Emma “crossed over” four years ago. The wisp of her soul soared out of the animal hospital’s urban brick building and back to our second-story Santa Monica apartment, the one that Ted and I got to share with her for three short years.
Why are they holding my bed and blanket and crying so much? Emma wondered. Where’s my food, dammit? Don’t they know the sun’s going down and it’s martini time? That means time for my yummy, gravy-sauced dinner. Just like I like it. I’ll wait it out, I guess. I’m the most patient cat in the Universe, you know. She squirmed uncomfortably. But all this crying is making me sad.
When we first met I didn’t even like her kind. She was silky white, short hair that shed madly, green eyes and a sway in her butt that broadcast to the world: I’m something special.
“It’s just for six months, Mom,” my oldest daughter Valerie said, her tone an iron-clad guarantee. She’d just flown here thousands of miles from Tennessee to California after the landlord threatened to evict her for having a cat.
I watched as Emma prowled inside my tiny LA apartment. Suddenly a hummingbird zipped through the lemon bush outside. Ears pitched back, she dashed toward it, standing on her two back legs, front paws clutching the curtain-less bay window, eyes steady, ready for action.
“I’m really not a cat person, more of a dog person,” I muttered, picking at the globs of white hair already clinging to my green shabby-chic sofa.
Valerie smiled, using her fingers to brush her long blonde hair, a bit matted from the long trip. “I think you’re gonna really like her, Mom. All my roommates love Emma; she even sleeps with them when I’m gone.”
“Might be nice to have an animal around again,” I told myself – even if it was a stupid cat!
The truth is I’d been feeling so damn lonely. The chronic pain had isolated me, ate up my time, energy and money. All I could do was work, pay bills, order in cheap Thai food, watch one more Sex and the City rerun and collapse.
At first I did all the decent things you’re supposed to: fed her twice a day and cleaned the poop and pee clumps. She seemed depressed after Valerie left so I started calling her “Emma-Bemma” in a high lilting note. I told her about my pain and worries over money, and agonizing over what to do about my boyfriend Mark who’d been acting more and more strange. Eventually I had to admit that the worst was happening: he’d been stricken with a serious mental illness from his mother’s side. He was losing it, losing himself. This was serious shit.
“What should I do?” I’d ask Emma. “Can I ever bring him back? How am I going to take care of him, when I can barely take care of myself? Of us?” Emma would gaze into my eyes and snuggle closer to my chest. She was the best listener.
I can’t remember the moment my feelings toward Emma shifted from utter dislike to utter love. It wasn’t one of those explosive scenes you see in an action flick or a dramatically sweeping love story. It was subtle. One moment built upon another and then another and another.
I guess like the butterfly that’s yet to be, transformation doesn’t instantly happen. I remember the first time she curled up in my lap when I was writing. I really kind of liked it even if she got in the way of my keyboard (yes, that was annoying as hell!).
Six months came and went and Valerie was coming back to LA. We discussed her upcoming visit by phone and panic started brewing in my stomach. What if she wants Emma back? I finally came out and asked, but she assured me, “I miss Emma, Mom, she’s a special cat. But I can tell now that she’s your cat. I could never take her from you.”
In the months that followed we watched helplessly as Mark grew increasingly angry, paranoid and manic. Emma and I clung to one another even closer. One day he charged at me, yelling, fist raised. She hissed beneath my feet and flashed her tiny, sharp canines at him. I’d never seen her hiss or act aggressive to any human before. It was a sure sign that I’d lost him for good, that his illness was beyond my control.
After that Emma and I started sleeping on the sofa together, curled up as one – praying, purring and blinking through tears.
Meanwhile I was fighting yet another epic battle of neck and spine pain that had haunted me since childhood. But new symptoms were developing: jolts of intense pain shooting up the right side of my head and jaw that made me twitch and cry out and kept me up all night.
This was a fight for my life – and Emma’s. Crappy freeway commutes, long-ass meetings at work and a boyfriend who’d had five major breakdowns in seven years, but still refused to take his meds. I wanted this chapter to be over; it was taking an overwhelming toll on me. For weeks I thought seriously about suicide. One night I took three Vicodin instead of one.
It was predawn, the rose-orange light streaming through the filmy blinds of my dark bedroom. Mark was back in the hospital, so Emma and I had the place to ourselves for a while. I woke up to find Emma curled next to me, her green eyes open and searching my blue ones. We lay there together as the sun rose. Nothing was said between us, no meow for food. The connection was so powerful, mysterious, otherworldly. And then it happened: her left paw reached for my cheek and caressed me. She held it there for a good couple of minutes.
I didn’t know an animal was capable of such things, let alone a cat. In that moment I swear I heard her telepathy, her eyes pouring into mine, “I love you CJ. Please love yourself. Together, we will get through this. We must fight for what good is left in this world. We must fight for what we can still fight for and leave everything and everyone else behind. Mark is killing you, CJ. You cannot help him. Even though your heart is still beating and breaking into pieces, you must leave him.”
And so, I did.
A few years later Emma’s heart gave out and she was forced to leave her beautiful new home with Ted and me. She started doing a bit of astral travel and landed one day in endless fields of lavender among other humans, dogs, rabbits, birds, cats and all sorts of souls.
In the corner of the field she noticed a gathering of cats. It felt comfortable to be among her own kind again so she approached, slowly. An orange-tabby youngster was bragging about his former life prowling the streets of Nashville. After a while of suffering his tall tales, Emma, not known to speak up much, couldn’t hold her tongue any longer, “Let me tell you all . . . I got to love CJ and Ted.”
All the other kitties stopped chattering and purring, even the orange tabby teen. Suddenly the cats stepped back and Emma strutted and swayed her way to the center circle. Some cats, languishing and bored in the back, shuffled closer.
“I truly miss them. But there is no reason for sorrow. We rode a wave, always plunging into joy and immersing ourselves in love. I wore their love like a beautiful coat every day. The three of us bonded forever. And I consider myself a very lucky cat having been born and lived in a Milky Way of lucky stars.”
“Will you ever go back to them?” asked the orange tabby.
“Well, yes,” Emma nodded. “When I’m ready. They think I’m gone, but I can never be gone. We’re all in the midst of a story that goes on and on…never ending. The rest is illusion you know.”
“Tell us more, tell us more!” the crowd mewed excitedly.
“Very well,” she licked her left front paw, dainty as a princess, stoic as a soldier.
“You see, hope is hard to come by my dears. Sorely missed when gone and not found around any old corner. I gave them both hope. That’s partly why they love and miss me so much. Of course, hope was my special gift to CJ.”
“Ahh,” said the orange tabby. “But tell us, how do you make a dirty martini?”
The other day I was telling Ted how Emma and I used to play this silly little game where we’d chase each other around my small apartment and I’d giggle out, “I’m going to get you! I’m going to get you!” But strangely, as soon as we moved in with Ted she stopped playing it. I tried to get her into the chase but she’d just prance away from me, tail swishing, butt high in the air.
“I don’t get it. She used to love that game. Wonder why she stopped?” I asked him.
“Maybe she played the game for you, to see you through your loneliness,” my agnostic man responded. “Maybe she realized you didn’t need it anymore.”
I still miss Emma. I still talk to her sometimes through an animal communicator. You can roll your eyes now but I don’t really care. I know that this amazing creature came into my life to help me evolve. To rescue me.
You see, Emma the white cat understood what I’d long forgotten: Love, Kindness and Hope are real and potent healing energies. We all need them as much as we need food, water and oxygen if we are ever to survive and thrive on this planet – humans and non-humans alike.