Shadows and the Past

Do you ever feel a darkly introspective mood settling over you, with the sense that you can’t shake it no matter how hard you try? You either give into it, sinking deeper, or you fight it, and you feel it tangling all around you.

I’ve spent a lot of this year feeling introspective, looking in instead of out, feeling like everything is suddenly imbued with meaning even if it’s something small and simple. I look out the window on a cloudy afternoon and the light is strange, a weird pumpkiny gold, and while I know it’s just what happens when forest fires cloud the atmosphere, instead it makes me feel like I’m floating in a half-made world, like I might step out of a sepia photograph and startle someone on the other side.

Three years ago today, I woke up early in the morning because Mr. Shadow wormed under the covers with me. He’d spent the few days prior sleeping at the end of the bed when he slept on the bed at all, and I knew that his decision to sleep with me in the small hours was a sign that the end was near. He purred weakly to himself, and I thought for a minute that he might peacefully slip away then, but Shadow was, as they say, a fighter. He clung ferociously to life even when life was unrelenting pain and misery, even when he was so thin and bony from lack of appetite that he couldn’t sit comfortably, even on one of his favourite cashmere sweaters.

Mr. Shadow, a grey tabby cat, sleeping in a basket on a pile of sweaters.

The thing about the animals we spend our lives with is that a lot of people seem very invested in pompously informing us that they aren’t meaningful, that their lives aren’t important and we shouldn’t take their deaths as hard as we do.

But Shadow and I lived together for a long time, and we went through a lot together, too. He was my grey companion in multiple cities, he was the one who curled up in the laps of guests he liked and made them his property, he was the one who had a rusty, uncertain purr that would only come out if he was immensely satisfied.

I felt trapped by lack of options as Shadow was dying, and I also felt trapped by the society I live in, in which I was supposed to pretend that everything was fine, because, you know, he was just a cat. Get back to work, move on with your life. Just get another one.

He was never just a cat—he isn’t just a cat. He was a companion. And I’m not ashamed to admit that, not any more than I am ashamed to admit that tears prickle at the corner of my eyes when I look at photographs of him, as I write this, remembering the way he used to clamber into the clean laundry with a satisfied expression, remembering his utter disdain for dry cat food, remembering how he used to love lying on a friend’s bowler hat while he watched us playing Scrabble on the floor of the house on Franklin Street.

No, the thing that makes me angry, all these years later, isn’t just that cancer stole him from me, whittled his sleek, beautiful self down to a bony, pain-wracked, miserable ghost, but that people act like this wasn’t supposed to affect me. My love for him doesn’t inhabit a distant past, but my present: Shadow and I united against the world, and against people who would like to claim his life had no purpose or no value beyond a momentary distraction.

I miss you, Shadow, and I do every day.