TIL DEATH DO US PART — A Love That Transcends Space, Time, and Species
For My Love…My Dearest Quinn
I just got word that you aren’t doing so well.
Our mutual Friend — the one you’ve been watching over since I began this wacky mid-life quest — is concerned that you’ve lost some weight, have been wobbly on your feet, and spend most of the day sleeping. We agreed it was time for a doctor’s visit. I know, I know — the vet’s hands are cold, the place smells like commoners, and there’s a chance you’ll be on the wrong end of a pointy thing — but it’s a chance for you to get out of the house and have a chauffeured view of the world again, if only for a few hours. I know how much you love that. In fact, I can’t help but think of how happy you were during your very first car ride.
That was 13 years ago. The day you came home with me.
Do you remember when we met? I sure do. I’d been having a rough go, and was wallowing in a patch of loneliness and bad choices. A good friend asked if I had ever had a pet. I said yes, of course — CATS! — but that I didn’t feel ‘ready’ yet. For the commitment.
‘It’s not like you’re getting married,’ she said.
How wrong she was.
I can still feel the butterflies as I opened the door to the ‘showroom’ at the West Vancouver, SPCA. It took a few seconds to process what I was seeing, and I had to remind myself that I wasn’t (still) on drugs. Because the carpet was moving — a swirling, multi-coloured shag that loosed a chorus of meows. I had stepped into another world. A wave of cats swept over my feet, trilling and pawing at my shins for attention. Others retreated to the room’s corners, or to the rear of cramped cages stacked against the cracked concrete wall. I think they knew.
I was going to be ‘salvation’ for one of them. And another rejection for the rest.
My steps through the room were careful and quiet, and I made eye contact with every cat I could. I crouched low to get a sense of which ones were trusting, or shy, or even hostile. I stroked a few, and chin-rubbed a few, and dangled some string for a gang of playful ones. I sat on the shredded couch, waiting with an open lap for a friendly connection. I even made chirps and lilting tones of my own, hoping to hear an ‘answer’ from a fated match. But through it all, I couldn’t help but feel that I was missing something…
That’s when I turned to the far corner of the room. To the place where no other cats had gathered. To the shadow stirring beneath a high-backed chair. I slid from the couch, dropped to my knees, and shuffled across the cement on all fours. I ignored the whiskered wails around me, and the paws batting at my forearms, and the insistent nips at my feet. Everything faded in that bristling moment except for the floor, the chair, my heartbeat…
I was within a few feet when that tiny head poked from its hiding place. Your eyes were pulsing black saucers, concealing a pair of stunning emeralds. Your whiskers swayed like silver wheat, grown in tiny plots of dark-furred earth. Your glistening nose was a nub of cherry bubblegum, and your ears twitched with tufts of creamy fur, curving up like the ornamental points of a crown.
‘What can you tell me about this one?‘ I asked the attendant, inching a nervous finger towards your front paws. You tensed and shivered, but didn’t flee. And you didn’t break my gaze, not even to blink.
‘Oh, she just came in. Probably a little freaked out, as she was just spayed this morning. Those tremors are from the meds. She’s healthy, and seems quite sweet,’ the woman said, bending down to pull some cats away that were plotting to use my nethers as a scratching post. I was oblivious. I only had eyes for You, after all…
‘The Squamish shelter picked her up after neighbours reported of yowling coming from an empty house,’ she continued. ‘Apparently, the family that lived there had moved a few weeks back, but they left her there…locked in the laundry room. They said they found her starving and dehydrated. It was so bad that the poor thing tried to chew her way out through the drywall. Luckily, she’s got some pipes on her…’
I smothered any sparks of rage and disgust rising in my guts and leaned a little closer. I pulled back my hands and lowered my head level with yours, as if to bow. It seemed like the right thing to do. If you had wanted to bite or scratch me, then this was your chance — after everything you’d been through, I wouldn’t have blamed you.
Instead, those precious eyes widened, and the trembling became a vibration that I swear I could feel on my face.
‘Would you like to come home with me?‘ I whispered, and then held my breath.
You crept forward and gingerly sniffed at my brow before sharing a slow blink. Nervous pupils ebbed into slits, revealing twin oceans of green. A fragile mew split the stale air, and the beauty of it made me gasp.
Two days later — with your shots up to date, food bought, and litter-box smartly positioned — I signed the papers. I joked with the clerk about getting a blood test, and where we should hold the ceremony. Truth be told, I couldn’t picture being half as excited at my own wedding. The woman gave a knowing smirk.
‘Oh, that’s LOVE, alright. Any ideas on a name yet? No rush, but it’d be good for our records.‘
I watched you squirm and fuss as they carefully put you in the cardboard carry-box, like a prim young lady of grace and distinction who felt that she deserved far better treatment. Next in line for the throne, perhaps? Almost a Queen…
‘Quinn,‘ I said, quite clear on the matter. ‘Her name is Quinn.’
Do you remember that first afternoon, sweetheart? How you pranced around my humble abode, fluttering your tail like a royal banner, and rubbing on my stuff like a monarch colonizing a savage new land? I tried picking you up but you were quick to squirm free, whine a little, and strut in the opposite direction. It was hard giving you ‘space’ in those first few hours, but clearly you needed it. I had to fight every urge to squeeze you senseless in the hopes of hearing you purr. I guess I’ve always been that way with love — desperate for proof.
I went to the bedroom, lay down, and listened. For the clicking of claws on hardwood. The clinks and crunches of kibble in a stainless steel bowl. The muffled scratching as you buried your first bathroom evidence. I smiled, and closed and my eyes.
The faint clicks grew closer. Into the room. A moment of coiled silence, and then the telltale pa-doof as you landed on the foot of my bed. You padded towards me like you were stalking something, pausing only to sniff at my hand and belly. Closer still, up between my arm and chest, until you stopped just shy of my armpit and stared down at me. I didn’t know whether I should reach out to touch you, or play dead for fear of scaring you away. But my insecurity got the best of me and the words slipped out, as they so often do, before I could think to restrain them.
‘Are you happy to be here…with me?‘ I asked, warmth and wetness filling my eyes.
Your back and ears straightened and your whiskers twitched. Your gaze narrowed, and you seemed older somehow. Greater. And I suddenly felt so very young, and small, and foolish. You blinked slowly and pressed your body into mine. I shivered with joy as you reached a paw across my chest, nuzzled into my shoulder, and began to purr.
I’ve thought about that moment every day since. It’s impossible to forget. Because it was the first time in my life that I cried from happiness.
Isn’t that what everyone’s wedding day should feel like?
Catnip Kisses (easy on the tongue)
PS: If you’re not feeling better soon, I’ll hop on a plane for some hands-on TLC. I may hate Vancouver winters, but any excuse to rub that beautiful belly is worth a little rain and hipster bullshit.
I’m sorry I haven’t been able to Skype with you this month, but the bureaucratic asshats in Morocco block voice and video calls unless you use their Telecom company. It’s all a bunch of greedy two-legged bullshit, of course. People. So, I just wanted to let you know that I’ve been getting daily text updates on your progress, and continue to send healing vibes your way.
Our Friend says that you’re responding really well to the meds — at least the ones you don’t hide in your hairballs…AHEM — and that you seem in much better spirits. Pooping regularly, too!
That said, we’re going to schedule another vet visit around the end of the month to get some fancy-schmancy tests done. Yeah, yeah — more pricey butt-fingers and hip-needles, which totally blows doberman dick — but nothing’s too good for my princess. Especially when it comes to her health. I hope you won’t hate me for the inevitable discomfort.
I also hope that you’ll forgive me someday. You know…for being gone.
It was so fucking hard when I left, remember? You were all pissy-faced, and I was just a blubbering mess hunched over you in that SUV, booping your nose and vowing to return. And I did, right? As often as I could. And I treasured every damn second of our reunion snuggles, even if I didn’t bring you that rich Siamese dude you asked for. Doesn’t mean I love you any less, babe — I’m just crazy-protective, and more than a bit possessive. Is that weird? Pots and kettles, girl…pots and kettles.
Oooh, that reminds me! I got the strangest look from a local climbing guiding in the southern gorge the other day. A nice enough Berber chap, he asked at the end of our trek if I was married or had any children.
I smiled. ‘Both…if you count my cat.‘
Something snapped in the poor dude’s head. ‘I…don’t understand.’
I whipped out my phone and showed him a few pics — only the good ones, baby. Promise.
‘She is very beautiful but…it is only a cat!‘
‘I beg to differ, my friend,’ I said. ‘Physical stuff aside? (I should hope so!) I’ve had more moments of profound connection and conversation with her than with most people I’ve met in 46 years on this rock.’
‘You…TALK with her?‘ he whimpered, before excusing himself to make tea. And pray for my soul, I reckon.
But that’s the thing with us, right, baby? So few of ’em are wired to ‘get’ it. Fewer still have ever experienced it. I’ve tried briefing the more open-minded folks about our ‘happenings’ over the years. And not just the typical Houdini shit, either:
- Like the whole ‘appearing on the wrong side of a locked door multiple times‘ thing?
- And the ‘clawing a girl’s ass during sex so she’d make me choose…and chirping smugly as she leaves‘ move?
- Or even the ‘open my browser and press ttttttttttt so I’ll figure out I nearly poisoned you with TeaTree oil‘ deal?
Lifelong cat-lovers can almost wrap their heads around stuff like that, ’cause your kind is pretty much known for it. Hence the myths. And the witch trials. And yes…the worship. I haven’t forgotten about that. As if you’d let me 😛
But when I tell them the other thing?
Let’s just say that they ‘encourage my imagination’. Ask me about drug use. Urge me to keep plugging away at the whole ‘telling stories’ gig. Which makes sense, I guess — it’s not like I believed it either. Not at first.
You’d been with me a few weeks, and we were settling into our daily groove. You’d perch beside me during morning yoga, and crawl into my lap mid-meditation. I’d smooch your pretty head, feed you, and take a shower. You were almost always waiting on the edge of the bed so you could watch me change, which was kinda unnerving — at least ’til a friend claimed I’d found my dream girl:
‘Smart, pretty, skinny, high-maintenance, hard to impress, and a bit of a pervert.‘
I’d head to work, or meetings, or the gym. And when I came home, you’d be waiting on the balcony and start yowling like a fire truck. Even though I was half a block away — before you could even see me.
Then came dinner and chores. Maybe ‘walkies’ on your leash. (Remember when that girl drove by and laughed at us? I was miffed…until you shot her a look that said ‘He’s mine. Who’s laughing NOW, bitch?‘) Movie cuddles. A good brushing. And sometimes, if you were restless, I’d even sing you to sleep.
I remember singing to you that night. Before the nightmare came.
I was trapped in a dark room. A pit. It smelled like sulphur and rot and death. I cried out, but my voice was weak. Water rose from the mud floor, and things began crawling up my legs. I clawed at the filthy stone walls, but my fingernails broke off. The water kept rising, lifting hundreds of rats to tear at my flesh. I tried to scream again, but something bit my tongue and wriggled down my throat. There was an unholy hiss in the darkness. That’s when I knew…
I was in Hell. And I was going to be eaten alive there for my sins. Forever.
The water was up to my chin when I heard the scratching. I turned my head, and a chunk of rock popped out of the wall. It splashed by my face, startling the rats.
‘Follow,’ said an urgent voice from the hole in the wall. For a moment my mind was free, and I willed myself to shrink down and crawl into the space. The hole became a tunnel, rising up at a steep angle towards a warm, inviting light.
‘Hurry,’ the voice said, and I saw a dark shape in front of me — a shadow with glowing green eyes.
I scurried after it, pulling at the ground with bloody finger-stumps. I had to escape the horrors below, even though I knew I was dreaming. Because I also knew that I’d lose my mind for real if I didn’t make it out.
At the end of the passage I spilled out onto a smooth floor, and into a pool of golden light. There were people standing around me in a country-style kitchen. The scents of pine and BBQ and a happy childhood. Parents. Favourite teachers. Old friends. They all smiled, raised their glasses, and cheered for me.
I didn’t know what to do. I started to cry, as much in confusion as relief, until I heard the voice again. Clear and close.
‘You can wake up now.’
I turned and saw a familiar face, the message chiming in its eyes — Your eyes.
I jerked up in bed, and turned as I had in the dream. It was just after dawn, and the amber light gave you a blurry halo. But I could still make out your eyes locked on me. I could still hear the words echoing within them.
‘Did you just save me?‘ I asked, buzzed with lingering dread.
You stared. No meowing or blinking or pawing at my face. You just pinned me with your eyes.
‘Thank you,’ I whispered, though it didn’t make any earthly sense. But I meant it nonetheless.
You mewed, and hopped off the bed as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. Just another night on the job. Just another shift of multi-dimensional guardian duty. And it kept on happening. Not every night, mind you…but often enough that I began counting my marbles and seeking wise counsel.
Thankfully, it wasn’t just ‘me’. A few cat-sitting pals — charged with caring for Your Highness in my many kibble-winning absences — would dare to ask the question. It always began as a joke, before ending in hushed earnest:
‘Does Quinn ever…come into your dreams?‘
Sharing my own stories offered them relief — I’m not insane!! — but only so much. The world had just gotten bigger. And stranger. And a little more magical.
Because of a cat.
I won’t write about all of our dream-times here — What happens in the Shadowland stays in the Shadowland, after all — but there were so many incredible adventures, weren’t there? Beautiful and alien. Mysterious and scary. Silent and graceful. Loving and Playful. Each one bringing us closer. Forging our reality-defying bond. Deepening our Love.
And this is the only justification I have for leaving, darling. It was You that expanded my heart and my mind, and made me want to become a Better person. The great wide world was calling me to school, and I needed to heed the bell. BUT — if our mutual Friend didn’t love you so damn much? If she didn’t need your magic in her life so badly? If you didn’t like her, too, and give me permission to go in that farewell dream we shared?
I wouldn’t have left. I couldn’t have.
Even now — six months since our last visit, and even longer since you graced my sleep — I’m ready to cross the world if you need me.
I haven’t forgotten my vows. Forever and a Day. You have only to ask.
I need to talk about that night in Saskatoon.
I know you remember it — when the prairie winds blew cold and fierce, calling to me.
I stirred in a stupor on that ratty couch around 4AM. There was a smouldering ashtray spilled on the floor. An empty whiskey bottle was toppled beside it, and a Mad Men disc looped on the TV. The windows rattled from the winter gale, and arcs of ice and snow swirled outside like dancing devils.
I remember thinking that I was just drunk enough that the cold wouldn’t hurt so bad. I could stumble down the lane to the high drifts by the church, and rest in the snow. And then I could sleep. Because my dreams had always been better than real life. Even the scary ones. There was something more in that world, beyond the pain and doubt and crushing despair.
Something was waiting there. Waiting to love me. And when I finally felt that love..?
It will never hurt again, I thought.
And that is when you spoke to me.
I wasn’t so far gone that I was hallucinating. This wasn’t some sleep-deprived lucid vision, or meditative daydream, or mushroom-fuelled skydive (of which you’d been my parachute for several). You were right there — sitting on the arm of the couch by my feet. Your shoulders were slumped. Your fur was matted. Your eyes were wide, and the pupils consumed them.
I tumbled into them…deep into the starry void of your gaze…and I felt it.
I felt You. Your sadness. Your fear. Your disappointment.
Your belief that you had somehow failed me.
I swept you up in my arms and wept like a newborn. The crying didn’t stop for days but the drinking did, and the depression eventually left with it. Two weeks later, we were on the road back to Vancouver. To someplace ‘better’. You deserved at least that much. For all you had done for me.
For saving my life.
I’m writing this now because…
…because I don’t know what else to do. Or how long it’s been since I got the call.
The frantic texts from our Friend. That you’d taken a turn. She’d found you gasping on the bathroom floor. Trembling in shock and agony. Wailing for help with what strength you had left.
The call connected as soon as you got to the vet’s, and I nearly fainted when she turned on the video. I knew it was bad. I heard the doctor’s voice say, ‘We could give her something to prolong life for a few days, but the tumour in her liver has grown too fast. And she’d be in quite a bit of pain…‘
Your face filled the screen, strained and gaunt. Your eyes, panicked and desperate. Your voice, crackling and faint.
Our Friend asked how long a flight would take. With the meds I was on and the remote location, I knew it be would three days at least. Maybe more. And you’d be there the whole time. Helpless. Suffering. Waiting for me. Waiting for it to end.
The decision fell from my lips as my heart swallowed the sun.
I spoke to you then. It was clumsy. A flood of love and gratitude. A torrent of sorrow and regret.
And then a final goodbye.
They said you went into a coma before the last injection. Right when the grief smothered my voice. Right when the phone went dead.
I guess I made arrangements and wired our Friend some funds. I don’t remember doing it, but the bank does.
I think I stayed in the shower the next day. Maybe I drank. Ate something. Wailed and wept and shit myself.
I tried finding solace in your pictures, but could only see your dying face in them.
For two nights, I was afraid to sleep. To have you haunt me. Or abandon my dreams altogether. Or to realize that everything we ‘had’ was just the deluded fantasy of a broken man-child desperate for something to Love…
…and then came the third night.
I tried writing to you, but my hands started shaking. I tried to calm down, but couldn’t find breath. I tensed and growled and stomped and shrieked and thought that the fire in my guts would explode and burn the world down, taking me with it. All the way back to You.
I wretched over the side of the balcony and collapsed. My lungs strained, and my mind reeled. I grasped for a lifeline. A soothing thought. Anything that wouldn’t grab me by the throat and stab me in the heart again.
Suddenly, I was back in the SPCA. In that room. That same moment. The one where you mewed ‘yes‘. And in that flicker of blissful memory, I let myself feel You. The grief receded. My body grew warm, and my face flushed. And then, like a foolish boy who thinks he knows the secret language of all things, I meowed back at you…
The reply was immediate, slicing through the darkness. I leapt to my feet and called out.
Another meow. Closer. Insistent.
Over the past three years I’d seen countless cats on the island, but I had never spotted one near this hilltop. Monkeys and wild dogs roam here, and food is unreliable compared to the fishing villages and tourist spots. Also, the local cats are pretty much all marmalade, black and white, spotted, tortoiseshell, or Siamese. Many sport gashes and sores from fights and tropical infections — the price of inbreeding, and a ‘closed predator’ system.
But the cat that padded up my stairs then wasn’t like them.
It was a short-haired male, which wasn’t unusual — but he sported a sleek brown coat, flecked with cream and black and gold. His muzzle was light like his belly, and each shiny whisker sprouted from a perfect dot of darkened fuzz. His ears were tall and curved, with sprouts of coffee-coloured fur inside. And then I saw his eyes — huge, gleaming, emerald eyes — ringed in charcoal swoops, like a desert prince.
He sat down in front of me and mewed once. A sharp, bright sound — not at all like the island cats I knew that begged for food, or sought shelter from the rain.
‘What do you want?’ I said, remembering to breathe. The cat stared at me for a swollen moment, and then at the chair on my deck. His face scrunched and his ears twitched. He looked like my Grade 5 teacher, waiting for one of us dumb kids to get up to speed.
So, I sat.
The cat followed, watched me get settled, and then hopped onto my lap. He walked in a tight circle, sniffing at and rubbing on and nuzzling against me, and then flopped across my chest. He gazed up at me, eyes wide and comforting, and warm rivers rolled down my cheeks. I was awestruck.
‘Did Quinn send you?’ I asked.
The cat blinked slowly…and began to purr.
He stayed there for an hour or more, melting my woes into mist. Reason returned, and I figured he’d be hungry soon. I slid him aside as peacefully as I could, and raced into town to buy some kibble. But there was no sign of him when I returned less than ten minutes later. No shadow on my doorstep. No answer to my calls in the jungle night.
I haven’t seen him since.
That doesn’t mean that the cat was never there. That the magic wasn’t real.
That I won’t reunite with him…with You…when the time comes.
We’re still married, after all. ‘Til death do us part‘ just means I have a little time.
To remember. To cherish. To be grateful.
Until I know your Love again.
(special thanks to Nazima Ali — Quinn’s servant and surrogate Mom — for her love and devotion, and for her personal photos)