Love Lost, and Lost Again
Chloe's last message...
As cats go, my Chloë was on the small side. And, nearing 20, she had become frail and wizened. She was so skeletal despite her huge appetite that I often feared I might break her with an errant step or by picking her up in just the wrong way.
Despite appearances, Chloë seemed to be doing quite well. She lorded (or ladied) over a household that, aside from humans, included five dogs. At one time, there had been five cats, Chloë the youngest, but time and illnesses had left only her. The last of her cat-mates to pass away had done so two years’ earlier. Suddenly, where she had once been sullen, leaning toward unpleasant, she became imbued with a joie de vivre that was both heartwarming and, at times, annoying. Her favorite sleeping quarters became the desk width between my keyboard and computer screen. From this perch, she caused numerous typos and interrupted nearly every Zoom meeting with which COVID-19 plagued global cyberspace. Mine, anyway.
Annoying as that could be, we became a much closer partnership. Where once she had lurked in the shadows, she was now in my face. And advancing age seemed to sweeten whatever bitterness she had been nursing before she came to me as a three-month-old kitten. Our newly-demarcated relationship was a lovely discovery, and she reaped much dietary benefit from the more expensive foods and treats with which I began indulging her, brands much too costly for me to have sustained five cats indefinitely.
In all honesty, despite the treats and haute cuisine and singular attention paid her, she did look rather pathetic…and creakingly old. But she was – of this I am certain – a very happy cat, secure in my love and in the way she ran the household. The dogs gave her wide berth (ironic given her narrow girth) and she did what she wanted, when she wanted. She had lived with me longer than any of the dogs who shared our home, and she knew she was top of the food chain (me being vegan and all).
I wasn’t thinking about any of that as I looked at the stones I had piled around the flowers that were just beginning to bloom in a kind of oval formation. Rocks some of them. I’d picked them myself from all over the farm property. They had to be just right, for their purpose would be a noble one.
It was early June and, as I picked up the shovel to begin digging, I realized I should, perhaps, widen the tiny garden. Perhaps rearrange the rockery. I always feared plunging the spade an inch or so too far left or right, and disturbing the sanctity that this mound of rocks, flowers and earth had come to signify. It was my sacred place, the sanctum sanctorum where my treasures lay. While it may have seemed ill-placed, a tiny garden plum in the middle of a lawn that spanned acres, it was perfectly-sited for me to see any time I looked out the kitchen window, across the lawn to the pond my father had created decades ago in the soggy marsh grasses, a perfect breeding place for the mosquito population that, once, had been wholly unbearable. Any window along that side of the house was a perfect vantage point for my flowery rock garden set against a panorama of pampas grass and bulrushes, and a pond that welcomed ducks and geese, herons and kingfishers, turtles and muskrats.
It was the perfect place for my beloved companions to rest in the peace they so richly deserved, in the earth at their lifelong home.
And that day, it would be the perfect place to lay my beautiful Chloë to her rest.
Given her advanced years, I had known she wouldn’t be with me much longer and, given how most of the cats who passed away before her had left me, I imagined – and not without reason – that Chloë, too, would just start sleeping more, eating less; then, one night, without warning, exhale the last breath of her ninth life. It was all so natural, so peaceful and, heartbreaking though it was, I would derive some comfort in knowing their last days were good. All of them were coddled, spoiled and free of pain. Most of all they were truly, deeply loved. I believe they all knew that. I believe all animals know that..when it’s true.
I’m sure Chloë was quite certain she had me wrapped around several of her claws (she did), and I’m equally sure she was happy and as healthy as an old cat can be (she was). But she did not leave quietly in the night, snug in her slumber, knowing she was safe and snuggly and secure.
Instead, in her own house, where she had lived the entirety of her life, believing herself in safe surroundings, she was savagely killed. Her last moment was not a calm exhalation but, rather, one of terror and, perhaps, great pain. I didn’t see it happen.
Being spared this gruesome sight may seem a blessing but it is not. Because, in that last moment of her many years on earth, I should have been there with her. I couldn’t have saved her, according to those who did witness her death, but I would have been there – with her, where I should have been. In her last moment, the person who was her life was absent. Instead, I was a few hundred feet away, outside in the garden, totally oblivious to what was transpiring.
In her moment of need, I was hiding, waiting for visitors in the house to gravitate into the backyard so I could sneak in and change from my barn clothes, then leave for a movie on my own. I’m not entirely anti-social, but this particular annual get-together is one I’ve always taken great pains to avoid if at all possible, even though it has always taken place at my home.
Ironically, or funnily, depending on one’s attitude, this particular annual avoidance affair is my husband’s family’s get-together. He has a big family, lots of siblings, nieces, nephews, grandnieces and grandnephews. And he always extends the invitation to cousins and random people he’d like to have in attendance, so the occasion guarantees A LOT of people in this house that my father built, none of them related to him.
And they are all very loud, and I am in a state of tortured agony among them. I’m an only (very old) child, whose relatives are 3000 miles away, in Ireland, where I was born. I do have a daughter (also an only child) who, like her father’s kith and kin, loves the high-volumed, boisterous family vibe that pervades each of these get-togethers. I cannot abide the noise, and all the people. I have chronic social anxiety and, usually, when forced to attend such get-togethers, I’ve been left in tears…or have just left.
I have invented many a reason to avoid all manner of this sibling-bonding revelry, despite most events occurring in my own home. That’s neither here nor there (though it’s about here), so I’ll leave those excuses undescribed and return to the one mentioned earlier: I was waiting to sneak inside, change from my barn clothes, have a shower and go to a movie, or however many movies it took for them all to be cleared out when I got home.
I had just finished filling the stock tanks for horses and was losing a game of Solitaire on my phone before making my circuitous entrée chez moi. I looked up suddenly, feeling someone hovering above me. Indeed, someone was. It was my husband, and this could only mean something I didn’t want to hear, no matter what it was, because he knew well enough to stay out of my way on family day.
Bracing myself for something I suspected would antagonize or annoy me somewhat, delaying my escape, I glanced up at him. He paused a second, before blurting, “There’s no easy way to say this. Chloe’s dead. Calvin killed her.”
Calvin was my husband’s father’s name. That Calvin died a long time ago. This Calvin is my brother-in-law’s Airedale Terrier.
My husband and I had been married 30 years, 7 months when he told me Chloe had been killed…in her own home…where she should have been safe.
I first tried to get a divorce 23 years ago. The reason isn’t important, really, only the fact. At the time we had a three-year-old daughter. My husband assured me I would never get custody because of my history of mental health problems and, yes, I have suffered from chronic depression and anxiety from a very early age. Latterly, PTSD and Borderline Personality Disorder have been added into my diagnoses but, again, that’s just some extraneous information.
Terrified he might prevail and keep me from my only child, I dropped the matter and hoped things would improve. That I would improve. That he would improve.
Six years ago, my parents long gone and buried back in Ireland, and my daughter living elsewhere in Ontario, I steeled myself to try again; knowing I would have to surrender half of everything my father had built and left, for me and my daughter, to my husband. It ripped me to the quick, the thought of handing over to this spouse who had quit working and lived off what my parents had bequeathed. Half of my legacy. Half of what should rightly be my daughter’s some day. But, prodded by that very daughter – who came to the first meeting with me – I set about obtaining a divorce, yet again.
But, my horses. The horses I had rescued over many years. In all likelihood, I would have to sell the farm where I’d lived with my parents since the 1970s and, with only my half of the proceeds, could never afford even a tiny farm so, losing him would mean losing them. Animals are family, not possessions or commodities to me. How could I sacrifice them for my own happiness?
Again, I choked and – much to my daughter’s disgust – didn’t proceed with the divorce action.
And, suddenly, it was 2021 and I was still miserable, and he was still here and, on that day my Chloë was killed, so was his entire bloody family.
It wasn’t that tragedy that put me back on the road to a divorce. There has been much, ever so much more. I’m not without blame, not in the least. But we are both deeply unhappy; we don’t like each other at all. He claims to love me but has proven, by his actions, he truly doesn’t care about me. I am his meal ticket, his golden goose.
For my part, I have come to despise him.
And so it was that, two weeks before Chloë was savaged, I had paid a retainer to yet another lawyer. Third time’s the charm? Three times lucky? La troisième fois est un charme?
The day after Calvin killed my Chloë, after I’d spent the night with her wee, matted fur body, hating all of them, waiting for them to be gone from my home, I wrapped her in the blanket she'd always favored, got a spade from the barn and, still crying and weeping and gnashing my teeth, brought her to my flower rockery. Tears streamed down my face, at times obstructing my vision.
Moving aside two of the bigger rocks, I began to dig. And, with every spadeful, I wrestled between grief and trepidation.
The grief I don’t need to explain.
For me, this farewell was somber, deeply personal and private, to be shared only between me and the cat who, less than 24 hours ago, believed herself secure, cherished…and safe. I wished vehemently, ferociously that he whose brother’s dog had killed my girl would leave us alone. It was, I realized even then, an exercise in futility because, knowing him as I did, I was certain he would ruin this tragedy-induced, sacred farewell.
And he did. Of course he did. For a fleeting moment, I thought Chloë and I would have our final parting to ourselves but, as I was putting aside the spade, and reaching for her tiny, blanketed body, he appeared.
I said nothing to him, though my anger and resentment so permeated my being that, in my semi-haze, I believed I saw them escaping through my pores and settling in a dark cloud over him.
I know he said something. I don’t know what it was. I silently took my sweet little girl and laid her where she will forever remain, in the earth surrounding my family home. When I realized my husband had brought a shovel with him, I felt despair, knowing he would want to assist in covering her with the dirt I had dug for her tiny grave.
The last moments of her burial were surreal. I see them played in a loop, running always in my head. As he and I replaced the earth over Chloe, the irony of the moment, the allegory of it, was screamed at me from the depths of the earth to the heights of the sky.
We were not just burying my cat. We were burying 30 years of marriage and, with it, any possibility that I might change my mind about divorce this time.
My beloved Chloe left me with this message, loud and clear:
Strike Three and I’m out.
And wherever I find Home, I will be safe. And I will be free.
Old vegan, animal-rescuing, ex-corporate communicator with lifelong crippling shyness that made expressing myself verbally near impossible.So I took my weirdness to paper, then to typewriter and, now, to computer screen. I write all wrong.