Thursday, March 6, 2014

Checkers and Hobbes

I realized with a start a few days ago that my childhood cat, Checkers, has been dead for a year. For those of you who didn't know Checkers, we adopted him when I was 6 years old, and he was two months shy of his seventeenth birthday when he died. We used to call him an ornery old man, but he and I had a deep bond, and I was heartbroken when he died.

For a long time the pain lingered in me. I dreamed about Checkers and carried the loss around in my heart. Even now, there are still days when I can’t believe he is dead, and I want nothing more than to see him again. But with the one year anniversary of his death came a realization: I've been able to move on, in a good way, to love again.

Checkers and I, several years ago before I began college.
If Checkers and Hobbes had ever met, Checkers would have loathed Hobbes. She’s the epitome of a cat that would drive him crazy: wild, fearless, goofy, feisty, and fierce. She’s a bundle of energy and he absolutely would have run off somewhere to sulk if she had ever invaded his house as Jack, Amaroo, and Misu did (they’re cats we adopted when Checkers was 11). I haven’t seen Hobbes interact with any other cats, but since she was beating up her brothers when Aaron first saw her, she probably would have tried to beat Checkers up too, all in play, of course, although Checkers would have taken it far too seriously and been the grumpy old man he was. As much as I’d love to say it, there would have been no soft spot in Checkers’s heart to love the wild thing that is Hobbes. 

The wild tiger, in her natural habitat.
Yet, unwittingly, Checkers prepared me for the love I now give to Hobbes. Never a cat you’d call selfless, Checkers nevertheless gave me much through our relationship. He taught me what it was to be intimately connected to an animal, and to feel so much love for something not human. He taught me that cats smile, and they get annoyed, and they have vibrant personalities. He taught me love. 

My relationship with Hobbes felt very natural from the beginning. We bonded pretty much the moment we met. We chat with each other and creep on each other around corners while I’m doing the dishes. (It drives Aaron crazy sometimes!) One of my favorite things in the world is to wake up with Aaron on one side and Hobbes on my pillow, or draped over my neck. And I have Checkers to thank for a lot of the happiness and love that I have now, for he gave my six-year-old heart the potential to expand and care for something outside her own self.

It feels very right to have Hobbes around now, so much that sometimes I feel like she’s been here all along. A year ago I wrote that Checkers would always be in my heart, and he is, and in that small way, he is still present in my life. I reread the article I wrote about him a year ago and just about started crying again, but the love I had for Checkers allowed me to walk through the pain and then to fall in love again with little Hobbes.

Yes, I’m a crazy cat lady, and yes, I treat my pets as members of the family. Yet they open up my heart and fill my life with love. Hobbes is my cat baby. First, however, Checkers was my cat brother.

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