I had Vienna sausages for lunch today. (I know. I have the palate of a child. And not a particularly well-bred one, at that.) Mealtime went much more quickly today because there was no Christopher begging for bits of sausage. I don't know why he liked them so much. (I don't know why I like them either.) But the only thing he liked better was chicken from Long John Silver's. (Yes, yes. See first parenthetical phrase.)
He was actually quite annoying when I was eating Vienna sausages, eating his portions faster than I could spread a saltine with Miracle Whip (ibid) and adorn it with slices of processed meat product. If I ate in the living room, he jumped up on the coffee table and helped himself. (He also liked Miracle Whip. He was my cat, all right.) When I moved the plate out of his reach, he'd jump up on the couch and then walk from the couch to my lap. If I ate at the kitchen table like a grown-up (albeit one who still eats like a kid--anyone remember Franco American canned spaghetti? Yummy with cut-up hotdogs), he would try to climb on the table (a no-no) or, failing that, paw my leg to let me know he wanted more more more. Often the claws were unsheathed. But today I was able to eat my Vienna sausages unmolested. Unmolested but sad.
With JT at work all day, Christopher and I developed our own routines. If I slept in, Christopher would be asleep on the love seat when I got up. My opening the blinds in the living room was often his first clue that I was awake, and he would yawn and stretch, then saunter in to say hello and maybe eat a bit more breakfast. He slept a lot during the day, curled up on an electric blanket draped over a wicker love seat in the solarium, which is located just off the living room by the front door. The door, a heavy old oak door, sticks, and shrieks a little each time it is opened or closed. Christopher raised his head each time the door was opened, so it was habit to look in on him. Each time I left the house I said good-bye, telling him where I was going and when I'd be back.
When all three cats were alive, I checked their whereabouts before leaving the house, and routinely said, "Bye, guys," as I went out the door. After Riley died in October 2001, I made sure I told Mikey and Christopher that I loved them each time I left. Just as with people, you never know when the last time you saw a pet might be the last time you see him. It seems strange, now, even after more than a week, to go out without stopping in the solarium to kiss Christopher on the head and say good-bye. Sometimes, because I can't stand not to, I pause at the door and, looking into the solarium, still say good-bye and I love you before I go out the door. And I still turn my head to look at his spot on the electric blanket when I come in.
The electric blanket is off now, but still draped across the love seat. I know it needs to be washed and either put or thrown away (after years of providing a warm bed for elderly cats, it's not really fit for human use), but I'm not yet ready. Nor am I ready to deal with our outgoing answering machine message, which still says, "You have reached the home of Hannah, JT, Mikey, Riley and Christopher. Please leave a message at the tone, and one of us will get back to you." When I lived alone, I used the cat's names as a sort of protective camouflage, and when JT and I moved in together, couldn't bear to give that up--I was giving up so very much as it was, moving from Virginia to Iowa where I knew no one but JT and his sister's family. And then, when Riley died, I couldn't bear to take his name off the message.
The day Christopher died, I turned off the answering machine, not wanting to hear the outgoing message. We haven't turned it back on. I know it's time we took the cats' names off of it. It was one thing to have the names of our cats on the announcement when they were alive, and another to leave the names of deceased cats on the message. But it's a whole other level of crazy when all of them are gone. It's just...I'm not ready for them to be completely gone. I picked up the litter boxes and cat rugs. I picked up and put away the water dishes and his food bowl, and the mats that went under them. I'm just not ready to give up everything.
Sometimes I think I hear him. When I'm the only one here, I still think that any moment I'll hear the click of his claws on the floor as he gets up to use the litter box or eat a little more food. When I sit in the recliner with a computer on my lap or say my lines out loud, I expect him to come out of the solarium, stretching his back legs to get the kinks out, and then to jump up in my lap. After 21 years, it's strange not to have my day and house filled with Christopher's needs and presence. Perhaps this is a little like the way parents feel when their children move out. We are, after all, empty nesters now. Or maybe just empty hearters.