yesterday, i lost my best friend. it was sudden and unexpected and i wasn't ready. but are any of us ever ready to lose the ones we love most?
to truly share phoebe's story with you, we need to start from the beginning. as a child, i always preferred to spend time with animals over people. (this is still true.) i would often wander away from my parents, and they would later find me petting a passerby's dog or sitting with a stray cat cuddled up in my lap. i didn't have dolls - my toys of choice were stuffed animals, each of whom had a name and a personality and a story. we had cats throughout the years, and i loved every single one them intensely. they were my companions, my comfort, my friends.
seven years ago, in april of 2010, i was 23 years old. it was a month filled with sadness, change, and total uncertainty. my first "grown up" relationship ended. i was living alone for the first time in a tiny studio apartment i could barely afford. my grammy, the only grandparent i ever knew and with whom i was extremely close, passed away. i had just switched to a new job, and like many in their early 20s, was trying to figure out what the hell i was supposed to be doing with my life. everything felt like it was falling apart, but of one thing i was certain: i needed to adopt a cat.
when i visited the animal rescue league of boston on a sunny saturday that april, accompanied by my mum, she asked me what age cat i was looking for. i figured since i was working full time and living by myself, it wouldn't be fair to bring home a rambunctious kitten because i wouldn't have enough time to play with him or her. i thought a 1 or 2-year-old cat would be right for me.
and then i saw phoebe. she was beautiful: a dilute calico with peach and grey tones instead of the typical orange and black. i'd never seen a cat quite like her. when i walked by her cage, she came right up to me, purring, inviting me to pet her. "this one seems so nice, amy!" my mum said. i looked at phoebe's info sheet and saw how old she was. "she's already 6, mum. i might not get to spend that many years with her. let's keep looking." when i walked away, phoebe followed me to the end of her cage and waited. when i walked by again to see another cat, she followed me to the other side of her cage and waited.
when i asked why phoebe was at the shelter, i learned that her previous owners had moved out of their apartment, leaving her behind, alone. a neighbor heard her crying, called the shelter, and she was taken in. the thought of a human being leaving any animal behind with nothing, let alone an animal as friendly as phoebe, brought me to tears. "she really is a sweetie - we all love her here," a volunteer said to me.
and just like that, it was decided. phoebe had chosen me, and i fell instantly in love.
i know what it's like to bring a cat home to a new environment. it's an adjustment. they often hide away for days, sometimes even weeks, until they feel safe. but not phoebe. she slept in bed with me that first night, and every night after that, curled up on the pillow, snuggling my head. whenever she heard my keys jingling and i opened the apartment door, she was waiting for me, purring, meowing, and swirling around my legs.
she was a saint at her vet visits, even during her shots - if someone was touching or petting her, needle prick notwithstanding, she was content. she traveled with me on multiple occasions, calm as could be in her carrier on car rides. whether it was a friend's apartment or a vacation rental, she was totally unphased by new, unfamiliar places. she never hissed. she never growled. she never got anxious. never in my life had i met a cat who was so easygoing. people often compared her to a dog. as long as we were together, she was happy. and so was i.
over the years, phoebe and i shared four different apartments together, each one (slightly) bigger than the last. even though we had more space, there was no separation between us - phoebe was always right by my side. whether i was reading, blogging, baking, or watching TV, she was never more than a short reach away. she caught the mice that made their way into my north end apartment and the centipedes that gave me nightmares in my fenway apartment. she was my best friend.
friends of mine who weren't "cat people" couldn't resist phoebe's charms. she didn't discriminate - she loved everyone she came in contact with, including the UPS guy, who she would affectionately greet whenever he delivered a package to my door. i often thought about her past and the 6 years she had spent with her previous family. you would have never known she was a cat who had been abandoned, left behind, forgotten. if she could live through that and still see the good in every new person she met, why couldn't i?
phoebe didn't only show her compassion to humans. when i began fostering kittens three years ago, two of whom have since joined my little family, she was my right-hand lady. she cleaned them, she cuddled them, she let them crawl all over her and use her tail as a toy. she was a smart cat - she knew the relationship she and i shared was changing with these tiny guys in our home and that all of my attention was no longer focused solely on her. but instead of seeing them as a threat to the life she and i had built together, she welcomed them in with open paws, earning the nickname "mama pheebs."
i may have rescued phoebe in the traditional sense, but it didn't take long for me to realize that she was the one who did the rescuing in our relationship. even those who know me well may not know that i've struggled with chronic depression and anxiety since my teens. during my darkest days, phoebe is what (or who) kept me going. when i cried, she came running to me. nothing comforted me more than sitting with her, petting her, holding her. she loved me unconditionally, without judgement. she was there for me every night when i went to sleep, letting me hold her paw inside my hand, her purrs calming my the neverending thoughts running through my mind, helping me drift off to sleep. when i woke up in the morning and felt like i couldn't get out of bed, like i couldn't bear to face the day, phoebe was still there. and i knew that i had to get up, that i had to keep going, because phoebe needed me and i could never leave her. there were many days, too many to count, where i felt like i couldn't go on; that i had no purpose. but phoebe was always there. she was my purpose. she was my reason for living. she did more for me than i ever could have done for her. she saved me.
and now, here we are, 7 years later. i'm 30. i always knew the day would come when i would have to say goodbye to my beloved phoebe, but she was only 13. she was, according to her last vet visit, in wonderful health for a senior cat. so when i got up and left her purring in her blanket-filled nook yesterday afternoon to bring the trash out, returning less than five minutes later to find her there on the kitchen floor, it was a shock. i was not ready. i find some solace in the fact that her passing was quick, that it was a sunday, that it didn't happen when i was gone for 9 hours at work, that i did not have to come home and wonder when she went and if she suffered. i will never know what took her from me, but i do know one thing: i am eternally grateful that she chose me to share the second half of her life with. although my heart is broken and there's an empty space above my head on the pillow, i believe that phoebe will always be with me. she's a part of me that will never fade.
i write this selfishly: to help me grieve, to help me heal, to help me remember phoebe and everything she gave to me. but for all of you who have been lucky enough to feel the love that only a pet can give you and have lost them, i hope this can give you some comfort, too.
“Cats choose us; we don’t own them.” —Kristin Cast