Monday 31 October 2016

Lessons on a different kind of love

This is a story about love.

When we were growing up my sister and I weren't allowed to have any pets. A couple of goldfish was as far as we could take it but mum was freaked out by anything with fur. So as we grew into adults we never really felt compelled to take in a pet. Then, one December day something happened.

The weather was awful that weekend. The rain just kept falling constantly. My sister had come back home to spend some time with me and my parents as she was ill. We were all cooped up inside having our cups of tea in the morning, nothing out of the ordinary really, but then my dad opened the front door to the sound of a cat meow coming from the bonnet of my car. As I rushed upstairs to get my car keys, a muddy coloured blur brushed past my legs and came to a halt in my parent's room. 'It's a kitten!' I yelled. He stood and looked at me and as I scooped him up he wasn't frightened or stressed. In fact, when I took him downstairs he greeted everyone with a little headbutt on their legs or hands. He looked remarkably comfortable in our home and we all kept admiring how perfect he looked.

A gorgeous, brown tabby without a ruffle anywhere on his fur considering he was calling out in distress from being stuck somewhere in my car. His eyes were bright and his markings were exquisite. His spots made him look like a little leopard with a stripey racoon's tail. His body moved so gracefully; he slinked in and out of rooms, round corners, through the air when he was jumping from wall to wall. He was just so beautiful. People who saw him always made a point of saying how pretty he was. Even my mum who would usually run a mile if a cat was anywhere near her, seemed at ease and softened around the edges when it came to this cat.

It was like he fell out of the sky with the rainfall that day and chose for us to be his family.

And so this is how we came to have a pet cat. It was like he fell out of the sky with the rainfall that day and chose for us to be his family. I named him Romeo. Romeo because he was so handsome that everyone who met him, even non-cat lovers, swooned and fell in love with him. So the name Romeo seemed fitting for a cat that caused such a stir in people's hearts. Romeo Bengal Deb - Lyrical, beautiful and poetic just like the lead in the Shakespearean play...

As he quickly became a part of the family, we often wondered where he came from. There's a saying that cats choose who they want to live with and that they come into our lives for a reason. So why, we often discussed, did he choose us?

Where there used to be blank spaces and mundane silences, Romeo added colour and sound.

As time went on Romeo added a different dynamic to our family's little life. Where there used to be blank spaces and mundane silences, Romeo added colour and sound. Mum and dad finally had something in common to talk about everyday. I found myself learning about the responsibility of looking after someone other than myself.

Weeks turned into months and Romeo weaved into the ebb and flow of our days. I'd wake up to get ready for work before going downstairs. I'd find him waiting patiently on the armchair to greet me hello with a headbutt on my palm. I'd put his breakfast down, he'd go out the door. He'd come back at lunchtime before my dad went to work and then slept for the afternoon. When one of us would come home in the evening he'd wake lazily and have his tea before hopping out the door again to explore his little neighbourhood.

Sounds pretty ordinary. But this was no ordinary cat to us. He was never territorial when it came to other cats. Always striving to be 'Mr Sociable', he'd actually invite other cats into our house so that he could share his food with them! He'd always want to be around to see what we were doing when we were at home at the weekends rather than go off and be by himself the way most cats do. Mum always said he just wanted to be involved in everything so he didn't miss out.

And then my gran got ill, really ill. And the most wonderful thing happened. He would walk to her house on his own accord from time to time and spend the afternoon there with my gran. He'd just curl up next to her on the sofa and they would nap together. I dubbed him 'Nurse Cat' because when he was around, her spirit would lift. Even when she would walk from her house to mine, he would walk alongside her, slowing his pace down to match hers, always slightly ahead but looking back to keep an eye on her. There were so many interactions like this, I could write a book full of them. He'd become so embedded within our hearts that when he passed away we were all in complete devastation.

It happened on a Saturday. The same day of the week as when he arrived, and on a weekend my sister decided to come up to visit too. For some reason on this night, just less than a year after he padded his way into our lives, he decided to venture out a bit further than usual and got hit by a car on a busy main road. It was only an hour or so after I saw him leave my gran's house as normal that I got a call from the vet hospital.

There was nothing that could be done. The impact of the car meant that he sustained an injury to his spine that left him paralysed from his mid-section down. He couldn't feel or move his back legs. He wouldn't be able to walk or have any control over his organs in that area of the body so the kindest option was to put him to sleep.

Even though he'd been knocked by a car he still looked perfect. Not a single scratch on his body, no blood, no ruffle on his fur. He was beautiful. Thankfully he wasn't in any pain and he called to us like he still recognised us and in a way to say 'I'm okay, let's go home'. It was heartbreaking. I just kissed his head and said 'thank you' several times over before the vet administered the euthanasia. And then he was asleep.

I was just so grateful to the kind man that found him and took him straight into the hospital. If it wasn't for him, Romeo could've stayed out all night on his own before we found him. At least this way he was given something for any pain and we got to say goodbye...

Animals respect this planet more than humans ever have. They have a relationship with nature that we should pay more attention to and learn from.

I've never understood until now why people grieved so much for pets. It's like as humans we have this arrogance that makes us believe in some sort of hierarchy of species. We should grieve for animals less than humans because we're at the top of the food chain? I know that's bullshit now. Animals deserve a place on this earth just as much as we do. If anything more so. Humans stomp around this planet poking and prodding it and devouring all of it's resources. Animals respect this planet more than humans ever have. They have a relationship with nature that we should pay more attention to and learn from. So if anything, we should grieve for them and bid farewell to them in the most sincerest and heartfelt ways.

The grief my family and I feel is no different to losing a member of the family because he was a member of the family. I've been writing and editing this since yesterday, it happened two nights ago and I still get upset when I think about it. I cried all night that night and pretty much all of the following day. It's like there are little parts of my world that are empty now. I still expect to open the front door and see him running in from under the car, or find him jumping up on the windowsill to be let back in, or hear his little paw steps pitter-patter down the stairs.

When life makes you feel emotions like this I always think about the things that I have learnt from the experience. Romeo, I believe, came into our lives to teach me and my family about love. A different kind of love that I've never experienced before. He taught me how to open up my heart and create space to love an animal. A kind of love that crawls into your heart and takes you by surprise. He taught me that I have the ability to love any living thing, not just a person that you're connected to by blood. This version of love never existed in me before.

You open up your homes to these animals but you don't quite realise how much you open up your hearts to them until they go...

You open up your homes to these animals but you don't quite realise how much you open up your hearts to them until they go... They climb into them with their little paws and occupy a space like a fuzzy little ball that warms up the rest of your soul when you stroke them, cuddle them, watch them sleep. And the love is completely pure and unconditional because pets don't ask for anything back. They don't care about material things. About what you look like, the colour of your skin, whether you're fat or thin. They don't make demands of you or make you feel embarrassed or hurt. All they want is to be with you. To be a part of your lives.

He left just as suddenly as he came but the impact he's had on our lives is profound. The day he died was also Diwaali, the Hindu festival of lights. He brought so much light into our lives in such a short space of time that it was only fitting that he went on the day that celebrates light.

Thank you Romeo for all the light, magic and love.
The light in me bows to the light in you.

Just love,

Your friend, Rina xoxo

I dedicate this post to Romeo's family and friends who all have their own stories of how he added a bit of brightness to their lives.


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