23: My Healing Shadow

23: My Healing Shadow

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Cat Did What?

My Healing Shadow

The cat, it is well to remember, remains the friend of man because it pleases him to do so and not because he must.

~Carl Van Vechten

After visiting with my parents one Sunday afternoon, my husband and I stood in their driveway saying our goodbyes when we were interrupted by a high-pitched noise. It sounded like a wounded animal.

We soon realized the sound was coming from under the hood of my father’s Buick. My mother and I stood back while my father lifted the hood. We could hear the cries getting louder but we had to look closely to see what it was. Hiding underneath the engine was a tiny gray striped kitten that had apparently found a warm place to hide on that crisp fall morning. This beautiful creature stopped crying the minute he saw us. I reached down under some engine parts, from where he was peeking out, picked him up and brought him inside. I had surmised that he was either feral or someone had abandoned him in my parents’ neighborhood. He couldn’t have been more than four weeks old.

My husband and I had just moved into our first home and I had been planning on getting a pet, so I decided to take the kitten home. I had always heard that rescued animals made the best pets because they knew that you saved them. On the way home I decided to name the kitten Shadow in hopes that he would be as close a companion as his name suggested. However, he hid under the seat of the car all the way home. “Come on out, Shadow. Do you like that name?” I talked to him and tried to get him out from under the seat, but I had to wait until I got home to pull him out.

For the first couple of days, he was very shy, hiding wherever he could in the most remote places, and scaring us into thinking we had lost him for good. We would find him on top of the kitchen cabinets, under the basement stairs or behind the couch. Days turned into months and months turned into years and he just never seemed to warm up to us, which made us think he may have been feral. He never wanted to be touched or held and he seemed to have an agenda of his own. If he was in one part of the house and we walked near him, he would run at breakneck speed into another room and hide. Over the years I tried everything I could to get him to change, but nothing I did worked. I continued talking to him in a gentle voice. “Shadow, I saved you from the streets, sweetie. You’re supposed to be a loving pet.” So much for my “rescued cat” theory. We came to terms with the fact that we had an “invisible cat.”

In his twelfth year with us I had to have spinal surgery that would ultimately leave me bedridden for the better part of three years. Before my surgery, Shadow would never have come into our bedroom when we were in there. But when I had to stop working and spend all my time at home, he started to mellow a bit. He wouldn’t sleep in bed with us but he slept in a laundry basket that I had placed on our dresser. I would call to him from my bed, “Come and lie in bed with Mommy,” I would say, laughing at the thought. It had become a joke for us to call to him and expect him to come to us, even though we had seen some small changes in him.

Spending so much time alone and in bed had become like a prison for me. Every once in a while Shadow would come by the side of the bed and look up at me as if to say, “I know.” All these prior years of me thinking he wasn’t able to bond with a human had changed since my health had become compromised. He seemed to know I was in pain. And instead of spending his time under a table or behind a closet door, he now spent all his time by my side.

One night, after taking a new pain medication, I awoke from a sound sleep. My chest felt like it was going to explode and my heart was beating more rapidly than anything I had ever experienced. I was sure it was a reaction to the new pills and thought I might be having a heart attack. I couldn’t speak because of the crushing pain in my chest. The sound of my beating heart seemed to fill the room. The accelerated pounding was all I could hear.

I lay there not able to move when I heard Shadow jump out of his laundry basket and onto our bed. He came closer to me than he ever had before and I could see a look in his big green eyes that let me know I was going to be okay. He came to save me. Ever so gently, he climbed onto my chest and placed both his front paws down over my shoulders. He was on a mission — I could tell. The look in his eyes had such an intensity — a warmth. Within minutes my chest pain subsided and my heart rate returned to normal. He spent the rest of the night in bed with me, cuddled under one of my arms. And from then on he slept in bed with me every night until he passed away, eight years later at the age of twenty.

During his final eight years we were able to draw closer together than I could have ever imagined possible. His name, Shadow, suited him well. In the beginning, I tried to give him more of myself than he apparently wanted. And in those last eight years of his life he gave me more than I was able to give back to him. He had been waiting for the right time, when it really counted. In the middle of that one frightening night, he showed me how much he had appreciated me for having saved him in his hour of need — and when I needed to be saved, he was there for me.

~Marijo Herndon

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