Shortly before Christmas in 2007, I was being forced out of my downtown Cincinnati apartment. In the few months I lived there, I had massive electrical problems, no working stove, no hot water in the bathroom and a heating system that didn’t exist. None of that mattered. Despite all the issues I was having living there, the courts and the landlord said I had to leave. I wasn’t paying my rent.
A friend who had a truck moved most of my furniture, books, pictures and dishes to his basement. I had another friend who said I could stay with him until I figured things out. This was all good, but I didn’t know what to do about Phoebe.
Phoebe was my cat, a stray my kids talked me into adopting 13 years earlier. She wasn’t very friendly. Phoebe liked my son and daughter but had no interest in strangers at all.
In the years that I had her, I think she came to view me as her mother. She counted on me for her food, to play with her on the rare occasions she felt like playing and to take care of her when she was sick.
Despite her faults, to my kids and me she was family. But I couldn’t take her with me where I was going. When telling my son this problem, he offered to take her to live with him in his apartment. This way she would still be a part of our lives.
The evening before I was to leave my downtown apartment, I made arrangements with my son to pick her up. I knew it was going to be pure hell getting Phoebe in that pet carrier. She hated that cage.
Earlier in the day, I put the cage in my bedroom for Phoebe to get used to seeing. In my head, I had developed a plan as to how to get her in it.
About 20 minutes before my son was to pick her up, I got a piece of lunchmeat from my refrigerator.
I let Phoebe smell it and, of course, she wanted it. I laid the lunchmeat on the floor near the cage. As she started to eat, I wrapped a towel around her body and quickly, very quickly, lowered her into the cage and closed the door.
There was silence for several seconds, then Phoebe made a loud cry from deep down in her throat. It was a sound I’ll never forget. Only a few minutes later, my son had Phoebe in that cage and in his car taking her to his apartment.
In the weeks and months that followed, Phoebe’s cry from that cage stayed with me. I felt tremendous guilt for what I had done to her. I was the person who had taken care of her for all those years. She trusted me and I had tricked her. I had betrayed her.
I stayed with my friend for a while, then moved to a motel in Newport, then relocated to a studio apartment in Westwood. After that, I finally started dealing with my depression — something I had been putting off for much too long.
During sessions with my therapist, it was very difficult for me to talk about Phoebe. I told him what I had done to her; how I had tricked her into that pet carrier and how it was eating me up inside.
My therapist told me I wasn’t being reasonable with myself. He said I had done everything I could, that I actually had helped save her life. I didn’t buy any of it. I had done something wrong to a family member. I couldn’t tell the story without crying.
Through medication and therapy, my depression got better. Still, I couldn’t bring myself to visit Phoebe at my son’s place. I thought for sure she now hated me. I didn’t know how I would react to that, but after my son bought his house, I knew I would need to pay a visit. I wanted to see his new home and, in turn, it was time to see Phoebe.
There she was in his bedroom on his bed. We stared at one another for a while, then she meowed at me. I sat on the bed, rubbed her head and scratched her chin and she started to purr. With that purring, tears filled my eyes.
She didn’t hate me after all. My son was now her mother, but she still had affection for me, too. She had trusted me and I had betrayed her — but she wasn’t holding it against me. On that afternoon visiting my son’s new home, a giant weight had finally been lifted from my heart.
Shortly before Christmas in 2010, Phoebe passed away. She was 16 years old. At the end of her life, she was going blind and had other ailments that was causing her pain. My son made the right decision in having her put to sleep.
I didn’t know she would be gone in only a matter of days, but about a week before her death, I was at my son’s house visiting again. There was Phoebe on that same bed. Despite her failing eyesight, she knew me right away and started to purr.
Again, I rubbed her head and scratched her chin. She continued to purr. We were still friends, and while I thought I was simply saying hello to her yet again, I’m thankful to have had the chance to say goodbye.
CONTACT LARRY GROSS: firstname.lastname@example.org