From the moment you followed me home from St. Nicholas Avenue in Manhattan seven years ago, you made it clear that our partnership was an open-ended engagement; one that you reserved the right to terminate at any time.
Sadly, that contract expired this past Memorial Day when I found you dead on the side of the road, just weeks after publishing a column about how to keep our pets safe when they escape outside.
It's a twist of fate some might find ironic, or maybe even just desserts for allowing you to be an outdoor cat, but I'm okay with it.
While some might think I'm an irresponsible pet owner, we both know that I was simply surrendering to your persistence to live life on your own terms.
The guilt I feel about your passing has nothing to do with how you died and everything to do with I lived: too self-involved in my New York lifestyle; never there to hear your cries, reported by neighbors who worried for your well being when you were left alone for more than a few hours at a time; too in love with my little dog PJ to include you as an equal member of our pack.
PJ's love for me was unconditional to the point of canonization. She was my fifth appendage, magnetically attached to my side at every possible moment. Compared to your mercurial, "No, I'll let YOU know when you love me," mindset, her love language was more in lockstep with my own brand of human loyalty.
Behind your stoic façade were clues that you were more of a pack animal than you revealed: the vet's report of your tendency for social eating and the suggestion that we have our meals together whenever possible; your middle-of-the night yowls, demanding that we play fetch with the random sock or balled up plastic shopping bag that you dragged onto the bed; the picture of you with your arm draped around PJ's shoulder as she sat upright in her winter jacket, anxiously awaiting a visit to the doctor.
Perhaps in your aloofness you were taking cues from PJ's jealous lead. Remember that time when I was meowing at you like a mama cat and she upstaged you with a long, protracted yawn that ended in a high-pitched "Me-OW"? Delighted, I begged her to do it again, in part because of the novelty of a meowing dog, in part to make sure I hadn't hallucinated the entire episode.
PJ faithfully obliged, but when I implored her to do it a third time, she just rolled her eyes, making it known that she'd only meowed twice to prove she could.
Your grief over PJ's passing took its toll in the form of uncharacteristic clinginess and fur loss that made your hind legs look like little naked pork chops. In your darkest hours, you found respite by escaping outdoors. At first, I felt like a horrible mom for allowing you to play on the sidewalk; once I remembered our contract, I knew that having long-suffering indoor house cat for the next 15 years was not an option.
So instead of worrying about your safety while you were out carousing, I resolved to include you as much as possible when the new dog came along. Every time Pup showered me with kisses, I made a point to tell her, "It's Puss' turn," and make you the focus of our love fest. You accompanied us on our morning and evening constitutionals, even though you refused to walk on a leash.
At the time of your passing, I was just getting to know you, my favorite revelation being how much you loved cuddling in your sleep. This required that I lay on my side.
Although a lower back injury precluded me from holding you all night long, I hope you know that's how I wanted to love you, even though I couldn't.
You came into my world by way of a city street and that's exactly how you left it.
Finding you alone on the boulevard was a devastating discovery, but it came as no surprise. I could see you slipping away in the months before your passing; first in your dismay when we moved from your beloved block on East Gordon to the beautiful new home across town; then again when you contracted a 104.5 fever in April.
I could tell by the slight but measurable changes in your personality that you were ready to go. I'm just glad that the amazing team at Central Animal Hospital helped buy me an extra month to love you as best I could.
Thank you, sweet Puss-Puss, for teaching me that true love comes in many forms other than adulation. Most of all, thanks for never giving up on me.
Until we meet again.