I hadn't planned on it. It just kind of happened. And it couldn't have been better if I'd carefully designed it from the beginning. The space above the TV in the entertainment center was just spare space; I'd no plans on or idea how to utilize it. As it happens, the shelf was the perfect size for DVD boxes, but I didn't like the idea of having that sort of visual clutter front and center; besides, I'd already built shelves for my DVD albums. So it remained empty.
I did have a number of nice candle holders I'd bought some years ago, and tucked them away on that shelf to keep them safe. Then one day I retrieved the ashes of one of my cats from the camper so I could move her into a new box I'd just bought—exactly the thing I'd been looking for over the last few years: the right size, beautiful dark wood, and a tree of life hand-carved in the top.
With no conscious thought given to the action, I placed the box on the shelf along with the candle holders. And thus, in an unplanned instant, the shelf not only had a purpose, but the perfect thing to occupy it: Emma.
Cat lovers will tell you they never play favorites... then, in a moment of honesty, they'll usually tell you of their favorite cat. Mine was Emma, a strikingly beautiful torbie who found me while I was living in a condo in West Trenton back in the early 1990s. The young stray sat at the patio door with one paw raised in a pathetic "Please help me!" pose... and it turns out it wasn't an act: she had a deformed paw that no vet could explain. She also belonged to someone at some point, since she was spayed. Was she abandoned? Did she escape an abusive home? No one would ever know but her.
She was such a sweetheart that she turned my cat-hating girlfriend at the time into a cat lover—well, at least an Emma lover. After we separated, my ex even asked for joint custody! Every night after going to bed, she laid on my chest and purred in my face until I fell asleep. And she loved to groom my head—she'd spend up to a half-hour licking my hair (or what was left of it). If you held Emma up close to a visitor, she'd reach out with her paw and gently pat the visitor's cheek. She melted more than a few hearts.
Years later, when I moved into another condo with a new significant other, she started to take ill. Dozens of visits to vets and specialists yielded no concrete explanation, although her primary vet had a suspicion, and after a year of inconclusive tests and exams, it turns out he was right: lymphoma. Near the end of her life, she constantly sought the comfort of either a person or a patch of sunlight.
Her death, at the ripe old age of around 11 (still a youngster in most books), was excruciatingly painful, no less so for the fact that I'd elected to have her put to sleep. She was growing increasingly ill—she'd become dehydrated, and required daily fluid injections—and I instinctively knew she was near the end. Rather than have her suffer any more, I finally decided to end her misery. And now, at long last, my dear, sweet Emma has a place of high honor in my home, where she'll be remembered by me every day until I die.
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