Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Losses and Gains

May was a tough month for me. Last month I told you what happened when I went to visit my sister in Kentucky and how we had to abruptly move our father into a place closer to her. Let’s just say that it wasn’t a typical visit with my sister and best friend, Kathy. You know what I mean—the kind of visit where we played tennis and went shopping and gallivanting around Russell County. But things got even worse when I got home. On the night before I left, I got a phone call from my husband, Frank. He’d taken our beloved 13-year-old cat, Ruby, to the vet because she wasn’t eating. The news was grim—she had cancer. The vet advised that we put her down because she was really suffering, so Frank scheduled the appointment for Monday, May 14th. Heartbroken, I arrived home on Sunday afternoon, but I was determined to make the most of my last evening with my Ruby—the sweetest orange tabby that ever lived. Ruby had such a personality. She was the cat that greeted you with a soft mew whenever you entered the room. The cat that would drink only out of the water faucet in the bathroom. The cat that, back in the good old days of her youth, when “outside” was her exploration grounds, would come from the woods when I went to the backyard fence to call her. Have you ever heard of a cat who’d come when you called her name? I could hear her mewing as she grew closer. Ruby was a petite little kitty. Even in old age, she looked like a kitten. I’ll never forget the day she came to live with us. My son, Stephen, 21 then, found her on a cold December night near a dumpster in a parking lot, and brought her home. We already had a cat and a dog, and I didn’t want more pets, but I took one look at her sweet little face and my heart melted. From that day on, she became my cat. When I got home that afternoon, I found her under the bed in the spare bedroom. The poor thing was skin and bones, but she mewed when she saw me and came out to be picked up. I took her to my bedroom and lay down. She settled happily onto her favorite spot—my chest. I just lay there, stroking her soft fur, and crying. I couldn’t believe that in 24 hours, she’d no longer be part of my life. But I pushed that thought away, determined to enjoy the hours I had left with her. That night, she slept on my lap for a solid two hours while I watched TV. She’d never done that before; it was like she knew this was our last night together. When I went to bed, as usual, she curled up on my chest as I read for a while. Normally, when I turned out the light, this was Ruby’s cue to jump off the bed and go under it to sleep. That last night was different—even after I turned out the light, Ruby refused to leave the bed, instead, curled up on the pillow next to my head. She was still there when I fell asleep. With heavy hearts the next morning, Frank and I took her to the vet. It was all I could do to hold back sobs as we sat in the waiting room. Ruby sat in her carrier, quiet and peaceful. I swear, it was like she knew—and was ready to go. They put us into a small room and allowed us to have 15 minutes with her to say goodbye. We’d taken her out of the carrier, and she sat calmly on the examining table, just waiting. After a few minutes, I picked her up and cradled her in my arms like she was a baby, and she was so compliant, just staring up at me with her beautiful golden eyes. It’s almost as if I could read her mind. It’s okay, Mom. I had a good life with you. But now it’s time to go. All too soon, the vet stepped in with a syringe of pink liquid in her hands. It seemed such an incongruous color for a lethal drug. With Ruby back on the examination table, they shaved one skinny little leg, and she sat through the procedure calmly. It wasn’t until the vet inserted the needle that she began to struggle just a bit. I stroked her fur, trying to calm her, and she did. But I think it was the drug, not me, that made her stop resisting. Through tears, I watched Ruby’s eyes glaze over, as if a light had gone out. And she was gone. She’d been a part of our lives for so many years; it was hard to come home and see her dish, her bed and her toys around the house. Even the sight of a full bag of cat food made me lose it. I knew, though, it wouldn’t be long before all those things would be in use again. See, I know Ruby would’ve wanted us to rescue another cat and give it a good life like she’d had. I wish every stray cat out there could be as lucky as she was. So, that’s why Frank and I drove down to Cooper Vineyards on Memorial Day weekend and went to the annual Lucy’s Weekend, a pet adoption weekend in memory of the winery owner’s dog, Lucy and sponsored each year by the Richmond SPCA. That’s where we’d adopted our black lab/husky mix, Cooper, four years ago. I took the cat carrier with us because I just knew we’d come home with kittens. Yes, I’d decided to adopt two. As soon as we arrived, I stepped into the SPCA RV. The first litter of kittens I saw was orange and white tabbies, similar to Ruby. All males. But the thought of taking two of these kitties, and leaving one behind just broke my heart. How could I do that? But no way could I take three kittens. Then Megan, the SPCA volunteer, showed me one single kitten in the next cage, a female black and orange calico named Lucretia. One look at her sweet little face, and I was in love. I knew she had to come home with me. But I still wanted another kitten. I asked Megan if it would be okay to choose one of the orange tabbies and put him in the cage with Lucretia to see if they’d get along okay. She agreed, and one by one, I picked each male up, and I finally chose Mario because he seemed to be most cuddly. We put him in with Lucretia and waited to see what would happen. They looked at each other for a minute or two, and then Lucretia made the first swipe at him, (an air swipe.) He swiped back. This went on for a few minutes—not actual fighting, but just kind of half-hearted playful swiping. Megan suggested Frank and I go out and do a wine tasting, and we’d leave them alone a while and then check back on them. We were gone for about a half hour, and when we came back into the RV, Mario and Lucretia were curled up together, sleeping. And I knew we’d found our new kittens. I immediately changed Lucretia’s name to Lily (after my mother and my new novel, LILY OF THE SPRINGS.) They’ve been part of our family now for almost a month, and have been a constant source of joy. I swear, I feel like a kitty matchmaker. It’s so obvious they adore each other, giving each other baths—and their play gets pretty passionate, too. Thank God they’ve already been fixed, or might have a lot more kitties around this time next year. Even Cooper is enjoying them, and they allow him to lick their faces. Lily makes a game out of playing with Cooper’s tail. Lily is the more affectionate of the two. She’ll let me hold her like a baby, and makes eye contact with me and touches her paws to my face. It’s the sweetest thing in the world. And during a moment like that, I can almost feel Ruby’s approving presence. She knows I’ll never forget her, and there is room enough in my heart for her memory and my new precious kittens. /*'09 $%55555555555555555oihg (That was Lily; she just walked on my keyboard; guess she wanted to say hi.) Hey, have you seen all the great reviews LILY OF THE SPRINGS is getting on Most of them are five-star reviews, and I’m just thrilled. I’m also going to be featured in the July/August issue of Fairfax Woman Magazine, so if you live in Northern Virginia, pick up a free copy at Metro Stations and other places around town. If not, you can read a digital copy: Don’t forget to stop by my website and enter my monthly contest to win a copy of one of my books and some jewelry from Beautiful Evening Beads. My second novel, SPOTLIGHT, has been reissued, and will be available in print in July. I’m leaving on July 5th for a two-week stay with my daughter’s family in Destin, Florida. Hope all those pesky tropical storms and hurricanes stay away. I can’t wait to spend some quality time with my sweet grandsons, Luke and Zealand. I promise to bring back lots of pictures! I hope all of you have a great 4th of July! Best, Carole Bellacera

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