Wednesday, April 16, 2014

On Unconditional Love

Back in August of 1998, the man who would eventually become my husband (and then, my ex-husband) and I took a road trip. Headed south through Illinois, we passed through the town of Benld. Never having been through this booming metropolis before, we cracked up; "I'd like to buy a vowel," we kept repeating to one another. There was just nothing un-funny about it. It was a little stupid, but it sure tickled our funny bone.

He was great at seeing the world in a unique way.
A few months later, after the guy and I settled into our home together, we decided a pet might be nice. This will likely surprise some of you, but the truth is ... I am not a cat person. I'm a dog person. A big dog person. I don't like animals that I could crush rolling over in bed. But I don't have a dog lifestyle, and I didn't back then, either, so we settled on a cat. It would have to be a shelter kitty, so we headed to Kendall County Animal Control to see who might be a good match for us.

I wasn't wild about getting a cat, so I didn't expect what happened next. As I walked past the row of cages, I felt the slightest pressure on my left shoulder; the sweetest little furboy had his paw on my shoulder. I was done; I didn't choose him, he chose me.

The adoption papers were signed, and because we'd already prepared the house for our new addition, he came home with us right away.

Benld's the name. Lap-sittin's the game.
That first night, I woke up several times with him sitting on my pillow, eating my hair. Within a few weeks we were able to break him of this habit, but he never stopped giving kitty kisses. His sandpaper tongue was a common exfoliant.

Naming him was difficult, because he just didn't seem to tell us what to call him. He was, however, a little bit stupid; sort of the frat boy version of a cat. He would beg for food, come when called, and meet me at the door when he heard my car. After a few months of trying different names, one finally stuck:


He became my closest companion. His affection for me was endless; he wanted to be wherever I was whenever I was home. Sometimes it seemed he wanted to crawl right up my nose, gross though that sounds. Nothing made him happier than having me nearby.

When the ex and I parted ways, he sensed my sadness and seemed to take some of it on so I didn't have to shoulder it all myself. The night my ex moved out, he started sleeping on his pillow. He made being alone not so alone, after all.

He made it okay.

Let sleeping cats lie ... on their own pillow, apparently.
He loved everyone he met. Sure, he could be a little skittish from time to time, but once he trusted you, you had a friend for life. Especially if you "accidentally" dropped a bit of chicken on the floor. Yes, he would beg for food at the table. See? I told you; he was a little stupid, but crazy like a fox.

About 18 months ago, he had a major life change that really seemed to make him happy. He and I moved in with my sister Pat, and he got to have another person to love, full time. He was constantly providing us with snuggles and purrs, and singing the song of his people. It was an easy exchange - food and chin scratches for love and kitty kisses.

He always let you know that you were loved.

He always wanted to be where I was. Always.
Recently my big guy turned 16 years old. And because I have this special combination of being both logical and emotional, I knew one day hard decisions would need to be made. I also knew I would hate every minute of it. That ambiguous "one day" was today.

As unbelievable as it is, my love-filled boy's heart was giving out. Sure, I could have made my way into the poorhouse and tried some heroic measures to buy us a little time, but the truth of it is, that would've been for me, not for him. Up until last night, he showed no sign of sickness; he was my best pal, showering me with love and letting me hold him like a baby. That he should suffer heart failure is just beyond my imagination, but that's where we're at.

Close talker!
So here's what I know for sure: Animals know how to do unconditional love way better than humans. Benld taught me so much about how to love. It didn't matter if I were cranky or tired or hungry or angry or sad; with him in my lap, I felt love. If I forgot to feed him, he still loved me. If I accidentally stepped on his tail, he still loved me. If the litter box went too long without being cleaned, he still loved me. If I yelled because he took a crap on the rug, he still loved me.

His constant message was love. The song of his people was love. He never stopped loving.

And so this morning, I sat with him in my lap, and we said our goodbyes. He looked up at me with those big green eyes, and I could see that it was okay. His heart may have been giving out, but it could still love. In the end, that was just about all he was able to do, but damn, did he do that well.

I will miss him always, but by the same token, I will always feel grateful for that day when he chose me to be his Person. 
His final photo, one last nap on our bed before signing off.  


Sara said...

Oh, Margaret, I could hardly bear to read this. My heart cries for you as does the rest of me. I know just exactly how Benid loved and cherished you and how your feelings (and Pat's) were given right back to him. No matter what anyone says, there's no love like a kitty/cat who loves you. AND, you don't have to walk them in all kinds of weather. I am SO sorry.

Early said...

I'm so, so, so sorry, Mags. I know what a source of positive energy Benld has been for you over the years.

Anonymous said...

<3 I will forever see him sitting in your suitcase as you were packing for a weekend jaunt. I love you more, well, just because today. xoxox