The Loss of Romeo, My Best Friend
by B Bryan
Romeo in 2010
After my family and I moved into our Victorian home in 2004, I kept spotting what I thought was a raccoon outside. I'd see it whip across the back porch rail. It turned out to be a huge, spotted tabby with a coon-like tail and coloring. He was absolutely beautiful and had big, green eyes. I wanted to pet him, but the magnificent stray wouldn't let me get close. When I'd get near, he'd bolt.
Though his past remains a mystery, I believe that a neighbor moved and left him and his sister behind. We'd taken his sister in who got ran over and had to have major surgery. Though her injuries were extensive, by some miracle, she survived.
Her brother, however, wouldn't let me get close during that first year. One day when he was on the porch eating cat food, I snuck up behind him and pet him. He looked up, stared at me intensely. It seemed like there were stars in his eyes. I'm certain that he instantly fell in love with me. So I dubbed him Romeo.
From that moment on, every time this lovesick cat would see me on the porch, he'd meow loudly even if he was on the opposite side of the street, then he'd race over for some affection.
Though I grew attached to him, with three dogs and six cats, we had too many pets to take him in so he remained an "outdoor cat."
After our cat Lucifer died in October 2007, I grieved horribly. Every day, I'd go outside to feed and pet this stray and noticed that I always felt better from his presence. He had a special quality, an ability to give comfort. By Thanksgiving, I'd decided to bring him in and make him an official household pet, and I'm so glad I did. What a blessing he was.
Though he was my cat, he quickly bonded with the family. He was, quite simply, the best cat we've ever had. He was more like a dog than a cat. He followed me everywhere, slept at me and my husband's feet, sat on the back of my computer chair while I worked, watched at the window for us to return. We loved him so much.
He was a huge cat, 23 pounds, and I always thought he was part Bengal as he had numerous spots and stripes that gave him the look of a wild cat, which is how he got his nickname, "Little Tiger." But I'll likely never know what his genetic background was.
Thursday morning, August 16, he seemed like his normal self. He mooched in the kitchen, ate a lot as usual, and had a nap on the couch with me. I went out that afternoon and when I returned that evening, he was missing. I assumed he'd gotten outside. My family and I conducted several neighborhood searches, but he seemed to have vanished.
Then, in the early hours of Saturday morning, I found him on the living room floor. I have no idea where he'd been hiding all that time. Hearing me call, he apparently tried to come to me and collapsed. He was panting, wheezing, lethargic, and his eyes were dilated. He wouldn't eat or drink. We rushed him to the vet and x-rays revealed that he had a tumor the size of two baseballs near the bladder and the cancer had spread to his lungs. In addition, he had pneumonia and system failure. Amazingly, until this acute complication, he'd never seemed sick in any way. We had no idea that he was terminally ill. It was quite a shock.
That morning, we decided to put him to sleep to relieve his suffering. Afterward, we had him cremated.
It has been two weeks. I'm still reeling from his loss, still crying several times a day, and I believe I'll grieve for quite some time. But even through grief, his memory has already become a blessing. Love comes to us rarely in life, and I believe, with everything in my heart, that he was such a divine gift. He had a special purpose, to see me through some major milestones. He always made things brighter no matter how bad life was. He also opened my heart, made me a better person, renewed my faith. Now I have deeper love for all things and everyone, more compassion and forgiveness.
And his absence has reminded me that, above all things, the gift of love should be cherished.
A few weeks before Romeo passed away, we took in two feral kittens, Loki and Juliette. They give our hearts comfort. I believe they're a gift too, sent to ease our grief through this loss and to lend other unexpected blessings. And I pray that we develop a special bond with them. No other cat will replace Romeo, but each animal brings some special grace to our lives. And though our hearts hurts from his loss, I know that loss is part of living, part of the bargain we make in allowing ourselves to love. But what would we be if we didn't love? We are not supposed to lock our love away in a drawer, but give it again and again. That's one of the gifts pets teach us.