Charlie Forever

Dear Son–Charlie,

We could not even see you at first. You were curled up in the back of the cage, behind the other really cute cat that everyone wanted. After he was pulled out, your first human Mom and I peered in, seeing you looking so helpless, eyesight obscured by redness. You looked so sick.

The lady in charge of the adoption event at the Yonkers, New York pet store assured us your ailment could be cleared up with medicine. We felt so sorry for you. You were so innocent. That day in August 2007, you came to your first human home–on Bronx River Road in Yonkers.

The lady was right, Charlie. The medicine from the vet cleared up the herpes right away. Yes, son, you had herpes at three months old. It was probably from living among other orphaned animals in the Mount Vernon Animal Shelter. That’s where you were most likely born–in Mount Vernon, New York. Next to Yonkers and just a few miles north of The Bronx.

You had some trouble at first adjusting to your first ever human home.

Remember how you quickly became tangled up within plastic bags, intertwined around your little body? Your first human mother Rachael and I came home to find you clothed in plastic shopping bags.

Oh no! Remember the time as a kitten when you slid down in between the large crack between mattress and wooden bed frame and your mother and I had to pull you out?

My Mom remembers how when she slept on the couch at Bronx River Road, you would jump down from rim of the couch back onto her stomach, waking her. It worked the other way, too, as you would sometimes use a stomach as a launching pad to get up on the couch back. Always a favorite place of yours to lie and rest.  You never apologized for this habit, continued into future years. But we loved you just the same.

After all, you loved being around people. For many years you would even sit on our laps, when you felt like it, of course. At the very least, you nearly always wanted to be sitting or sleeping close to us as we read, watched movies, talked. And you always kept that endearing habit of pressing your face into either our leg, a pillow, a blanket or arm of a couch in order to get more sleeping darkness, and perhaps feel the comfort of being close to something, someone.

You were the first and only “pet” I’ve ever lived with. My family had our dog son Hercules for at least 15 years, but he was adopted while I was in college and I would only see him when I came home during weekends and holiday breaks. Of course, you and Hercules later became fast friends. But you and I lived together for one month shy of a full decade.

Like father, like son. We were both runners. I told everyone how you were also a runner. Slim like your daddy. You’d shoot off at unpredictable times, as the moment seized you. Sprinting from our long foyer into the family room, jump up onto a couch, look around crazily, jump down, sprint back across foyer and into the bedroom, jump onto the bed, jump back down and repeat. I loved stirring things up during these times, chasing after you. Getting you to chase after me. Do cats usually chase people around?

When not sprinting around frantically, you loved the strategic game of catching the cardboard. Always your favorite toys, you yearned for me to flick a small folded piece of cardboard across the foyer or through the air. Shooting it across the floor was your favorite. You’d sprint out after it, then bounce the cardboard quickly around in your paws before either dropping it or pushing it back towards me. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

Traditional store-bought toys? Usually a waste of money. Most sat around primarily unused, or rotting behind the bookcase where you hid them. I found at least five there when we were packing up our stuff in ’17 to move. But you’d never tire of those cardboard pieces.

You helped us decorate the apartment for Christmas. You tried helping me wrap presents, in your own way by lying down in the middle of the wrapping paper. Moving around to a new place or putting you temporarily in the bedroom was the only way I could get the job done. The second you’d hear the scotch tape pulled, you’d run toward the sound. Ever fascinated by tape, you would stare intently at it, licking your lips wanting to eat it. But if I put a piece on you, you’d jump around strangely, twitching up your back, and darting around.

At least once, you ate the piece of tape so we knew to be more judicious with tape play.

Oh, that reminds me! Did you ever discover that the turkey pieces you loved were vegan? Yes, sir. Tofurkey vegan turkey, smoked. You always loved those pieces I gave straight to you or mixed in your food bowl with your non-vegan foodstuffs.

You were there during so many transformative moments of my life, including the time in 2016 when I became inspired to live abroad, then in 2017 when the plan was actualized.  I think you knew I had to move; it was a calling. Thankfully, you moved to the next best place possible–with The Pierces in Massachusetts.

Both of our lives changed, but we remained intertwined via The Pierces. My Mom and I were so blessed to spend time with you this past August, just 4 months ago. Seeing you enjoy your time at the Red Roof Inn in Natick, Mass.,  it reminded me of all the great times we had on road trips before, all the times you loved traveling around to different states.

You were such a well traveled little guy. As a young fellow, you even flew in the plane cabin once with your second human mother and I. I remember at the security checkpoint, we had to take you out of the carrier we had so much trouble getting you into. Then we were worried you would leap out of our arms as we walked through security and make a mad dash into the terminal. As usual, you really did not mind being held–maybe even enjoyed it–and everyone, including the whole airport security team, was proud of you.

Unlike  most cats, you hardly ever had any freak out moments. You actually liked being held, at times, and even enjoyed having your belly scratched. A question I have for you: were you part-dog? After all, you always enjoyed the company of dogs, especially your good friends Kiwi in The Bronx and Hercules, in Kentucky. But you never wanted to have anything to do with other cats. Not even the females I tried introducing you to.

And those long car rides from The Bronx to Bardstown, Kentucky never bothered you. Besides the first 20 minutes or so when you were climbing all over me in the front seat, you were completely calm and quiet over the subsequent 13 hours. You had your food and water bowls on the back floorboard, your kennel on the back seat, litter box to the side of the kennel and cardboard scratch board on the opposite floorboard. You spent some time in the kennel, but also loved curling up in the warm sun shining onto the space just under the back window. Often times at gas stations, you would stare out the side windows at me as I pumped gas, loud meowing heard from outside.

You made at least 4 complete road trips with me from The Bronx to Bardstown  and back. At least a couple with just us two together, one with Riquelmi–from Bardstown to Manhattan–and at least one other trip with your second human mother Dayanna and me. Shoot, you’ve traveled to more states than many Americans have:

New York–from Mount Vernon, to Yonkers–where you lived for about 1 year 4 months– and then living in The Bronx for 8.5 years, with 8 of those years in our wonderful apartment on Holland Avenue.

Remember, you also vacationed in Queens for 5 weeks back in ’10 and in your last 5 days or so in New York, you stayed with Riquelmi in Manhattan. You also spent another week with Riquelmi around 2015-16 in her Harlem apartment.

New Jersey-Pennsylvania-Maryland-West Virginia-Kentucky…road tripping

You were back in PA at a place I’ve never even been to–Vegan SummerFest. Yes, you actually attended the event Eric has been trying to get me to attend since the year 2001.

I think April 23-24, 2016 was your first ever hotel stay, at a Hampton Inn in Pleasant Valley, West Virginia. Here are your first moments exploring the room:

 I remember I went out for dinner at a local Mexican place and when I came back you eagerly greeted me as though I’d been away for days.

Similarly, you nearly always did this on Holland Avenue. It was a ritual I’d come to know and love…”Charlie, I’m home!” If you were not already at the door, you came running over.

I still say this all the time at my apartment here in Shanghai: “Charlie, I’m home!”

You’ve also spent the night in a little Hampton Inn on the Mason-Dixon Line in Maryland. And you were with me during those fulfilling treks into the Morehead, Kentucky Kroger store to pick up discounted vegan items. >>I apologize, son, for the time it was blazing outside and I still went into the store. Yes, the car windows were cracked open, but I probably should have forfeited the trip in that day.

Among the best of times were our stays at the family home in the countryside outside Bardstown, Kentucky. I’m so happy you met my Mamaw just before she passed away.

You had the run of the log home. You’d hide away sometimes on the chair in the basement kitchen, especially when the grandkids became too much for you. But you’d always reappear upstairs at times of your choosing. You’d wander through the kitchen, by the fireplace, then jump up onto the couch, worrying my Mom. But we knew you’d want to lie on the top rim of the couch so we had blankets already strategically placed beforehand.

Just a few years back, you were a part of our Christmas morning there with the grandkids.  It was beyond wonderful to have us all together–you were a central part of our family. Sitting by a warm fire, snow falling outside, me wanting to hold the moment forever.

Here you are attempting to unwrap our gifts:

 Angelina, Abagail, JJ loved you. Here are you and Angelina napping together at Christmastime…

 You & Abby…

 Summer of 2018, maybe your first foray into Rhode Island. You waited outside patiently with us as we ate at Garden Grille. You were in your kennel right by us on the patio. Then we all went next door to Sunflower vegan bakery and the employees gave you clearance to do what you love to do most—wander freely. We opened up your kennel and you began walking around within your first vegan bakery. We were so proud!

As usual, I was jealous hearing so many women say how “adorable” you are, “such a handsome guy.” You’ve gotten those comments for years now.

You touched the heart of everyone you met, Charlie. From the time we opened our own Air BNB at Holland Ave., you welcomed every guest who stayed with us. Beginning with our North Korean defector friend, every guest commented about how wonderful you are.

Our Mexican friend Carlos wrote after his & friend’s month long stay:”It was such a pleasure meeting you Kyle and his lovely cat Charlie.”

Our friends from Sweden were with you for a month. I remember you being pet by the ladies, totally relaxed, just basking in it.  Do all cats like having their belly scratched?

You were always the center of attention with your second human mother Dayanna & her sisters. Rather than running away like most cats, you would run towards guests. Everyone always appreciated your warm welcome.

Although we lost touch with Dayanna these past few years, you did so much in helping keep her calm and relaxed as she studied for the MCAT exam.  I am thankful she was there to keep you company day after day while I was at work. It was a blessing for us all and I am happy you were not alone during those weekdays.

Most importantly, you were there for Mrs. Pierce these past 2.5 years. You kept her company every day, first on Cape Cod and more recently just off the Cape. It was a perfect arrangement for her during some tough times of rehabilitation and assisted living. Thank you so much, son, for your compassion and empathy.

Eric & Mrs. Pierce grew to love you so much within these past couple of years. They provided you with the best care and medical treatment possible. You, in turn, provided them with your constant companionship, generosity of love and every day warmth of spirit.

And thank you, Charlie, for your humor.

Although frustrating at times, it was mostly funny how you would always try to escape from rooms. I’m pretty certain this continued all the way into this month. Your escapes were more endearing than most because they were slow, strategic. You would walk out the door, but never sprint away. However, many a time we’ve all had to wander out into various hallways of New York and Massachusetts to retrieve you. You were always curious about what was going on out there…

 Eric posted up these signs on his Mom’s door to forewarn guests about your possible escape attempts:

 Sunday, December 15th China Time:

I am full of sadness thinking you will not lick the salt from my head while I’m on the floor stretching after a run.

I want so much to kiss you all over your head and face—“Charlie! I love you!” And you actually let me do it! I’m pretty sure most cats would’ve scratched my eyes out.

I cannot imagine that this will not happen again.

Your friends Chris & his daughter Gabriella just sent this message:

“Gabriella and I really loved and adores him. She wanted him to live with us. We will grieve his life and miss him dearly.”

Riquelmi & her sister Nathaly are sad and send condolences.

Lisa just wrote: “He was an amazing cat.”

Lyndsay at Angell Memorial just sent us this message: “Charlie was a wonderful kitty who was well loved.”

My Mom and the grandkids went outside today and made a memorial for you, praying for your journey.

Mrs. Pierce, Eric and myself are just enveloped in sadness.

I hope, pray, trust you are reunited now with your dog friends Kiwi and Hercules. You spent weeks living with Kiwi at the Vargas home. Everyone thought it was so cute seeing you together with your little Pug friend.

And I’ll never forget when my family was visiting New York and we were out and about all day, leaving you and Hercules in the apartment together. We figured everything would be okay but you all surprised us. Hercules typically did not get along well with other dogs and you did not get along well with other cats. But we came home to discover you and Hercules on the couch–side by side, not more than a foot and a half apart. Relaxing together as friends.

We watched countless movies together.We listened to countless songs together. You were my son, my friend, my roommate, my confidant through hard times. When several different girlfriends moved on with their lives, we still had each other. When my Papa passed away in 2009, you were there for me. When my Mamaw passed on in 2011, you were there with me.

You helped keep Jacob company one day soon before he passed away. We traveled up to our neighbor’s fifth floor apartment and encountered our remarkable friend, an Auschwitz survivor who after 103.5 years, still made time to ask how you were doing. You shared with Jacob the same love you have shared with every family member and friend.

____________________________________________________________

Back in the fall of 2009 after we’d first moved into our Holland Avenue apartment, I got a call while at school. It was the building manager. Some neighbors across the hall noticed our front door was wide open. Literally, wide open. Wind rushing in through the open hallway windows had blown open the unlocked door.

You capitalized on this situation by exiting the apartment. Neighbors discovered you wandering through building corridors, footloose and fancy free. I’m sure you were having the time of your life, son!

This is how I want to always remember you, Charlie: You were-are still a cat, setting your own terms, but you were also one of us–a central part of our human family. You gave comfort to us, as I trust we gave comfort to you. You celebrated with us, greeted us, brought great joy to our daily lives. I pray we did the same for you.

You were very gracious in your love, expanding your circle of family to include an ever longer list of acquaintances, who quickly became new friends. These include veterinarians and radiation technicians who aided you up to the very end of your physical life here. You held no grudges, even after the poking and prodding. You still gave love to all.

You literally threw yourself against the legs and feet of every new acquaintance. Your back legs were always a bit wobbly so sometimes this resulted in your entire body just plopping down onto a person’s feet. Everyone was drawn in immediately by this love you gave us.

I pray we can all learn from your selfless generosity of spirit, while continuously expanding our own circles of compassion.

Son, you will always be with me. I trust I am with you.

I can never stop saying what we both always knew would bring you to me if you had not rushed to greet me already: “Charlie, I’m home!”

Love Always,

Daddy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Riquelmi says:

    This is so touching. Charlie was the cutest thing and a loving soul. I am grateful for the time we spent together.

    Nathaly and I continue to pray for his journey 💜.

    Like

    1. Thanks so much for helping care for Charlie, Riquelmi, and for your thoughts and prayers

      Like

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