That last final exam I had to take was the worst testing experience of my entire twenty-one years’ worth of schooling. By far. It would have been bad even without losing Mr. Tabby; with it, it was unbearable. I’ve never taken an exam before where I honestly had no idea whether I would pass at all.
After the exam, I had more cleaning to do at the rental, and then I had to head home and pack, and the next day I was on a plane. Where was my time to grieve?
As difficult as it was after that experience to hop on a plane and spend two weeks with complete strangers, it turned out to be the most therapeutic thing I could have done. Instead of sitting at home and feeling Mr. Tabby’s absence acutely, I was thrown headlong into a very challenging learning experience with no time at all for self-pity. And I got to interact with hundreds of animals, which in itself is therapeutic.
After I came home, the worst of the pain had subsided, I think, but losing a loved one is a lot like having a scab. Sometimes the pain is barely noticeable, and sometimes something rips it off, and it becomes fresh and raw all over again. Over time, though, those somethings become further apart, and the scab heals a little more until the pain is finally gone, but the memory, like a scar, is always there.
The wound was fresh and raw the day I Googled cremation jewelry; at that moment I felt a compelling need to keep him with me all the time. The wound was raw the day I got his ashes back, tied up with the metal tag that I’d placed on his foot. Except now the tag was blackened and charred.
There are happier moments, though, too. Cat Mandu, whom I would have called very set in her ways, has taken up loping around the stairwell when her meals are being prepared, something Mr. Tabby used to do. It reminds me of him, and makes me smile.
Whenever I open the downstairs closet where he lived for so long, I think about seeing his cute little face tucked among the blankets.
And when we talk about things like lymphoma and PCVs in school, I touch the little moon-shaped necklace I sometimes wear to remind me of him.
The fourth-year student who worked on Mr. Tabby’s case had told me that I wasn’t crazy for pursuing treatment. If anything, he said, I would learn a lot more about cancer than I’d learn in class, so it would be money well spent. He was right about that.
What I didn’t expect was discovering just how far in love you can fall with a handsome little Maine Coon cat who used to live in the back of your closet. No one can prepare you for that.
I miss you, Tabs.