Without a Trace

Coco posing for our cat-lover neighbor Alison

Six weeks ago, my 10-year-old torbie, Coco, disappeared. She hasn’t returned home yet, and she may not. Ok, at this point, she likely won’t.

My husband and I live in a densely populated urban neighborhood, sandwiched in between two main streets with heavy traffic and frequent construction. Coco spends the bulk of her days (and, sometimes, nights) gallivanting around the yards and driveways of our immediate city block. She has a kitty window open just wide enough for her 8-pound feline frame to squeeze through, and uses it daily.

A born survivor, she avoids moving cars, keeps a safe distance from other furry animals, and approaches humans with a healthy dose of caution. We worried about her penchant for tree climbing and snarling at other neighborhood pets, but never about the possibility of being hit by a vehicle or snatched up by a (non-human) predator.

My husband saw her last during a midweek, sunny, March afternoon. She was on the sidewalk in front of our neighbor’s house, rolling in the dust and debris like a maniac–one of her favorite pastimes. My husband thought little of it, that familiar scene, one he assumed he’d witness a thousand times more in the days and years to come.

I can’t remember the specifics of my last Coco sighting. It was that same morning, before I ran some errands. I didn’t think to pick her up and say good-bye, shove my face into her personal kitty space, to which she inevitably holds up a paw–no claws–and pushes it to my face as if to gently say, “Mom, I know this is how you express love, but please stop.”

I simply noticed her in my general space, inside, outside, inside, outside, inside…such is the way of cats. And then I didn’t. Her absence was more salient than her presence. It continues to be even now, but that stark contrast is slowly fading.

For a couple weeks, anytime I spotted movement–a leaf blowing across the driveway, a robin bobbing across the yard, a neighborhood rodent scurrying under a parked car–from the corner of my eye, I jumped and moved toward it, assuming it was Coco, even when my logical brain knew that was unlikely.

Coco in her natural habitat

I’ve told friends and family about the disappearance, usually with a stoic, matter-of-fact tone, focusing primarily on the details of the situation, and less on my feelings around it. I’ve had several cats throughout my lifetime, most in a rural environment, and all of them have either disappeared (fisher cat or coyote, most likely) or died (car accident, euthanasia).

I know the drill. I knew the risk when I adopted a pet. I accepted the likelihood that I would outlive my pe.

I mean, it’s a cat, not a child. I mean, I’m not a 5-year-old. I mean, I’m a grown ass woman who understands the circle of life.

My father insists she was likely hit by a car. I quietly disagree.

My sister believes she will return in 10 months, the way one of her cats did last year after it found a new home. I wonder.

My bff reserves judgment, and expresses disbelief at the lack of emotion I have displayed. I rationalize.

My neighbor (let’s call her Alison) is convinced that we will track her down and bring her home. I feel touched by her infectious optimism.

Baby Coco, ca. September 2010

She loves Coco perhaps even more than my husband and I do. Alison told me that her bond with our cat is what convinced her and her boyfriend to adopt their own.

When I told her that Coco hadn’t returned home after two days, Alison sent out the bat signal. Casting a wider net than I could have imagined, she informed and perused myriad platforms and resources.

  • Nextdoor
  • Facebook
  • Craigslist
  • Animal Rescue League
  • PetFBI
  • MSPCA and local shelters
  • Local veterinarians
  • City sanitation services (they find animal carcasses in the streets–who knew?)

Armed with packing tape and a staple gun, she braved New England March weather to post flyers around our neighborhood with me. More than once. The long walks provided an opportunity for us to get better acquainted and discuss all things cats. I introduced her to the Facebook page CocaineKitties. I recommend it to all.

Last week, I texted Alison that I was beginning to accept the potential permanence of the situation. She asked if she could still post updates online. I said of course, and that I just wanted to prepare her for an eventual sense of closure.

Three hours later, I heard a knock on my front door. When I opened it, a bouquet of cut flowers graced my porch. On the card was a heartfelt message from Alison, her boyfriend, and their cat, expressing sympathy for Coco’s disappearance.

I smiled. Then I texted her a photo of the gorgeous arrangement.

She texted back a video she had taken of Coco pre-disappearance.

I cried a little. Then a bit more. Then I ugly cried for two minutes, which felt like an exhausting and cathartic two hours.

I’m working through the five stages of grief, and am on the precipice of acceptance.

Accompanying that is a melancholia that seems frivolous, even indulgent, especially right now. In this unstable world with unspeakable suffering.

It’s just a cat.

And yet, I miss her terribly.

When I look online for adoptable cats, I want every single one of them. I also want none that aren’t Coco.

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