Last September, I was trying really, really hard to get into the habit of going to the gym every other day (I can’t really say “back” in the habit because I’ve never been able to sustain this for more than a few weeks at a time. But that’s another story.) Anyway, I was doing really well for a while – I even went twice in one day at one point – and one night, when I was walking across the parking lot to my apartment, I saw her.
A very small, very gregarious female cat – or was she really a kitten? – with chocolate tortoiseshell markings, including only one tan toe. She happily followed me up the two flights of stairs to my apartment, rubbing up against my legs so often she almost tripped me. I gave her some of our apartment cat, Jinx’s, food, and a small cup of water. She ate so much her little belly swelled up. When I picked her up (not something I recommend with stray cats, btw …) I could feel her tiny ribcage vibrating as she purred. I wasn’t sure what to do with her that night, so I left her outside with some more food and water. In the morning, she was gone.
I named her Esther, after Esther Summerson of Dickens’ Bleak House, not after Ester Dean or ester the molecule.
Not pictured: Esther. Source.
I would see her a few times over the course of the next month or so. I took to walking around the apartment complex after dinner, hoping to run into her. Once I met a somewhat lighter tortoiseshell that looked to be about the same age. I decided it was her sister and named her Aggie, after agate the stone, not after Texas A&M students.
Pictured: Reveille, not Aggie. I have to admit, she’s pretty cute. Source?
I also met a cream tabby who may or may not have been related to the kittens, a fluffy orange cat, a big gray tabby, and a very young gray kitten who lived near the gym, watched over protectively by its mother. None of them was as friendly as Esther.
I’m sure she befriended many families, and especially children, in the complex. I made sure to have some cans of cat food in the pantry for whenever I saw her. It was hard not to want to adopt her, but I knew Jinx would have a fit, and I had no money to give Esther the care she needed. I debated catching her and calling an animal rescue each time I saw her, but something always held me back. (Honestly, it was probably because I was too lazy.)
One morning, I ran into her on my way to school. I stopped to pet her and play with her as usual, but to my dismay she quite insistently began to follow me. I didn’t want her to follow me out into the street and get hurt, so I took a pen from my backpack, played with her for a bit longer, then tossed the pen a short distance away. While she was occupied looking for it, I bolted. I ran far enough away that she could no longer see me, nor could I hear her mews when she realized I was gone.
When I came back, the pen was there, but Esther was not.
That was towards the beginning of October. As days passed, then weeks, I began to fear that something had happened to Esther. I wondered if the last memory I would have would be of her following me, looking for food and hugs.
One by one, the other cats disappeared. The grey kitten and his mother, then Aggie, then the bossy-looking orange fluffball. Finally, all that was left was a single grey-and-white cat with amber eyes and a fat mi-ke (can I still call it a mi-ke cat if it’s not a Japanese Bobtail?)
Mi-ke Japanese Bobtails are mostly white calicoes. NYK.
Time passed, and as much as I didn’t want it to, the school year came to an end. Fast forward to last night, when I was just getting home after a long day of saying goodbye and wrapping up as many loose ends as I could. I walked across the parking lot, sweaty, limping (my knees have been acting up once again; I had PFPS back in high school), my face stained with tears.
I saw him first, a big fluffy orange cat eating something off the ground.
Then I saw her, a somewhat larger, very gregarious female cat with a beautiful fluffy tail and one tan toe. It was Esther!
I knelt and gathered her into my arms for a brief moment.
“You’re the last person I wanted to say goodbye to, Esther,” I said. “Thank you for coming back.”
All these weeks I’ve wanted closure – neat, concise, satisfying endings to the many relationships and stories I left unfinished at school. I didn’t get a lot of those. It’s not often enough, when you say goodbye to someone, that you know it will be the last time you see them, at least for a long time.
I got that with Esther.