Thursday, July 18, 2013

Ode to Cindy Lou

I want to introduce you to my cat.  I make this introduction because it's likely even my closest friends and family don't really know this elusive feline. 

I met Cindy Lou at Haven Human Society on Christmas Eve, 2003.  My boyfriend (now husband) was deployed to Iraq at the time.  I had just purchased my first home.  I got a wild hair and decided my home needed a cat, and off to the shelter I went. 

Before I go on, maybe I should give you a little background.  I grew up in a cat family.  Some cats lasted longer than others, but there was always a cat in the house.  When we moved across the country from Ohio to California, we rode in the family station wagon with our cat howling the whole way.  We snuck her into hotels along the route, and somehow managed to get her safely to our new home 2,000 miles away.

As a kid I always wanted an animal companion like I saw in the movies.  Those animals that were best friends with their little girls/boys always intrigued me.  For whatever reason, our cats never liked me best.  They liked me, sure.  But I never had a cat that would sleep on my bed at night.  Or follow me around the house like a lost puppy.  Or make it clear that I was the favorite. 

Until Cindy Lou. 

At the animal shelter that Christmas Eve, I looked at the rows of cats looking for a home and came across a small, young black and white kitty.  We went to the "socialization room" together and she purred and rubbed on my leg and generally carried on like a cat in love with a stranger.  I was sold.

Cindy Lou and I began our relationship alone in my little house, just the two of us.  I fed her, brushed her and played with her.  As the only human in the house, I was the instant favorite.  I found myself growing attached to this playful, affectionate little ball of fur.  She followed me around the house, curled up on my bed at night and kept me company as I wrote letters to my soldier at war.  At last, I had the cat I had always wanted.  I picked her.  I named her.  She was MY cat. 

This fact became painfully obvious when my dear boyfriend came home from Iraq.  My super-friendly, cuddly cat wanted nothing to do with him.  And when we got married and he and my 8-year old step-daughter moved in, Cindy Lou snubbed them both.  Bummer for them.  But truthfully, I wasn't too upset.  She liked me best.  And the 5-year-old, only-child in me relished being the favorite. 

Over the years, Cindy Lou came to accept the new members of our family, sort of the way you accept your black sheep second cousins.  She was polite.  She occasionally graced them with her presence and once in a while let them get close enough to scratch her head.  Guests would marvel that we actually had a cat in the house, because she never came out to greet anyone when they came to visit.  House sitters had to do their job on faith because they rarely ever saw the cat they were hired to feed and care for.  A "Cindy Lou sighting" became a novelty that was discussed at gatherings of the extended family.  Quirky little thing, she was.  But every night after the kids went to bed and the house was quiet, she would come inside and sit by my side or snooze at my feet, and occasionally hiss at anyone else that looked at her funny. 

A few weeks ago, Cindy Lou disappeared as cats sometimes do.  Yesterday I found her on the side of the road about a mile from our house.  I was alone.  As the favorite, I realized it was my duty to scrape her up and take her home.

My husband dutifully came home to dig an appropriate resting place for Cindy Lou, underneath our bedroom window where she would often lounge in the shade on hot afternoons.  Our 4-year old daughter dissolved into tears at the news "her" cat was dead.  We have spent the past 24 hours fielding all kinds of curious questions about death that only a 4-year old could dream up. 

Why can't you move when you're dead?

Is Cindy Lou flat now?

Is God and heaven way far away up in the sky?

Can you run in heaven?  Even inside??!

When I met Cindy Lou ten years ago, I never dreamed she would be the one to teach my children about death and heaven.  I don't really know a lot about kitty heaven, but I explained to my daughter that I believe it is the most beautiful, happy place in the whole, wide world.  I imagine there are treats and sandboxes and plenty of sunshine.  I bet even the most aloof, misunderstood kitties are greeted with open arms and welcomed home as if they are the family favorite. 

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