Saturday, July 12, 2008

Jewel of My Domain

I don't want this to be one of those pathetic "single girl odes to her cat" posts and yet . . . .

I have a cat. Her name is Tela. She was named after the Phish song, of course. Tela wasn't always my cat, though. In fact, despite the fact that she's been living with me for ten years, it's only been recently that she truly became my cat. You see, any story about my relationship with Tela really begins with a story about China.

When I moved back in with my parents after deciding law school wasn't the right choice for me, I found that, in my absence, a new cat had joined our family. My parents had found this stray cat in the garage and brought her inside. She was this small, all black cat that they named Noir. When I came home, my parents warned me about Noir's existence and that she was, to be quite honest about it, a pretty aloof, downright unfriendly cat who just hadn't warmed to anyone in the family. The warning was primarily because Noir spent a lot of time in what was (and was now again) my bedroom. I can remember rolling my eyes in exasperation thinking, "Great. Now I have to deal with this diva cat in my bedroom! And the hits just keep coming." I walked into my bedroom to see this cat curled up, dreading her reaction when I would have to shoo her off so that I could sleep. But here's the thing: she took one look at me, I took one look at her, and I think we both just fell in love. Before the night was over, she was curled up in my lap, purring, snuggling, and shocking the heck out of the rest of the family who had pretty much written that cat off as "difficult." As part of my adoption, I renamed her China Cat Sunflower, after the Grateful Dead song, of course. For the next 13 years, China was my constant companion.

Ten years ago, my mother came home from work with a surprise -- a kitten. Someone had apparently dumped a box of kittens off in the parking lot where she worked and several people had taken the kittens home, my mom included. I named the kitten Tela, honestly a little excited to have a kitten since I'd never gotten to experience kittenhood with China. (She was over a year by the time I knew her) China immediately adopted Tela as her own. (China never had any kittens of her own, so Tela was the closest she ever came to her own kitten) Tela would follow China everywhere. She never particularly warmed to me, although I've often thought a lot of that was out of respect to China. There seemed to be an understanding that I was China's human. She could co-exist with other pets (and she did), but she never really cottoned to the idea of sharing me with anyone and was pretty clear with any other pet just whose human I was.

A little over a year ago, China died. It was honestly one of the hardest things I've ever experienced, to hold her in my arms as she took her last breaths, knowing that the last thing she ever saw was me. I took her death pretty hard, and it's still really hard for me to think about her without tearing up. (I'm actually crying right now as I type this) I mourned hard, and so did Tela. And that's when a funny thing happened. Within a couple weeks of China's death, Tela suddenly became glued to my side. If I happened to be sitting down, Tela would jump up on my lap. When I slept at night, Tela slept beside me (often on the same pillow my head was on). If I got up and walked to another room, she would follow me. Suddenly, I had a cat I'd never had before -- and yet had owned the whole time. It was tough those first few weeks. More than once I called her "Chi" by accident (only to burst into tears). More than once I found myself a little resentful that she didn't perch on my knee the way China did or understand that a certain twitch meant it was time to get down. And yet, I found myself growing to love Tela and am confident I saw that love reflected in her huge green eyes. Over the past year, Tela has become my chum and constant companion. She often plays "secret service agent" for me -- walking into a room before I do and checking it out for enemies before I walk in. (I've seriously seen her do this more than once!) It's not the same as China but it's been the thing that has best gotten me through losing China.

So what's the morale of this story outside of the fact that it IS a pathetic single girl ode to my cat? It's simply this: love heals everything. Tela's love for me has helped me work through my grief, and I like to think that my love for her has helped her work through hers. We both lost someone we loved and who loved us. It's really not just a girl-cat story; it's a universal story. Believe in love, and you will survive anything.

(Note: The picture is not actually of Tela. My digital camera didn't seem to survive the move -- I've found it but I can't get it to work -- and I don't have a scanner to scan the pictures I do have of Tela. So you'll have to make do with this lovely sketch that Tela would probably hate because she's much thinner than this cat.)

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