This poem arrived in my inbox sometime last week and when I read it this morning, I cried.
by Marjorie Kowalski Cole
The old cat sleeps
in the newly arrived sun. One more spring
has come his way
dropping a solar bath
on failing kidneys, old cat bones.
I check for the rise and fall of breath.
Once he stalked hares
across the yard, tracked down
chicken hearts with split-lentil eyes.
Fearless, disinterested, a poseur, a demideity.
He and the dog are strangers still
after years of eating side by side.
I remember times of wailing
into my couch, alone
and utterly baffled by life,
when suddenly a cat
would be sitting on my head.
Last week I pulled him snarling
from under a chair in Dr. Bacon's office,
held him while she examined his dull coat,
felt his ribs. Pressed where it hurt.
Eight pounds of fur and bone and mad as hell
but "He's certainly less anxious in your lap,"
she murmured, astonishing me.
I had no idea. Old cat, old friend,
have I reached some place inside,
added to your life
as you have to mine?
I cried not just because I love cats and two felines and a dog are the family I live with morning and night at 5406, the house with the too tall grass and the Easter Egg Lights that are still illuminated over the front window and the refrigerator that is still empty. But also because while I was coming awake Easter morning, someone else was falling asleep.
My beloved neighbor, Tommie Bedford, died on Easter in the hospital after a failed colon surgery. She suffered greatly, it's true. Not only did she battle diabetes, receiving dialysis three times a week for as long as I knew her, but she battled much emotional trauma too. She helped her husband grieve the loss of his two sisters and together they grieved the death of their young grandson, nephew and even their very own daughter, just a month and a half ago.
It surprised us all. We knew she was in pain, but like the old cat in the poem, she loved sitting on the front porch of her house next to mine, feeling the spring sun grace her with not too much heat yet while she watched her husband build a butterfly flower bed in their front yard in honor of their dead daughter.
The last time I saw her she was in workout clothes. After ringing the doorbell, I called to her through the door, "It's just me..."
"Come in," she replied. "If it were anyone else, I'd have had to put on clothes, but I don't care if you see me like this. Come on in."
I just needed a soda. The Bedfords always have Pepsi in their fridge, so I went straight there and found a cold one and returned to the living room. I was on my way into work (unrelenting) and needed an "upper" I explained to her. She laughed and I said goodbye, swooping out the door just as quickly as I'd swooped in.
Why didn't I ask her how she was feeling? I knew she'd not been well. But she looked so good, young almost, in her stretchy exercise pants, that I just ran off to my next activity.
Did I tell her I loved her? I can't remember.
Clarence told her, every day in the way he treated her. Chauffeuring her back and forth from the hospital, bringing home flowers to plant for her to look at, keeping the lights low so she could sleep when she wasn't feeling well. "Thank you," she would say to him every time they returned from wherever he had driven her. "Why do you say that?" he'd ask as they began the slow shuffle from the car to the house. "Because you don't have to do it," she'd reply.
And many husbands don't. They've forgotten the "in sickness and in health," "for better or for worse" part of the marriage covenant. Many don't. But Clarence did.
And now he's alone. The woman who hurt and ached so badly, loved living 52 years with him, and he with her. But now she's gone and Clarence is alone.
Alone. And Easter is gone. And we're both coming awake to a new reality, a new way of living.
Maybe I'll buy him a cat...