|Bella on her "Bart" cushion, taken shortly before we lost her.|
Thirteen years ago this spring we went to a pet adoption fair run by a local cat group. Our cat Spooky was suffering from renal failure and we knew she wouldn't be with us much longer, but we hoped that having another cat might help things.
We'd lost Puffin, my first beloved cat girl the year before. She'd been with me since graduate school and I didn't think I could ever love a cat that way again. Especially not a brown tabby.
We went to the fair and met a cat the group thought we might like. No chemistry.
And then I looked over into a carrier and there was a brown tabby girl looking at me. She mewed at me, as if to say, "What took you so long to get here?"
She wasn't truly a brown tabby--she was what is called "calico". Brown stripes, some white on her face and a white bib and belly--her "apron", the Man called it. Swirling brown and red fur patterns on the back of her ears. One red striped back leg. A striped tail with a little tan at the tip.
Her given name was "Holly" or "Mama". She'd been found with 5 kittens and had been such a good mother she'd nursed the kittens to the point of developing mastitis. But now the kittens were grown and she was ready for a new home.
When we went into a room with her, she purred and rubbed around our ankles. She sniffed baby JR. She was calm with SC, then 5 years old.
She was our girl.
A week or so later, she came home and from early on, it was clear that we were her people. And so we were for 13 years.
She became "Mama Bella Underfoot". The Man came up with "Bella", long before the Worst Vampire Books Ever Written made it fashionable for girls and pets. And the "Underfoot" was because she often nearly tripped me up early on!
She was there when poor Spooky died that summer. She was there when we adopted Bart that fall. For the next 12 years they lived together much as an old married couple--sometimes playing, sometimes bickering, occasionally curling up together in amity.
When he died, so suddenly last year, she spent hours in the spots where he had been. We knew she was lonely. We hoped that adopting Molly would help--and I think it did a bit. But she wasn't Bart. And Bella was nearly 15 and started having stomach troubles. Odds are it was more than the irritable bowel problems or giardia. It was something bad.
The weekend before she died, she spent most of her time on a black cushion that looked like a cat. Like Bart. But she also spent time curled on the windowsill on a blanket where they both used to take turns sleeping.
The night before she died, she managed to get onto my bed and curled up on the pillow behind my head, as she has so often done over the years. I find myself reaching back to pet her in the middle of the night, just as I still expect, even after a year, to find Bart lolling against my legs. But they're gone.
Bella was all of ours, but she was mine most of all. I wasn't her "cat mother"--we were co-mothers.
We understood each other. She was there with me through everything. She has left a hole in my heart.
Yet I remember that I didn't think I could love another cat the way I had loved Puffin. And Bella taught me I could love another cat that much. Perhaps even more. I was so lucky to find her.
I'm not sure I will be as lucky again, but poor sweet Molly the kitten/cat needs company. Bella didn't love her, but they were companions and Molly has never been alone. She is bewildered and clingy. We will have to find her a companion, and I know that somewhere out there a cat is waiting for us.
I don't believe in heaven. But I still hope there IS such a place and that Bella is there with Nanay right now, with Bart and with Tatay and with my father. With Puffin and Spooky.
What I do know is that they are all in my heart. And will be forever.