed a deep relationship as an individual. These five are their own family unit, and the Fantastic Four especially gather together as a group, preferring to be together, and I actually feel left out sometimes.
But little Mimi, while she does spend time with her children, has come to be my constant companion in much the same way Cookie was; in fact, I’ve totally fallen for her, and I think it was all planned out by Cookie and Mimi. I saw their relationship growing especially in the last year of Cookie’s life when Mimi cuddled up to her, and Cookie chose to join Mimi in a nap spot. I know they were passing secrets, especially in those last days when Cookie could barely walk, and would stumble in the door from our brief outing on the deck and head for her warm spot under the chair in the kitchen where Mimi would be waiting for her, would curl around her and give her a loving bath, looking up at me as if to say, “I’ve got her taken care of now.” Mimi deeply grieved after Cookie’s loss, and it was then we began to visit he outdoors together, first remembering Cookie, now making our own new memories as well—and no doubt a number of new attachments.
So I’ve broken a few other things besides the water bowl, which is not like me, but I understand why it was all necessary. Are these emotional attachments bad? If they inhibit you from growing, you need to let go of them. That doesn’t mean you need to do it all at once. I’ve learned to be gentle with myself in this area after only hurting myself a few times, feeling disrespectful to a memory. Acknowledge them, bring them out into the light, learn from what they have to give you, then let them go, even if it takes breaking the water bowl to get you to do so.
On one of the recent mornings Mimi and I were out on the deck, she excitedly running around with her jingly little collar and talking to me, she stopped and looked at me and I said to her, “If anything happened to you, I would just die.” I didn’t mean it literally but certainly did mean it metaphorically. I know what it means, because I said it to Cookie years ago, and I’ve said that to other cats and I’m not at all ashamed of it. I’m in deep. Thanks to Cookie for giving Mimi that last little bit of training how to manage this particular human, and I’m looking forward to many more years of Mimi’s management style.
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