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Nine Short Lives
One of my cats just jumped to the floor from the bathroom sink, where he'd been sipping drops of leftover water, and made a very loud thump. I looked up to see if he was alright. He walked, dignified but slow, through the door and sat in a patch of sun to wash his left elbow. It was quite a thorough left elbow bath, and then, disregarding all other body parts, he stretched out on the rug and fell asleep.

You know by now that I love cats. I may not have mentioned, however, that I tend to adopt families rather than individuals. This one sleeping here and his sister came to me after an earthquake in Paso Robles 17 years ago. They'd been found in a barn, but the earthquake overwhelmed local shelters with lost pets, so no one could take in feral kittens. Instead, my friend with the barn drove them six hours to my house. I'd volunteered to find homes for them, but in the end I couldn't let them go. Unusually for rural cats, Sid and Gracie have survived into old age, which is what that thump was about. They're landing harder these days, and sometimes don't complete the upward jumps and end up dangling from the sink's rim by one paw, looking horrified.

Cats are so famously self-sufficient, it's disorienting when they begin to need help. Sid has always been the alpha male, but now Black Jack, only seven, steals his dinner unless I'm around to prevent this. Gracie is constantly cold and even after I've said “no” 46 times and moved her off my lap, I'll look up from a paragraph and find her half on my knee and half on the keyboard.

These events tear at my heartstrings. They're hard to watch in themselves, since I don't want to lose my companions and I get reminded every day that death is coming. None of a cat's nine lives goes much past 20. And they also point to the larger picture of all the aging humans around me. I won't have to build a platform between sink and floor for my cousin Miranda, but at some point she may need my arm when we walk from the car to the movie theater. What's worse is I may need hers.

I've been getting older since mid-July of 1955, but for some reason this year it feels much more noticeable. All my familiars are getting a little grayer or moving slower, forgetting words at a great rate, sometimes neglecting to wash their right elbows. I still feel about 32, only happier and wiser, but don't ask me to race you across the street. I'm not sure my knees or boobs can take it.

Maybe there's a symbiotic reason we fall so hard for animals. Maybe it helps to rehearse a few entire life cycles before we're faced with the end of our own. I don't know. Today, I just want everything to stay the same forever, and all of it to be kind, and sweet, and easy.   

As younger people like to say: “Yeah, good luck with that.” 

Photo of Sid by Jacquie Bellon.
Contributing thought for this essay by Francesca Bell.