Shadow

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I have two dogs, E.B. and Cooper. When I’m home alone the three of us will argue over who gets the most space on the couch and watch movies. Cooper always starts on his own cushion, then slowly makes his way to completely on top of me. E.B. curls into the smallest ball imaginable, until of course, I sit down and she feels the need to stretch as far as her little limbs will allow. On the late nights, when I climb in bed leaving an empty house, they follow me upstairs where we’ll then argue about who gets the most bed space. After some elbowing, kicking, and shouts to “move!” we’ll settle like Tetris pieces and doze off.

I love having the dogs by me when I sleep. It’s just too bad that it only happens when I’m home alone, and the second they hear a key clicking in the door lock I’m forgotten. As if the bed movement and loud thumps of paws on my hardwood isn’t enough of a signal that they’re leaving, I have to listen to sliding nails down the stairs and excited jumps in greeting to whoever is coming in. From that moment on, I’m sleeping solo.

That’s the thing about dogs, their attention span is short and if you just walked into the house you are significantly more important than the person already within. Unlike cats. Cats are lovers, they enjoy being cuddled up to someone and they aren’t going to interrupt perfectly good sleep to say hello to an opened door. I miss having cats.

Before moving to Colorado, I’d always had a feline friend. One in particular, Shadow. He was solid black and so fat that when he ran his belly would swing back and forth. With fur like a chinchilla, I loved petting him, rubbing under his chin, especially his belly. And when I went to bed at night, he followed me willingly, not because there wasn’t a better alternative.

We had three cats in the house, but Shadow was mine. Everyone knew he was my buddy, that’s how it’d always been. When I had a bad day at school, I could always count on him to be at home with an open ear. If I needed a pillow, I knew he wouldn’t mind. Or maybe I’d just need something to do with my hands while I watched TV, he never complained about getting a good belly rub.

So there was no question about whether or not Shadow would be moving with us. I cleaned out his kennel, lined it with soft blankets for him, and made sure everyone knew he was sitting next to me for the whole ride. He wasn’t a good car rider, so I couldn’t take him out very much, but every now and then I’d pull him onto my lap and give him some attention.

He didn’t handle the move very well. Sometimes he would sleep in his kennel rather than my bed or the couch like usual. He stopped eating and wouldn’t come out of the closet for weeks at a time. Everyday whenever I had a spare moment I’d pick him up and lay him on the bed with me. I’d pet him, and try to get him to eat, trying to help him realize that this was home now.

When I bent down to pick him up one afternoon, I felt something sticky and hard on his fur around his neck. I tilted up his head to check it out and almost screamed when I saw the inside of his throat. No fur, no skin, dried blood, it was awful. I ran him to mom and within seconds we were in the car on the way to a vet. I wanted to stroke his back, tell him that everything will be okay, we’ll get him all fixed up. But I didn’t have the courage. I couldn’t stand touching his neck again, even some dried fur surrounding it.

After two failed attempts at animal hospitals that were closed, we finally found one available. The wound on Shadow’s neck was caused by his own nails. He had a tumor in his throat that he scratched out himself. Luckily, he didn’t damage anything beyond repair.

In the end we paid for his surgery. He had to wear gauze wrapped around his head and neck; it was so adorable and sad at the same time. The vet told us to feed him this mystery goo that came out of a generic white tube. It had no odor and resembled the color of cola. Apparently it was concentrated calories for cats, to help Shadow gain some weight and strength.

Coming in from school one afternoon, I found him stretched out under my desk. I knew right away he was dead. I didn’t touch him, didn’t walk closer, I didn’t even move for a few seconds. On my way downstairs to tell Mom, I wished we could go back in time. Rather than paying for his surgery, we should have just put him down. It was clear the move took a toll on him, and I felt guilty for thinking I could fix that.

Our house never had another cat. Shadow was the last piece of home, and it felt wrong to have anyone else. I missed him. I missed the feeling of his soft belly fur. The sound of his purr when he was happy. The way his paws would gently move when he was dreaming. The way he used to lie directly on my book if he wanted attention while I was reading. I no longer had my little buddy.

I had many friends from Alabama. I knew a lot of people, and didn’t have any enemies. But when I reminisce about living there and having to leave, I find the only person I’d love to see again, is Shadow. He’d been there since I was three, and stayed by my side until I was thirteen. How many of my friends lasted that long?





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