Tucker came into my life just before my thirtieth birthday; very literally as I was about to begin a new chapter of my life – maybe even a new book of my life. A neighbor who lived down another gravel road, on another small farmstead, had a mama cat with brand new, mewing kittens. This mama cat had learned something about where to have her kittens after her first attempt ended in disaster. She had her first litter on the back porch, and they were all, every single one of them, eaten one night by marauding raccoons. For her next litter she found a more protected area – she’d show those raccoons. She had her second litter inside, and at the bottom, of an enormous and mostly abandoned pile of firewood in the barn. Those kittens were safe from the perils of the outside world until they were strong enough and brave enough to crawl up and out of that woodpile. That first safe sanctuary that his mother had chosen left its mark on Tucker. He was always what I called a “cave dweller”…wherever we lived he had one, or several, secret spots that were his safe places, just like that first pile of wood.
The first three years of Tucker’s life, he spent completely involved with his sister/litter-mate, Patty. When they were young, Tucker (the male of the two) was a fair amount larger than Patty, and he beat up on her fiercely whenever they got into a tussle. I would admonish him, reminding him that one of these days she was going to be at least as big as he was, and that she would remember everything. Well, she did – get bigger than Tucker, and REMEMBER. She WAILED on him, and often. I would hear the soft and not so soft sounds of cat bodies flailing this way and that, as they wrestled and thrashed about, ending with high-pitched squeals and then a final hiss/scream usually let out by Tucker as he tried to get as far away from his bully of a sister, as was physically possible.
They were almost always together, and in those days I was definitely the third wheel. Yes, I fed them and kept a roof over their heads, but beyond that I was not the main event in either of their lives. They had each other. I have a couple of photographs of them, and in both, they are positioned completely in parallel. There’s one where they’re almost spooning…taking a cat nap on the front porch, but the best is a photo of them sitting next to each other on my desk, both in that classic bathing-cat pose sitting upright with one leg stretched out in front and the other spread wide open, and straight up. The most astonishing part of the photo is that they both have their tongues sticking way out, mouths gaping wide open as they fiercely lick a particularly soiled spot on their leg. They were a pair.
Life went on like this for three years…until the day I came home to learn that Patty had been hit by a car. And was G O N E. G O N E. One of the tenants who lived in our apartment house had found her and taken her to the vet. She had no idea where I was (this was long before cell phones) and by the time I came home…all that was left was the huge, gaping hole that her absence had caused.
Tucker and I were left with our grief, and with each other. So here was Tucker’s first teaching: animals grieve. I had no idea. I so tremendously had no idea that my amazement caused me to see how little I really considered the lives of the animals that had been in my life. Maybe I can say it this way: I had never considered what life was like for the companion animals that had been in my life up to that point…on their terms. Hmmm – still not clear…it was so deeply obvious to me, once Patty was gone, that Tucker not only missed his sister, his playmate – he was absolutely heartbroken. THAT was astonishing to me. In the beginning, when it really did seem that Tucker was moping around just like I was, I would erase that notion almost as soon as it would arise saying, “Lauren cat’s don’t do that.” Well. They do. We all do; humans and animals alike, and probably all of creation for that matter.
This was the beginning for me, the beginning of the Teachings of Tucker: we . all . grieve .