When I was 18 years old, I became engaged to a boy named Nick. He popped the question over pancakes at some restaurant, Christmas Eve morning. The story reeks of romance, I know.
My father had just passed away just over two weeks prior to this, and Nick had stepped up to a situation that, quite frankly, was an absolute cluster fuck. Even some of the strongest men would find themselves shying away from. It was because of this, I felt obligated to say yes. Oh sure, I loved him, but in that ridiculous teenage love that is infallible and will conquer any obstacles, save for the actual marriage itself when years down the road you are in your mid-20's, saddled with children you can't afford, a marriage you resent because you know you could have been more, and struggling to make ends meet on two or more minimum wage jobs.
At 18, in the sudden ancient wisdom that had just come crashing down on my shoulders just two weeks before, I knew this. And yet, I still said yes out of obligation, and fear of hurting Nick's feelings. After all that he had done for me, what business did I have to refuse?
Most girls dream of their wedding, and then that golden opportunity presents itself, they throw themselves into the planning of the event. It's supposed to be an exciting and fun time. However, two months into the engagement, I may have looked through one bridal magazine, may have tried on two dresses, and never even considered setting a date. Nick was deliriously excited to be married.
I, however, was not. Truth be told, I wasn't excited about much at the time. I was still living in a fog of masked grief and shock. My cousin, who is loud, opinionated, boorish, and unrefined, is also very observant. After watching me for weeks move about life in a subtle depression, approached me one day. In her usual, blunt manner, told me that she knew my heart wasn't into getting married. I shrugged off her concerns, not wanting to discuss it. She became annoyed.
"If I got you a cat, you'd probably love that cat more than you love Nick!!"
A week later, she showed up at my job with a box, and inside was a little gray and white furball. As much as I liked cats (my family had them growing up), and as cute as the little kitten was, I protested. Having a pet of my own came with responsibility that I wasn't ready to assume, and didn't want to. I had enough on my plate without trying to worry about caring for something that actually depended on me.
Despite my pleas, my cousin left the kitten with me and I took her back to my apartment. A day later, I called her Shasta. To this day, I don't know why.
So Shasta lived with me, and a few months later, I finally found the courage I needed to break things off with Nick. Shasta had nothing to do with my decision, but when I made the break, it was safe to say I liked the cat better. Nick, sensing a change in the tide, became more clingy and needy and desperate. The breakup was everything ugly that I feared it would be. Nick was devastated, and in my crippled emotional state, I was indifferent.
The reason I share this with you, is to try to explain why Shasta's death has affected me more than a pet's death might for most without coming off like some Crazy Cat Lady. You see, she was not only my cat, she represented a lot of things. She was the first thing I actually cared about in the aftermath of my father's death. In the past 14 years, she has been the one constant in my ever-evolving life. She was insistent on being held right after a shower because I didn't smell like anyone. Her little tail quivered when she was happy to see me. She could hold a grudge. She was quiet. She was sweet-tempered. Some of her biggest fans were self-proclaimed cat-haters. One of which being Mr. Recommendation the night she jumped on his lap while he was sitting on the toilet.When Mom lived with me a few years back, they bonded in a way that she never bonded with me. (I actually think she barely tolerated me most days.) It was Mom who started calling her Lil Shasta Roo...which evolved into Lil Roo. She never took up a lot of space, yet the house now feels empty without her. I know she's better off. I opted to have her cremated so I can plant her ashes with a new rose bush come this spring.
I know animals lack the ability for rational thought, but I do wonder if she thought I was a good owner. I'd like to hope so. I owed that much for helping me get through the rough spots in my life, and saving me from a doomed marriage.
So, here's to my Lil Roo and the 14 years she was my unjudging companion. May she be fat and happy on Rainbow Bridge.