Gabby’s Story: A memoir of my best beloved feline friend
Writing is cathartic for me, and writing these memories of Gabby has helped ease the pain that loss brings, just a bit. If you are animal lover then you will understand– if you are not than don’t bother reading this–because you won’t. Really it doesn’t matter if anyone ever sees this, it is for me. I want to remember our good times as I age, and be able to think back on her fondly. For anyone who has lost a beloved pet, I hope it brings back some happy memories for you.
It is with a heavy heart that I begin writing this love letter to my Gabby. Growing up throughout my life we were very poor, and my childhood was pretty tough. My dad was a gentle soul who loved animals, but being poor we could never afford to properly own an animal–making sure it was vaccinated, spayed, etc. Most were simply strays we took in and loved and fed. Many ran away, some died. It wasn’t until Gabby came into my life that I had a sense of home. My mom passed away just before my sixteenth birthday—we were not close, but her death hit me hard for obvious, and some not so obvious reasons. For my seventeenth birthday my friend Matt and his mom took me to a local shelter to adopt a kitty. My previous kitty, named Sam had accidently gotten out and ran away when we moved (we moved so many times, this had happened before). I was devastated. I tried so hard to make sure he wouldn’t get out so that I could assimilate him to the new house & yard. Sam got out and despite days of looking for him, he was never found. Since I was so upset and it was right before my birthday my friend matt and his mom took me to a shelter to get a new kitty, but it wasn’t to replace Sam, it was to save another kitty from being put down, as so many are in the shelters. So I went.
My brother gave me a pep talk before I went to the shelter. He said I needed to pick the ugliest little kitten there, because that one would have a hard time getting adopted, so I should save that one. After looking for the right fit, I found this awkward little kitten. She was a grey tabby, with huge ears and a tail too long for her skinny body. Her meow was very loud. I held her and she loved me instantly. I put her back in the cage–putting her on my short list because there was a connection for sure. I went and picked up the most adorable all black kitten with blue eyes, and as soon as I held that kitten, Gabby started to meow very loudly and even stuck her paw out of the cage, she was looking at me in the eyes. Even the shelter worker noticed, everyone laughed and said, well she really wants you to pick her, and so I did.
I was seventeen when she came into my life and she was six months old. I took her home and our life together began. I remember as a kitten she would play hide and seek with me. I would actually hide (behind a door or around a corner) and she would come and find me and sprint off and I would run and try to find her, many times she would jump out in the hall from the bathroom and surprise me—her way of saying “I gotcha!!” I remember that summer I had summer school. It was as if she knew I needed perking up, so everyday when I got home from school she would leave me a present by the side door. One week in particular she left me a different part of a squirrel each day (eek!); on the last day, she left the squirrel’s head. She was letting me know how much she loved me! Also, I remember in those early days she climbed way up a huge old tree and got stuck, my loyal friend Matt, climbed all the way up and rescued her. Summer school ended and I finished high school.
At eighteen I moved out on my own with a roommate and Gabby came with me. I had originally named Gabby, Gabriella, one of the Anne Rice characters in the vampire diaries(something I was very into in high school), but eventually it morphed into Gabby, and it was fitting because she was always was very chatty and expressed herself. In the first place I lived with a friend named Carrie, in this old little house on her parent’s property. We used to swear the place was haunted because Gabby would do this caterwallering and chatting and just make all kinds of “conversation” but as soon as we walked in the room or peeked through the window she would stop. We always thought she was talking to a ghost or ghosts as the case may have been.
Those days for us seemed parallel, we were both young and vibrant—life was about having lots of fun, and we sure did. Carrie and I ended up moving in with our friend Christie and the three of us girls and Gabby shared a house. We had a lot of fun times, there, and some not so fun times—but in the end it was all us girls just being young and temperamental, Gabby too! After another roommate situation that went south (typical teenage stuff); at 20 I moved into my very first apartment, all by myself. I worked two jobs to have it. Gabby, of course, came with me. I was never very close with my family, my dad was the only family I really had, sometimes my brother, but he was always in and out– and Gabby. My dad would come by from time to time and he just loved her, and she loved him back. Many nights after going to school, working two jobs, I would come home—and there was Gabby. I was never alone because she was always there, waiting for me. That first apartment felt great for the first year, I struggled but I did it—we did it! Even though I lived alone I never felt alone with Gabby by my side. In so many ways she was my guardian angel.
One night after living at my apartment for a year it was broken into. Everything had been stolen (which wasn’t much). The first thought that ran through my mind when I walked in and realized what had happened was “Where’s my Gabby??!!” I called out to her, and I heard a meow come from the bathroom, there she was behind the toilet, shaking and scared. We were scared, but we were together. I remember picking her up and just hugging on her and crying. Those nights after the break in were so hard, but I never felt alone with her by my side. At night when I would walk to go do my laundry she would walk with me to the laundry room and wait and then walk back with me. Once I could get out of my lease I moved to a new apartment, something with a yard and Gabby was thrilled. It was an old dump, with lovely French windows in an old part of downtown Orlando. She would sit outside all day and nap and enjoy herself and then come in at night.
That year (2004) Hurricane Charley came through. I remember sitting on the floor in my apartment with the wind raging and windows banging, in the dark with a candle and Gabby by my side. We sat there while the hurricane passed, she nuzzled into me and I held her, and again I didn’t feel alone. As the good times in my life came and went she was always there, celebrating my joys with a content head nudge and adding that coziness to my life, in the bad times she comforted me better than any human could. In 2004 Orlando was hit by numerous hurricanes, one right after the other. In the middle of Hurricane Frances my dad passed away. I will never forget how fast it all happened, or seemed to, and Gabby’s illness (now one week in) seems to mirror that tragedy. I had just seen my dad a couple weeks prior, and then he was diagnosed with a second round of cancer, this time in his lungs. I think in that moment he decided to let go because the nature of lung cancer is volatile, and I think he was tired. He had lived a tough, yet ironically simple life but things were getting to be too much for him as he aged. That last night that I went to see him, I had planned on coming back by to visit him that Monday (it was a Friday). He looked so thin and weak. I called my brother and told him he needed to get over to see him, that he didn’t look good. I think my dad was waiting to see us– he had been hanging on just long enough to do that. After my brother left he went into a coma and died the next day, alone at the hospital.
We had ventured out to see him, during the middle of Hurricane Frances, when no one was supposed to be out on the road. When I arrived at the hospital he was in kind of an open room and there were many people around. I had issues with his family before (well, really just one particular idiot) just stupid fights that really don’t mean anything now, but at the time they affected me enough to make me feel uncomfotable to be there. I took my dad’s hand and told him I would be Okay, that he had done a good job, that I am strong, I can take care of myself. Then I told him one of my favorite memories was when he would take me the park and feed the ducks. I told him I remembered the day he let me skip school and took me to the zoo. I told him how much I enjoyed all our late night talks about life and whatever was “going on”. Even though he couldn’t open his eyes and he was in a coma he heard me. He squeezed my hand and one single tear rolled down his cheek. Thinking back on this now it felt like hours, but I know it must have only been minutes. Feeling a bit intimidated and uncomfortable, and with the chaotic energy blowing around from the hurricane I left the hospital, my two best friends at the time on each arm. I was staying at Lea Ann’s house during the hurricane, and Gabby was there too. I remember feeling such comfort and relief when I walked into the bedroom and she was there, waiting for me. I just cried and hugged on her.
My dad passed away on September 6th 2004, the anniversary of his death only day apart from this heartache; while I prepare to say goodbye to my Gabby, who is likely to cross the rainbow bridge here soon. After my dad died I went into a deep depression, gained back weight I had lost, isolated myself. I was wounded and I needed to heal. I was an orphan at 24 and I felt like the only person in the world who really loved me had just died. But I had my Gabby. In those months following my dad’s death she comforted me, sensing I was upset, when I would cry and sit on the floor going through mementos she was there. Her familiar presence was the only salve I had. She slept with me at night; she was at my side when I cried and while I healed.
I ended up moving again and eventually met and fell in love with John. When he met me, it was just me and Gabby on our own. We had been living together for eight years. Gabby was always a barometer for guys. I had a crappy boyfriend, she didn’t like him. She loved John and warmed up to him pretty quick. We moved into our first place together and then the next and Gabby was always there, we became a family of three. When we decided to move from Orlando to Seattle Gabby was there with us all the way. Watching us pack and rearrange our lives for a new adventure. We drove all the way from Orlando to Seattle, the long way through Texas and up California. Gabby was there with us, sharing that adventure. It was John’s idea, somewhere around San Antonio, to let her out of her cat carrier. I was skeptical of the idea. But as soon as he did, they were best buds. She would get up on his lap and look out the window, taking in the scenery just like we did; often she would doze off in John’s lap.
It was an adjustment when we moved here, everything was different, and we were so far from what we had always known. But Gabby was there and she made it feel like home, centering us. It was Laura, John and Gabby—many nights the three of us curled up on the couch watching movies. When it was time for bed, there the three of us were all curled up.
I read somewhere that our animal companions come into our lives when we need them most and they leave us when we no longer need them, like spirit guides. Gabby came into my life not too long after I lost my mother and as I was on the verge of getting myself out into the world. She was, and still is my security blanket, my sense of stability, my home, my family. For a person who never had a childhood home, a neighborhood, and a close family she was my comfort. She has been with me for almost half of my life, through death, joy, hurricanes, bad relationships, loss of friendships, sickness, cross country moves, scary nights alone and all of my triumphs. She will always have a special place in my heart; she was never just a cat to me.
I have noticed since Gabby became ill that there have been several black cats hanging around, just showing up as I walk by and last night I saw Gabby’s eyes get big and look at something in the bedroom, she followed it up and around the room, keeping her eyes fixed on it. I looked and saw nothing, not a moth or fly- nothing. She saw something. I would like to think it is my dad getting ready to take her on to the other side, where they can both watch over me. After my dad’s death, at certain key times in my life (good and bad) cats– especially black ones– seem to appear out of nowhere. The day I placed my dad’s ashes in a memorial spot at my grandmother’s home in Tennessee, my aunt videotaped the ceremony. In the corner of the yard, kind of out of the way, a black cat sat and watched. Later, I asked who the cat belonged to and no one knew—no one had seen the cat around before. If my dad could pick a spirit form it would definitely be a cat. I couldn’t think of anyone better to lead her than him.
As I enter my thirties and my life is taking new shape I know our journey is ending. Having Gabby in my life, allowed me to open up—just enough—to let some people in. I love her so much and I can’t stand the thought of her being in any pain so I will have someone come to our home and help her pass on peacefully while I hold her. I never got the chance to sit and hold my dad’s hand or just be there has he passed and I swore I wouldn’t let my Gabby go alone. It occurred to me that my whole life I have been searching for stability, some place to call home, some sense of comfort and some day when I have that in a home, with a family, I will put her ashes and my dad’s in a garden so they can live on through memory and through the earth.
I read a woman’s blog today that listed all these wonderful things about her kitty and how much she cherished those things and missed them. I decided to do that for my Gabby.
v When gabby was a kitten she would leave lizards in my brother’s sneakers as a present, she never did that to me so I think it was extra special for him.
v There was never a louder, more conversational kitty than gabby.
v Gabby and I seemed to have our own language, I would make all these funny noises and chit chat that only she seemed to understand.
v When I asked her questions she would answer me with meows
v Gabby was always looking for a new place to sleep, we would often find her in drawers, baskets, in closets, I have a great picture of her sleeping in the bathroom sink of one my early apartments, I would say “Where’s Kitty!”
v When I planted an herb garden here she wasted no time getting into my planter boxes and making herself comfy
v I had to rescue her more than once from a mob of angry birds
v When she was mad at me for going on vacation she would leave a present for me right on my bed to let me know how she felt about my absence
v Gabby loved to be outside, and often ruled the roost- she was tough girl, like me, other cats would try to get territorial when we moved to a new place but she always put them in their place right away.
v Gabby’ favorite people foods were chicken and vanilla ice cream
v She loved to sit in the sun and just sunbathe and roll around in the dirt, I remember her like that here, in the window or at the end of the stairs just enjoying the sun
v Gabby loved catnip and a fresh new cardboard scratcher—ecstasy for her!
v Her favorite toys were the little cheap mice that she could bat around and her yellow pillow. It was a long pillow she would kick and “show who was boss.”
v Sometimes I would take the catnip bag and put it on the floor just so I could get a good laugh when I tried to take it away.
v One night in our first place together, John, woke up with a loud yell. Apparently Gabby thought he wanted to play because he moved his feet and she took a meaty bite of his big toe.
v Gabby’s night time routine was to come in, check the window (I called her kitty on patrol!), go munch on her dry food (midnight snack), then come into the bedroom and snuggle by laying on my chest with her head facing me, then when it was time to go to sleep she would go to her spot on the bed, which was a bathrobe I bought for John that he never wore– not even once– but she decided she liked it. She would go to the robe at the end of the bed and “knead her dough” as we called it and then it was time for bed!
v Sometimes when John and I had a spat he would randomly try and pet her or something later and she would spat at him and give him an angry look, letting him know she was on my side, and clearly whatever the issue was it must be his fault! I used to laugh and tell him the ladies of the house are not pleased with him.
v If I am on the computer or doing homework Gabby would decide it was time for me to pay attention to her so she would come and stand on my leg with her two front legs and meow and look at me with this “whatcha doin?” face.
v When we lived in Florida, John and I used to grill a lot. One night we were having a nice dinner out on the front porch, John went in to get something and let out a yell. He came out and said Gabby had jumped up onto the table and stole one of the steaks, he took it from her and washed it off and kept it triumphantly. This also happened with chicken too a couple times, so we gave her the nicknames: The Beef Thief and The Poultry Pilferer!
v John wanted me to teach him how to hold her recently and I did. She always allowed me to hold her and bounce her like a baby with my arm under her tummy.
v I would often call her my little toe nabber because while on the couch I would sit with my right foot under my left knee, if she saw my toes peeking out or moving at all she would stick her paw out and bat at my toes, even if my toes were not there if there was any space between my knee and the couch she would often lay next to me and stick her paw under my knee to investigate.
v Gabby loved to mess around with a plastic bag, many a night I can remember hearing that familiar sound as she found one and decided to make noise with it- I think she did it just to wake me up!
v Gabby loved to tear up papers, especially if she was feeling particularly sassy or mad at you. I learned early on not to leave any important papers in a location where she could get to them. We would often leave school work and notepads lying around, more than once we would find papers ripped to shreds, important mail from time to time also!
v As Gabby got older one of her favorite things to do was lie in a window and get really warm from the heat of the sun on the glass and then go and stretch out in the bed on the cool bed sheets. Many times I would find her all stretched out and just looking so content, cooling off on the sheets and napping.
v When we moved into this condo I didn’t want her outside for too long so I would stand at the door and call for her, she would protest by giving me a “But I don’t wanna come in” meow. I would keep calling her and she would start up the stairs with defiant meows all the way up.
v When she was a kitten, I believe in one of my first apartments, she would come into the kitchen while I cooked, once she jumped into the refrigerator. I didn’t realize it and shut the door. A few minutes went by and I could hear a meow, I looked all over the place! Finally I opened the fridge and she popped out! Thankfully she was only in there for a few minutes, but she never did that again.
v I love to turn up the music and sing along and cook or do chores, Gabby always seemed to love it when I would “rock out”. When she was younger she would start running around like a wind up toy and start playing with her toys, rolling around on the floor. I think she liked the energy of listening to music, and watching me sing and dance around and how happy it made me. She was joining me in my silliness.
v Gabby did what I call the “plop and roll”, she would come and nuzzle your knee or foot, and then just plop right next to you and start rolling around. If I was in bed and she did it, sometimes she would literally plop herself right on my head. Judging by her body language I always pictured her saying “Ohhhh I love you, I love you, I love youuuuu!!!”
v And my absolute favorite thing she did, was any time she wanted my attention (particularly in the morning) she would sit next to me and take her paw and tap my cheek. I always joked that it was her saying “Excuse me, um, I need you to wake up and tend to me. I have napping to do, birds to watch, etc- I’m very busy!” She would also tap my cheek or chin if we were snuggling before bed and I stopped petting her because I was dosing off. Just a gentle tap tap…I will always miss that.
Living alone for years prior to meeting John, Gabby and I had developed our own language. He would often laugh at our interactions and at my “Gabby talk”, and my pet names for my pet! The joke was “Oh I forgot… you’re here…hehe…you didn’t hear any of that.” My crazy nicknames for her:
My Wittle Wittle
Gabby boo boo
Change is inevitable in life—there will be many good days ahead, but today I must accept that I am sad. Goodbye my love, enjoy your eternal sunshine and thank you for being my kitty soul mate during some of my most tumultuous times.