When you sail off into the sunset, it does not inoculate you from bad things.
For me, early in February of 2016, in Key West, bad things happened.
Our beautiful boat cat had been getting more and more angsty every month since we got on the boat. He loved the marina in Minnesota where he could run free, in an entire national park, had a giant pirate ship of his own and lots of crawling things to chase. But once we threw off the dock lines and anchored in Key West he got worse and worse. He needed more space then this little ship. I noticed it right away but hoped he would get used to it, with time.
He didn’t. I began to make excuses for the scratches on my face. “Oh, he loves me more then anyone in the world, he just doesn’t like the boat,” I’d say, “he can’t help it.” I became an abused wife. I became afraid of him. Half the time he would crawl up onto my chest, nuzzle my face and roll over and let me scratch his belly for hours. Other times he would crawl up on my chest, nuzzle my face and bite me in the arm or scratch whatever skin he could get to before I shoved him away. He had never been like that in the 6 years he lived with me. Not until he was stuck out at sea with only 34 feet to run in.
One night early January I was deep asleep. I felt pressure on the side of my face. I woke up just in time to get my hand between his teeth and my face before he bit down. That one would have taken off half my cheek. He was attacking me every day by that point. He would go up on deck, run back and forth a couple times then come in and bite me until I locked him in the bedroom. I couldn’t put him through it anymore. Nor could I put myself through it, anymore.
I put a post on Facebook asking if anyone could help me find him a place where he could run free and be loved.
During Christmas I had gone home. A girl had answered another Facebook post asking if anyone wanted to come stay and take care of the boat and the cat during that time(this had been posted before he started biting me in the face). Erin had gone to school with my brother. She was an adventurer like myself and I said right away she could. Having not seen her for 20 years. She turned out to be amazingly capable, open-minded (good for boat living) and laid-back. Her boyfriend, Brett, came and stayed with her for part of the time she was on the boat. He fell in love with Pud. When they saw my post on Facebook asking if anyone could help with finding him a good place, Erin contacted me immediately and said that Brett’s parents would take him.
I called his mother, Cheryll, and we talked for over an hour. She was extremely kind and understanding and generous. She was not concerned in the least when I told her he would scratch her furniture and maybe her face. “Don’t you worry about that,” she said, kindness filling her voice, “I’m sure once he has room to run, he’ll be just fine.” She told me he would spend the summer days outside and that he would have lots of space to run in their house. She said that he would go to the vet when he was sick and that he would be loved.
I flew him up two weeks later. As he cried and endlessly clawed the carrier under the seat in front of me I tried not to meet the eyes of the passengers around me.
When I walked in I knew he would be better off there. The house was bigger then any place he had lived in thus far. There was tons of room in the house and french doors looking out onto a patio where they fed rabbits and squirrels. They lived on a quiet cul-de-sac that he would soon run with his charms. Cheryll and Dean were everything I had hoped and more. They were kind, generous, loving and magical. Pud smelled around briefly, ran under their bed and didn’t come out until after we left. I thought I would be a wreck. I thought I would cry and sob and embarrass myself. I didn’t. They were so wonderful and Erin and Brett were there. There was simply too much going on to focus on the sad part. I did crawl under the bed with him to say goodbye but he was as distracted as I was.
It only really hit me that he was gone once I got back to the boat. No one greeted me at the swim ladder. When I talked to the air it was suddenly just air. I kept hearing his “buurp” again and again, and again and again I had to realized I hadn’t. That he was gone. Forever. Losing an animal for an animal lover is an extremely, extremely difficult thing. He was my first. He was mine. He choose me. And I let him down.
She sends me updates. Every few days at first, now about every other week. She is truly an angel. She told me that within days he had begun a routine every morning of jumping off of a chair at the far end of their house, running through the living room and sliding across the dining room hardwood floor under the table. He is running again. For the first time in two years. She said he does it over and over and over again. She wrote me a week ago that Dean had been carrying Pud around all that morning… carrying him around… all morning… I didn’t know he would let a person do that! He loves them differently then he loved me. I know he is happy to be off the boat. And I know he is in good hands.
The first time we turned on the motor to leave Key West for the Bahamas I heard the high pitch whine of the key being turned and instinctively waited for Pud to find me. His fear already written all over his body. But he didn’t come. And when I realized that he never would be that afraid again, I found a quiet place and cried with gratitude for Cheryll, Dean, Brett and Erin.
While I was still gone from bringing Pud home I found out that a friend of mine, the kindest man in all of Key West, had died.
A month before he died, Jeff pulled me outside at West Marine and said “alright, what’s wrong?”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“You’re down today,” he said as he lit a cigarette, his visor shading his eyes from the intense Florida sun. “What’s going on?”
“Oh I don’t know,” I said, kicking the ground, “just a little lonely I guess.”
“Josie,” he put his hand on my arm and waited for me to look at him, “you can call me anytime, even if it’s just to talk.” He squeezed my arm. “I’ll be there for you.”
He gave so much. To everyone. He was so kind.
He had the most wonderful smile.
He died of a head injury. When his ex-girlfriend found him, he was laying on his couch. No one knows what happened.
This is the first time I have lost a peer. I saw him at least every other day for the last year. I would squeal every time I saw him. I would jump on him and loudly and exaggeratedly kiss his face. He pretended to hate it while smiling his gorgeous smile. I cared about him.
He fed me dinner, at his house, a month before he died. I was on the floor playing with his weird little dog Cracker, whom he lovingly took in, with another dog, when his brother drove drunk into a tree, killing his wife, and went to jail forever. He also had a dog of his own. He would never hang with us after work, unless we went to him, because he wanted to make sure the dogs were alone as little as possible.
He reminded me of my brother. He looked out for me, swore and smoked too much, and had a heart of pure gold. I miss him. I wouldn’t have seen him again before we left Key West. Literally, nothing in my life would be different if he was still alive.
But knowing he no longer exists is painful.
There is no happily-ever-after. Bad things will happen everywhere, no matter how many dreams one accomplishes. But this too shall pass. And I am one lucky girl to have these amazing souls pass into my life. If only for a little while.