Rosie was a tuxedo cat who was abandoned by someone up the hill from us, and joined the 'tribe' of Spenser and Colby Jack, our neighbors' cats.
Steve and Barb (of the famous front porch parties I told you about in the summer) live in a rehabbed Colonial that has no front porch, so no shelter for the cats. Because everyone visits a lot in our neighborhood, sits on everyone else's steps or porch to chat, the cats figure they have the same rights. Spenser, a long-haired tuxedo, and Colby Jack (named after the cheeses for his color) slept in a cozy pile on the wicker rocking chair on our porch when it rained, or when they needed a good rest.
One day, I noticed a third cat in the pile. I put out another plate of food, another bowl of water. Barb thought her name was Rose and that she'd been left when her family moved away. It was soon clear what might have prompted that, if her owners had adopted her, hoping to be loved by her. Ron called her the Princess of Darkness. She apparently never felt grateful for the food and shelter, always ran away when we tried to pet her, and never learned to trust us. I kept thinking, "Tomorrow, she'll respond to me." She never did, even after 12 years. Eventually, we concluded she probably wasn't in her right mind. She did love Spenser and Colby, though, and the tight little unit they all made on the rocking chair.
Last year Colby died, followed closely by Spenser. They were both in their late teens - a good life for cats. We mourned them and I felt certain Rosie would just die of loneliness. But she lived on, though she began to look very frail. Taking her to the vet was not an option because she never, ever let me touch her. I was sure forcing her into a box would kill her before old age did. So I lined a document box with fleece, covered it in plastic, and prepared her for the winter on our porch.
She lived out there until February, then one cold night I was carrying laundry downstairs and found her curled up on a basement step. I made a bed for her inside, under a table in the hallway that's out of the way, and she stayed there until May when she moved back out onto the chair.
As summer wore on, it became clear she was dying - whether from old age or illness, I'm not sure. We had no idea how old she was. I was determined to let her die on her own terms, but it became harder and harder to watch her become even thinner. Early in August, I decided we'd give her the rest of the summer because did seem to love those puddles of sunshine on the porch, then I'd find a way to catch her and take her to be put down. Our vet will sedate your pet and let you hold it while he puts it to sleep. It's a comforting way to part company. I made a mental deadline of September 1st.
That day was a Sunday. I came home from Mass and Rosie was sitting in her chair. I reached down to scratch her between the ears, prepared for her to shrink from me as she always did. But she let me touch her! That had never happened. I was amazed. I went inside to get her food and when I came out the chair was empty. Thinking she'd gotten past me and back into the house, I went back inside, looking for her. I never found her. I'm sure she went off to die alone.
I cried for days. I wanted her loneliness and her suffering to be over, but I wanted to hold her while she went on her way. After all the years invested, it would have made me feel better.
Then it occurred to me that those were my feelings, but it was HER life. She'd found a way to survive when she'd been abandoned, and became one tough cookie. It's hard to know what was going on in her mind, but survival apparently involved depending on herself and no one else.
That made me think about love. Romantic love, of course, has to be reciprocal, or you couldn't live every moment with each other and raise children together, unless you were getting back from the other person, all the love you put into the relationship. But love of other people and love of animals, doesn't have to be returned to be effective. Often, we love because what we get back makes us feel good, appreciated. But in cases where you don't get that, it doesn't really matter. Love does what it does anyway. We gave Rosie a home and kept her going until the last minute. If she ever related to me at all, it was that moment when she let me scratch her head.
Also, about love. In defiance of all science, love is the one thing that doesn't leave an empty space when you take it from one heart and give it to another. More love takes its place, fills you up, gives you more than you had before. So we should give it to everyone, everywhere so that there's just more and more.
That's what Rosie taught me.