Not everybody understands the loss of a cherished companion, or especially the bond I had with this particular loving being. I don't know if I feel sorry for such people or think they're lucky to be spared such agony. I just don't know. I hurt too much. I want my kitty, my part of my soul back.
Different people deal with grief in different ways. This is part of mine.
He himself did not know his origins. An orphan, perhaps; unwanted, definitely. Left at the monastery sometime near the turn of the last century, he was happy to make his home there and to become a monk himself when he was of age. It was good to belong somewhere.
They called him “Miao-Miao,” and if he'd had any other name, he never knew it. But Miao-Miao suited him so he never chose another. He was the brother who lived among the sacred temple cats, feeding and caring for them so that they might sing their sacred songs to drive away evil spirits.
He was skilled with his begging bowl, but more skilled with the secret places of restaurant trimmings discarded by humans but beloved to cats. The cats in his temple were sleek and strong on the rice and fish that he provided for them, and howled wonderful blessings in return. He brushed and combed his holy charges, nursing and midwifing for them, and his temple's colony of sacred cats was an attraction in its own right. The other monks accepted this result from their gentle brother Miao-Miao who would rather talk to cats than to men, perhaps deciding either that he was divinely suited for the job or mentally enfeebled and that it was all for the best, anyway.
The temple had withstood endless wars throughout the region. Siam had let France nibble at her borders to remain a free uncolonized country, and temple life was untouched; World War I was completely eclipsed by the Revolution against the monarchy, but again, temple life was apart from such things. Monasteries did not interact with the affairs of the world, and the people respected that. Even during the French-Thai war in the 1940s, when Thailand fought to reclaim her land and temples in Laos with a Pyrrhic outcome, his temple was a sanctuary of meditation.
His daily trips for fish and rice, however, were not as they had been when he had been a boy. People were ruder, less generous. They were also more wasteful, which meant more of his food as well as the cats' came from refuse bins – a mixed bag of blessings and offal. It occurred to him that as a grown man of years he, himself, was also a mixed bag of blessings and offal, and he laughed.
He heard the softest, saddest mew in answer from the refuse bins. His heart stopped. He searched, making tiny “mieu” sounds himself until he found her. She was tiny and dirty and cold, covered with filth and cuts and hanging onto life by the slimmest silk thread. She fit into his cupped hands.
“Oh, little one, what happened to you?” He held her close to his nose, breathing warmth on her, and he could feel her take a big breath in and out and start purring. He smelled garbage, and rotting milk, and the metallic tang of blood, and the stench of infection – and the clean warm smell of cat fur. She was beautiful. She opened one blue eye and closed it again, and snuggled into his hand.
He tucked her securely into his robes against his chest and gathered his bowl to go home. He struggled with the idea of getting so attached to such a small thing who probably would not live and tried to brace himself for the inevitable, but he felt her warmth and the small vibrations of her purr against him and lost before he could finish the thought. “Attachment is suffering,” he repeated to himself, over and over in futile argument. Somewhere on the way between the wharves and the temple, the thoughts became “compassion for all beings...” and his heart became lighter and his step became faster.
Making sure the others were fed, Miao-Miao took the kitten to the rafters where he made his bed and laid her on a folded cloth. He washed her with warm water, and cleaned her wounds. She had perfect temple markings: cream with dark ears and face, dark legs and tail with the little bent tip. He stroked her softness and moved her onto his pallet so that he could warm her with his body. As the night fell, pairs of reflective eyes became visible in the darkness around them, watching and listening, tails flicking hypnotically.
“Shall I tell you a story, my tiny Princess?
“Once there was a Siamese Princess who was frightened of losing her rings while she bathed in a stream. Looking around for somewhere convenient to place her jewelry, she noticed that her favorite cat had crooked his tail for her. Ever since that time all Siamese cats have been born with a tiny kink at the end of their tails to hold the Princess’ rings.
Isn't that funny, my Princess? Because you are the Princess and it is I whom you hold on the tip of your tail.“
The kitten sighed a big sigh and snuggled closer to him. He fell asleep with his nose in her fur. The eyes watched, and the tails flicked, flicked, flicked, watching for evil spirits and howling when they came.
Eventually she healed, and they became old together. Inseparable and devoted, the Princess was never far from Miao-Miao's ankle. She ate from his hand, and he knew exactly what type of fish she liked and sought it out for her. She slept under his nose every night. If parted from the other, each was insufferably anxious until reunited, a source of great amusement to the other monks, who claimed that Princess even called Miao-Miao by name when she demanded his services. It was good-natured fun with the elderly monk who tended the cats without being too disrespectful – after all, it was just too funny to watch the old man and his ancient dusty cat walk around in limping parodies of each other.
Miao-Miao and the Princess knew. They didn't care. They understood themselves, and their bond was enough for them. The world changed around them, their bodies aged, but they had each other and that was sufficient.
Until that horrible day when Miao-Miao went early in the morning as usual to the shops and the wharves. Something was wrong, an unnatural stillness, and he hurried to be done with his task as fast as possible. A shiver ran up his spine despite the heat, and he knew there were no songs to drive away any evil spirits here.
Then he heard it: a rhythmic beating combined with a metallic screech, or was it screaming? He couldn't tell, as it got louder and louder. He watched from the alleyway as soldiers and tanks drove through the city shooting and burning. It was metallic screeches and screaming, the worst sounds he had ever heard in his life. His head and heart were at a loss to make sense of it. His hands were still picking fish bits out of bins as if on autopilot. He stopped and looked at his hands as if they weren't his. Suddenly he dropped his bowl and started running to the temple, through the back streets, but it seemed to him as if everything was in frustrating slow motion.
If only he could get to the temple everything would be right, safe, understood. But as he stood in the middle of the street in front of his temple, everything was not right. Soldiers were shooting into the monastery. Lobbing grenades into it. That simply could not be. Miao-Miao stood dumbstruck, like a statue in the middle of chaos, until someone grabbed his arm and pulled him.
“What? What did you say?” He couldn't hear over the noise. His fellow monk was half-dragging him away, the whites of his eyes showing.
“We have to get to the embassy! The Americans have a helicopter!” his brother monk shouted again. “Come, Miao-Miao! To stay is to die!”
Terrible realization dawned on Miao-Miao and he slapped his brother away, fighting out of his own robes to go toward the temple again.
“My Princess! I must get my Princess!” Miao-Miao was frantic. She would be terrified, huddled on his bed, waiting for him. Oh, baby girl, I'm coming for you, hold tight, I'm coming for you...
“We don't have a monarchy anymore!” his brother screamed at him, frustrated with the apparent senility of the damned old man. Another monk ran into them and between the two they bodily carried Miao-Miao, who clawed and howled and bit them in his fervor to rescue his Princess.
And so it was that of the three of them, Miao-Miao had the best view when the 400 year old sacred temple exploded into nothingness when the bomb hit it.
For Miao-Miao, that was when his world ended. His brothers eventually took him with them to a teaching retreat in Minnesota, where he spent the rest of his days in meditative silence. The blast had destroyed his hearing, and he could no longer hear the sacred songs of temple cats, past or present. He contemplated universal truths such as the suffering that attachment brings, the value of compassion, the sanctity of life, man's inexplicable inhumanity to man, and the idea that as long as passions are not extinguished – either good or bad – we will continue to be reborn to realize and calm those passions.
When he woke up, he was warming his belly fur in the sun. The others were playing and rolling and looking for food, but he closed his eyes and chose to stay where he was. It felt wonderfully refreshing to have joints that didn't ache, bones that didn't hurt, ears that worked, and well – it just felt good to warm his belly fur in the sun, dammit.
They say that's why the American family chose him for their own and named him after a mellow cartoon character. He was to be companion to an older temple cat – although in America, it was strange. Americans treated all their cats like temple cats, but there were no temples. And they insisted on shushing the sacred songs. Could they not see the evil spirits? Americans made no sense whatsoever, but they were a loving people as a far as cats were concerned, and there did seem to be cereal in the bowl everyday, so it was counterproductive to complain.
He enjoyed the perks and ironies of being an American temple cat until his companion chose to make his next journey upon the wheel and he was all alone. Gradually, he fit less and less into his people family. They brought a new cat companion into the group who was not of the philosophy of temple cats and fought him at every turn. His sacred songs were even less appreciated, if such a thing were possible. Evil spirits floated everywhere.
He retreated into meditative contemplation and started to release attachment to his body. He had had a good life as far as cats go; perhaps it was time to take his next journey on the wheel. How had the other cat done it? He stopped grooming himself and his fur fell out; he developed sores and scabs and chewed at his feet. Eventually his people put a cone on him so he would stop chewing. He ignored them and sang the sacred songs at high volume, hoping for merit, but there was none. He curled up in a corner and chose not to interact.
Then the sick lady came.
She had grown up in a world that no longer existed, a world of art and gentility that had maybe never existed at all. Her aunt had gotten out of Thailand in the 1960's about the time she'd been born and left her a temple rubbing of a magnificent Thai temple that wasn't there anymore, bombed to smithereens. It was a symbol for her of many things in her life; all she had had once, but now didn't, from illness and abuse.
She was covered with evil spirits. Deep inside, though, she had a softness and light that made him want to look at her. She was so downtrodden and in pain; she rocked in a chair for hours. He sang the songs around her, driving away enough of the evil to make her pay attention to her surroundings a little. Satisfied but exhausted, he curled up and rested.
In gatherings of people in the house, most of them would ooh and aah over the other, “pretty” cat. She, however, would sit shy in the corner, stroking him, oblivious to his cone or scabs. She would croon softly to him. He would find himself purring. After a while, his people removed the cone. He felt it his duty to fight the evil spirits with more vigor than ever, sometimes setting up vigil by her bedroom door and singing all night. He learned how to call her name so that the people understood it, and they thought that was very funny. He watched the progress in her, and he started to feel that he was doing right by his vows again.
However, some of his family was losing tolerance for the disruption his howling was causing. He didn't understand, but huge fights erupted over whether his life would continue or not. He did understand that somehow he was in danger, and he hid in her room, under the dresser. He knew that she would protect him, and she did. Neither of them remember the night he crawled into her bed to sleep under her nose, with her breath in his fur, but that is when they fell in love all over again.
She patiently brushed his coat and tended to his scabs and reminded him that he was a Thai prince. He straightened his profile and sat taller and did indeed remember. He found his dignity with her help. She said she knew his name was something long and noble, but she couldn't remember what it was. He purred, knowing that he remembered his name – and her name, too – but that he could never tell her. His cat body improved and looked as beautiful and sleek as she believed it was.
He fought noble battles for her at every turn, relentlessly singing out all the evil that had been done to her, over and over again. He did not flinch at the unbelievers who rejected the holy songs, he sang them with all the might his tiny body possessed. He sang for his Princess. When she had moments of doubt and pain that overwhelmed her so much she considered ending her life, he stomped on her with his cat gravity and reminded her that she had to get up and feed him (and while she was up, herself) and used every trick in his feline book to distract her from the evil spirits of her thoughts until she returned to him – and then he rewarded her with the deep rumbling purrs and warm touches that only he could give.
No matter where she traveled thereafter, he was by her side, sleeping in her bed under her nose. They were inseparable, and anxious when out of each other's presence. She patiently groomed him as he aged, taking care of all his needs and making him comfortable and warm. She crooned to him, and he purred to her, and those who knew and watched them realized that there was something special and witty between them.
Even a miracle cat can only hang onto one body for so long, and he had found her after he had lived a long life for a cat. He managed eight years with her after any other cat would have been considered elderly. She spent every moment with her precious companion, never wanting to say to herself that she wished she had spent more time with him, but she did wish that she had met him earlier, or that cats lived longer. When his body failed, and she had to make the decision to release him from his pain, it was as if she was driving a knife into her heart at the same time she was making it better for him. He had waited for her and she knew it; it had cost him a terrible physical toll and she knew it; he would pay it ten times over to be with her and she knew it; but there was a point where it was simply too selfish to let her love suffer just for her, and the peace in his being at the end as she cradled him let her know that he loved and forgave her.
She spent a long time howling and crying. She didn't know the sacred songs anymore; she wasn't singing to drive out evil. She was mourning the loss again of the companion of her heart, her kindred spirit whose loyalty and understanding knew no bounds, not even time and space.
Sometimes, the great eternal love stories are not those of Eros. Sometimes, they are two souls joined in compassion and friendship, or even just one soul split into parts.
He waits for her in the Summerlands, sunning the fur on his belly.