The Long Goodbye

I’ve intended to write about my cat Wilkie for a long time. He died in October 2016, and I’ve not been able to do it until now.

I rescued Wilkie from a barn when he was about six weeks old. Over his lifespan of 17 years, he rescued me many times over.

It’s hard to eulogize an animal. Even one as unique as blue-eyed, ring-tailed Wilkie. For as much as they add to our lives, pets don’t have the makings of a standard obituary: hobbies, causes, achievements.

Yes, Wilkie had his own distinct personality. Yes, he did cute things and confounding things, as all cats do. No, he was not a YouTube sensation, but he had a piss-poor agent.

However, there’s this: Wilkie once saved my life, literally, though not deliberately. It’s one of my life stories that he and I carried between us, not as a secret, necessarily, but as a ghost that draws on the energy of one creature (Wilkie) to haunt another (me). Wilkie is gone and I can now deny the ghost exists; if one mind holds hostage the memory of an event, did it ever happen?

For good or ill, buried with Wilkie are parts of my past. Whole hunks of time that nearly were the death of me are feeding a plum tree that fluffs up into pink blossoms, cotton candy-like, in springtime.

It was a recent New York Times article that finally got me writing about Wilkie’s irreplaceable role in my life. “When you lose a dog, you not only lose the animal that has been your friend, you lose a connection to the person you have been,” Jennifer Finney Boyle wrote.

Wilkie witnessed my adult life longer than anyone. We’d been together through six moves, two marriages (the second one is still intact), three other cats, and a series of black patches that he pushed us through with the tiny engine of his purring.

I miss him so keenly because of the cat he was—his Wilkie-ness—and also what he bore witness to. Ours was a bond like no other, and ours was a history that held only us two—and the ghosts between us.

Wilkie, 17, and I taking a sick day. One of us was actually sick.



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