71: Healing Heartache

71: Healing Heartache

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Very Good, Very Bad Cat

Healing Heartache

Fun fact: According to the Delta Society, the presence of an animal produces positive results in safety, self-esteem and in dealing with loneliness and depression.

The guy I was interested in fell for a nun instead of me. When I first heard the news, I called an old boyfriend who I could depend on. I cried, “Now I’m losing guys to nuns! These women aren’t even trying!” He responded with all the compliments I needed to assuage my humiliation, but his true opinion on the matter manifested in a package he sent to me three days later containing a calendar called “Nuns Having Fun” and a note that read simply, “Hahahaha! Nuns really DO have all the fun!” The vintage photos on the calendar showed nuns on roller coasters, nuns doing tricks on bikes, and nuns having more fun than I’d had while dating in my thirties. These were single women the world didn’t pressure into finding love or living a fairy tale, and they were happy.

I decided to move out of my apartment and into an actual house, one where I could set down roots and redefine my version of “happily ever after.” I found a sweet, historical home previously occupied by an elderly couple. The wife had died, and the old man wanted to live near his children, but he would have to leave one thing behind. “Will you please take good care of my cat?” he asked. “She’s spayed and doesn’t need anything but food and some attention now and again. It would mean so much to me if you could take care of her.” His eyes were so earnest, I couldn’t say no. I had never owned a cat, but I understood his broken heart. I told him I would pamper her. He smiled, then said, “Well, if you’re a woman living alone, you’ll need a good cat. Her name is Ms. Thang, you know, like slang for ‘thing.’ ”

My first act as the owner of this gray fluffy creature was to change her name to Edie. She responded with approval to the new name with my first pop of a cat-food can. Edie ate her food like a lady, and then spread out like an odalisque on the patio table. Then the others appeared.

The neighborhood cats apparently received a newsletter stating that a single woman had moved in and was serving posh food to all the other singles. They descended on my house and hung around as long as Edie let them. Regardless of the number of cats that came and went, it remained her territory. Even the neighborhood dogs respected the invisible boundaries. Edie regally sat on my porch railing, presiding over the yard. She never left the property — after all, she wasn’t seeking a mate and had no need to do anything other than hang out and be free. I understood this and found myself adopting a similar lifestyle. I shopped for books, went to movies, and had no obligations to anyone. It was glorious.

Together, we formed a daily routine with minimal effort, even as my house became a revolving door to friends visiting for summer beach weekends, including Andrew, a friend who came into town for a few job interviews. We had agreed that he could stay and share the rent if any of them worked out. Before he arrived, several people asked if I had romantic prospects with Andrew, which I always denied. I had known him for years, but the timing was never right for us, and we remained comfortable friends. Lots of my girlfriends had crushes on him. He was handsome, freakishly smart and had the sort of wit that made you wonder why Jon Stewart hadn’t yet discovered him. He was everything I should have wanted, but I can be guilty of missing the obvious at times.

Two days after Andrew arrived, a hurricane developed in the Gulf that seemed to be on a direct path to my town. Rather than leave, he climbed on my roof to check the durability of my shingles. He also checked the sewage lines, the storm shutters and our cars in case we needed to leave town. He went to the store to buy supplies. When he got back, his mother called to try and convince him to leave.

Andrew was in the kitchen, but I could hear him say, “Mom, I know you’re worried, but I’m not going to leave her. If it becomes clear that we need to leave, then I’ll help her with that, too, but I have to make sure she’s okay through this.” He loved me and had patiently waited for the right time for us. More importantly, he knew I was beyond the fantasies of dating life and spared me the discomfort of wooing me with sappy songs or deep thoughts on Dostoyevsky. Instead, he demonstrated an ability to share my life as couples really lived, completely committed to each other despite potential storms.

I walked over to help with the supplies and found that he had purchased enough provisions for Edie to survive Armageddon. I reached for a can of cat food and smiled. It was the posh kind.

“Andrew, we’re getting married, aren’t we?” I said.

He looked at me and smiled. “I hope so.”

Fortune was on our side, and the storm never came. We married the next year, and Edie remained a fixture at our house long after the birth of our son. She was sitting on the porch with us when we got word that Andrew had a new opportunity that would move us out of town. Edie had become frail that year and she quietly disappeared before we started packing. She had seen me through the aftermath of heartache and helped me learn to embrace myself before I embraced anyone else, and I am a better wife and mother for it.

~Tanya Estes

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