I was lying on a wicker couch on the porch. It was boiling outside, but I was in the shade.
An iPod-induced quiet. And then I hear Zach.
“Boy is Brave Little Soul sleeping hard. Is she okay?”
I have to ask him to repeat, picking the pills from my ears. As I do so, I open my eyes and look at his outstretched hands.
Her body is spread across his palms. Her head lolls. I know immediately.
I get up, keeping as calm and casual as I can. He looks up. His eyes are looking for answers. The kind you’re supposed to get form your dad. The comforting kind.
I don’t know what to tell him. In spite of the teenage bravado he’s been trying on lately, it was the little boy that stood in front of me. I didn’t have the heart to tell him. It was a moment not dissimilar to the one where you say, “Of course, Santa’s real.”
How would you feel? You’re holding her in your hands. You’ve named her, and it’s the name that’s sticking. You’ve connected with her. And though she looked a little peeked earlier in the day, this is the last thing you would have expected.
So I lied. I told him that’s the way kittens sleep sometimes.
“With their eyes open?”
I lifted her paw and let it fall. She’d just left. But she was, indeed, gone. I put a hand over her tummy. I held it there for a moment.
“Why don’t you put her down and let her sleep.”
“You’re sure she’s okay?”
He listened to me. He trusted me. And I sold it. The lie. He trusted me over his own better judgement.
That’s the power of a parent, I suppose. A power I wield very carefully. Because I know. How easy it corrupts.
He set her back down where he found her. His mind couldn’t resist one last skeptical glance, but that was it. And that was that. Satisfied of his dad’s assessment, he shifted gears and asked me if I wanted to go four-wheeling.
I told him we’d go in a few minutes.
“Head on in, and finish watching your show with Grandpa Bob.”
“What are you gonna do?”
“I need to go to the bathroom, get a drink…”
“I’ll wait for you. Get ’em ready.”
Visions of a driveway, a Jeep full of little boys all ready to party down 12-year-old style, Sydney rounding the corner of the house, her face all agony and tears. Head to the park and play for an hour. No, don’t ask any more questions. Just go for one hour, then we’ll have your birthday. Go. Now. …She saw a mouse in the house. Now. I’ll take care of it. Go.
“No. You head in for a few minutes. I’ll be right behind you.”
I poked my head inside and called out to Robbye.
Brave Little Soul needed to be laid to rest. And for Zach, there was all the time in the world for harsh reality. Today was the last day all four of us–Robbye, Sydney, Zach, and I–would enjoy the farm together. Because in a few day’s time, Sydney would fly. Of course, she would come back, but never to the nest. Never quite the same. So this was a day for enjoyment. And peace for Zach.
And once again, it was my job to keep that intact. That is, after all, what a parent does. Whenever possible, protects and preserves things like that. Conjures tender mercies from dust and air.
But all the while my heart was broken. Not for Zach. Sometime soon, we would reveal the truth, and he’d by fine. He simply deserved to be spared the shock. He deserved a buffer. He was, and would be, all good.
For me, it wasn’t quite so easy. How could something so small fill up your heart so? And not just me, but everyone who crossed her path? Pot belly, mangy fur, and rheumy eyes and all. That tiny cat was twenty ounces of personality plus. She’d risen above her station with class and gusto. Farm cat be damned! Brave Little Soul could have ruled the world.
It had been on the tip of my tongue all day to suggest to Robbye we take her home with us. I almost asked the last time we were up there, but better judgement–not too mention my knee-jerk revulsion at bringing a sixth pet into the house–took the day. Sometimes better judgement sucks ass.
As I buried her, Robbye kept me company. And then she hugged me and held me as I cried a little. And she cried with me. For Brave Little Soul, who was just another little farm cat–one in a zillion. Nothing to be remembered. Nothing, by the world’s standards, to even merit a moment’s pause. But by our reckoning, and by virtue of touching our lives so profoudly simply by showing up and being her amazing little self, had earned a pause and more. She deserved to be mourned, if only for a moment. And she derserved to be remembered.
For years to come, when I recall the animals that had the most significant impact on my life, Brave Little Soul with be right up there. I don’t know why. She just will.
At the edge of Rob’s parents’ yard, there is a little pet cemetery. A touching memorial garden of all their beloved pets who are laid to rest. Robbye promised me someday soon we’d make a small paving stone in honor or Brave Little Soul and lay it there. That made me smile.
I’m looking forward to that.