When my daughter Rachel was six years old, we went to the local shelter,
looking for the perfect cat. We liked a lot of the cats we saw there, but
we were especially taken with a mother and her kittens. All the kittens
were entirely jet black, except for one. She had a small white tip to her
tail, like one bright light in the night sky. We brought her home and
called her Star.
Starry was a charmer. Rachel admired her proud manner and enjoyed even
more the secret knowledge that it was all an act. Starry could only appear
aloof for so long before leaping up into Rachel's arms to be cuddled and
stroked. As time went by, Rachel and Starry adopted certain routines. At
night when we watched TV, Starry crawled into Rachel's lap, and stayed
there, purring contentedly. Starry always rubbed her face along Rachel's
chin, ending the love fest with a gentle nip on Rachel's nose. Sometimes I
couldn't help but feel the injustice of this. I was the one who took care
of the cat, feeding, cleaning, grooming yet, Starry was clearly Rachel's
cat. Eventually, I came to love watching their cozy bond.
My little girl grew up, went to junior high and finally high
school. Starry was ten and Rachel was sixteen. Starry and Rachel were
still close, though Rachel spent less and less time at home. Starry spent
most of her day sitting on the sideboard in the dining room, looking out of
the window into the backyard. I loved seeing her as I'd pass, her glossy
black coat almost sparkling in the sunlight she loved to seek out, the
white tip of her tail brilliant against the shining black of her curled body.
One Sunday morning, early in November, Starry got out the door before we
could stop her. When Rachel's friend came over to study that evening, she
came in the door with a worried expression. "Where's Starry?" she asked.
When we told her we didn't know, she had us come outside with her. There
was a black cat lying in the street.
It was Star. The cat's body was warm and she didn't appear to be
injured. There was no blood or wounds that we could see. It was after
hours, but our vet agreed to meet us after our distraught phone
call. Rachel was upset, but holding it together. My husband Burt and I
told her to stay at home while we took Star to the vet.
Burt and I picked Starry up carefully and rushed her to the vet's
office. The vet examined her briefly before looking up at us and saying,
"I'm sorry, but she's gone."
When we got home, Rachel could tell by our faces that Starry was dead. She
turned without speaking and went to her room.
It had been a hard year for me. My father had died not long before, and I
hadn't totally come to grips with the loss. Rachel and I were in the midst
of the delicate dance mothers and teenaged daughters everywhere find
themselves performing circling, pulling away and coming together in odd
fits and spurts. I took a chance and knocked at her door. When she said
come in, I sat with her on the bed and we cried together. It was a good
cry, clearing out some more of the grief I couldn't face about my father
and bringing Rachel and I closer as we shared our sadness about Starry.
Life went on. Thanksgiving came and went. Rachel and I both found
ourselves mistaking black sweatshirts strewn on chairs or floors for our
newly missing black cat. The sideboard looked desolate, empty of the warm
presence glowing with life I'd come to expect there. Over and over, little
pangs of loss stung our hearts as the weeks went by.
I was out Christmas shopping, when I saw it. It was a Christmas tree
ornament in the shape of a "cat angel." A black cat with white wings and a
red ball between her paws. I had to get it, but bought it wondering if it
would be a happy remembrance of the cat we'd loved or a chilling reminder
of our loss.
When I got home, I painted a white tip at the end of the angel cat's long
black tail and hung the ornament on our tree.
That evening, when Rachel came in, she flopped on to the couch. She sat
staring at the Christmas tree, "spacing out" after a long day at school and
after-school sports. I was in the kitchen when suddenly I heard her
gasp. "Mom," she called. "Mom, come here!"
I walked in and found her standing in front of the tree, looking at the cat
angel with shining eyes. "Oh, Mom. It's Starry. Where did you find an
ornament with a tail like hers?"
She looked about six again. I gathered her into my arms and wonderfully
she didn't resist. We stood together, looking at the tree, feeling our
love for Starry and for each other.
Our charming, nose-nipping cat was gone, but now Starry, the Christmas
angel, would be a part of our family tradition for years to come.
Sometimes you can make your own miracles.