Nuna ran away to the litter box and hid the minute she saw the suitcases.
Her brother from another litter, Trudeau, sat by the garage door staring at me with enormous eyes as he squeaked out a single meow that sounded like why.
Both Nuna and Trudeau are rescue cats who didn’t take kindly to my leaving home that morning last December. I was flying to Paris where my beloved stepmom is undergoing treatment for Stage IV cancer and they couldn’t travel with me. My father’s small condo isn’t cat-compatible and the journey from the West Coast to Europe is one the cats will only ever undertake if we’re staying put for a while as it is long and demanding on creatures big and small.
But Nuna the diminutive tabby with silky soft fur is no stranger to plane travel as she is an import from a tiny sub-arctic island located in the armpit of North America. She even has a passport and flew across Canada on her own, an experience that didn’t seem to faze her much at the time as she was as happy as could be upon arrival.
But the sight of suitcases clearly triggers something that makes her run away.
Trudeau the boisterous tuxedo is a California transplant who got to live thanks to a charitable organization who put him on a plane to Seattle. He was then placed in a local shelter. Had he remained in Los Angeles, he would have been destroyed, as the inhumane vernacular goes. When I visited the shelter in early 2016, he jumped into my arms and we’ve been inseparable ever since.
Inseparable means he sits on the other chair at the kitchen island when I work and regularly checks up on me by patting my arm with his paw.
He will also get extra loving and head-butt me if I haven’t taken a break for a while. Whenever I’m sad, he cuddle-bombs me, rubbing his face against my arm. He’s not a lap cat but he’ll make an effort in extreme cases — i.e. when sadness is leaking out of my eyes — and place exactly half of his body on my lap or simply rest his head on my thigh as he naps.
During the five years I lost to major depressive disorder, my cats held me together and kept me alive.
Because my illness had become a cause of resentment in my household, human warmth was in short supply but feline attention was never less than abundant.
Observant and keenly attuned to the demeanor of their skin-covered can opener, my cats read my moods and never fail to take action when required. If I look lost, Trudeau will seek to make me snap out of it. Last night, he booped my nose for the first time.
I wonder where he learned that from…
In an unprecedented display of feline magnanimity, he also deigned to share the chaise by the fire with me. He did however place a proprietary paw upon my ankle to make sure I wouldn’t forget I was his guest.
He senses I’m about to leave again and it’s as if he were telling me not to go with myriad gentle displays of affection dispensed throughout the day.
Ever since I flew back to the US at the end of March, I have been wracked with guilt at being away from my guardian angels in furs for so long and staying for just a few weeks. Until I can find a way for them to join me and funds with which to make this happen, they will have to remain in their American kingdom. And yes, they are being very well looked after in the meantime.
Although I can meow proficiently enough to converse with random street cats, I never know what I’m actually saying and neither Nuna nor Trudeau speak human so there’s no way to explain to them that I will return. However, I’m worried about re-traumatizing them again. They were abandoned, then rescued, then I left, then I came back…
While Trudeau vocalizes a lot and has a very expressive face, Nuna is prone to raging anxiety and chews off her fur when distraught in the same absent-minded way I bite the side of my left index finger. On any given day, one look at her will tell you what’s going on in my head.
We bonded many years ago and seem to be one single mammal in two bodies, one cat, one human. Our temperament and health issues are the same. Like me, she even has a heart murmur, something that only came to light a few years after adopting her.
Iwill be spending next week ‘seasoning’ shirts for the cats.
In practice, this means selecting shirts that are old and threadbare, wearing them for a day, then placing them into a baggie to conserve this inimitable human fragrance. That way, the cats can breathe in their favorite long-haired servant every now and then even though I’ll be half-way across the world.
This is what I did earlier this year and Nuna could smell me through the plastic, so much so that she kept pawing at it then sat nearby and stared in frustration. In her body language, this is a request for assistance, a sign that borrowed thumbs are needed to unzip the baggie and release the essence of invisible human within.
Alas, Trudeau’s sense of smell isn’t as developed as hers and he spent months meowing up the stairs or in front of my home office door waiting for me to appear.
This breaks their hearts; this breaks my heart. But for now, there is no other solution.
I moved my home office to the kitchen as soon as I came back so the cats and I could spend as much time as possible together. In six weeks, I only left home and went into the city twice for the same reason.
In this house, love has whiskers, four paws, liver breath, and greets me every morning with a half tumble.
Love is togetherness; love is belonging; love is longing.
And love doesn’t only happen between humans.
I’m a French-American writer and journalist living out of a suitcase in transit between North America and Europe. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.