I am a bad mother — of cats, that is. Such a bad mother that my last cat, a certain wild-eyed tabby named Colette, got herself adopted by a next-door neighbor. She didn’t run away because of a lack of love. I adored that cat. So much so, that I often would gaze at her in complete adoration as she napped in the ivy. I wrote poems in her honor. She was the first face I searched for when I came home.
I raised her from being a small dollop of gray-furred whipped cream into her elegant and long-clawed adulthood. I regularly replaced her little felt mousies again and again when they miraculously continued to disappear. I never did recover any of those mice.
I went to the cat boutique to get her a very specific brand of organic food and nontoxic litter. She was my comfort, my delight, a warm muff to wear on my neck while reading. She was the thing that I loved the most in the world.
But love is just sometimes not enough. I was a bit of a wildcat myself, and like many a nocturnal creature, the night was just too much of a lure to resist. Well that, and there was my job as bartender.
In Colette’s first years, my roommate and I were tag-team cat carers. I was home during the day, and in the evenings he was snuggled up in a sleeping bag playing video games. Colette was a great fan of that sleeping bag.
But city life changes quickly, and that roommate was replaced by a very well-dressed lawyer who took to locking the cat out of the house. Hours and hours Colette would be kept outside until I came home from work.
It is no wonder, then, that she began going where she could eat. And eat she did, at one of the houses connected to our backyard through a series of gardens. It was inhabited by a man named Ken who was still grieving the death of his own cat. It was with great delight that he began to leave food out for what he thought was a poor little lost kitty.
Then one day Colette moved in with him. Ken was happy; I was frantic. I was frantic but also busy, and as she had gone on walkabouts before, I waited a week until I went to the pound and put up signs around the neighborhood. By that time, Ken was bonded to Colette, so much so that when he recognized her in my signs and dutifully called, his voice was heavy with the sadness of having to give her up.
I took her home. And I promised to take better care of her. But I had things to do. Soon enough, she was back at Ken’s.
By the third time that I had to go get her, I realized that it was time to make a difficult decision. I realized that if I really loved her, if I truly wanted her happiness and well-being, I’d leave her with Ken because she’d be better off there than with me. That was a hard day. A very hard day indeed. But with a determined smile I officially gifted Ken the cat. I handed over her medical records, her feathered toy, and the website password for her microchip. I waited until I was a block away to cry.
That was in the summer of 2011.
In February, Ken had a stroke. He lost the use of his legs and was unable to speak for months. Always a proud and active man, he loathed having visitors. He didn’t want to have people see him so weakened. The only thing that gave him comfort was Colette. She stayed by him day in and day out, and they would speak to each other in meows and growls. She was able to give him something no one else could.
I visited them recently and was happy to see that Ken is doing much better and that Colette has grown quite fat. When I left, Colette followed me down the street. I like to think that she was thanking me. I might have been a bad cat mom, but I was able to give her the best kind of love I could — I let her go.
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