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TideWriters Tales
My Darling Emma
By Joanna Gassisi

     Decades ago my beau Thomas and I went to Madison Square Garden to see a cat show. We’d never seen a ‘cat’ show and it was a hoot! I fell in love with the Persians: their plate flat faces, cobby bodies and gorgeous coats knocked me out. I just knew I knew people who looked like them! Indeed Winston Churchill looked like them!

     A month later Thomas came home, hung up his coat then asked if I could get something out of the pocket for him. I almost did a ‘get it yourself’ but the twinkle in his eye hinted something was up. In his pocket was a tiny tabby Persian kitten we named Emma. Thomas and I didn’t last but Emma and I teamed up for almost nineteen years. 

     She lived every minute of my life with me To everyone else she was a haughty little thing, a pretty cool customer, but with me she was a cuddly, funny, talkative buddy; happiest when I was painting and she could walk all over my painting table and disturb nothing. She’d sit mesmerized, watching the brush go up and down for hours, slumbering and purring.

     Some cats hate baths. But Em loved them...well, those in my kitchen sink anyway, the ones with lots of crooning and ‘goodle girl’. We were living in Champaign-Urbana where I was toiling under the weight of a five-year contract with the University. It was close to the holidays and I was swamped with last minute things but wanted Emma to have a nice bath and grooming before we hit the road for New York City. One of my colleagues recommended a local animal salon and I made an appointment. I brought her in a little carrier and everybody oooed and ahhhed when I handed her over to the attendant and left for a full day’s classes.
Toward mid afternoon I called to see if she would be ready to be picked up on time and got a very cool response. The voice on the phone sounded curt, announcing ‘you can come and pick her up anytime, the sooner the better!” 

     Well, that didn’t sound too good so I left as soon as my class ended, arrived at the salon where I was greeted with icy coolness. The place looked kind of ‘tumbled up’, the floor was wet, a couple of ceiling tiles were askew, a third lay broken on the floor.

     “What happened?” I stammered.

     “Your cat did this!” one of the attendants replied through clenched teeth.

     Em was a little cat, less than five pounds, but quick—very quick when she needed to be. Apparently, they had her in the sink, shampooing away—a poodle was being groomed nearby. The sound of a hairdryer startled her whereupon she leapt directly upward, anchored herself on the ceiling and ran away upside down until she couldn’t hold on anymore. She came down claws out on the poodle who howled and bolted off the table with Emma firmly anchored on his back like a bronco rider. The attendant’s arms showed evidence of interference and Emma was locked in a cage.

     I was directed to “Get her myself.” I did. Emma was still damp, in fact she looked pathetic.

     “Em”, I cooed, “It’s me, sweetie, come on, let’s go home.” 

     I didn’t even have to put her in her carrier. She buried herself in the crook of my arm. I did a lot of apologizing, tipped the attendant way too much and we excused ourselves. No more grooming parlors for us!! 
As the years sped by, she had a couple of bouts with cancer, which we handled with our wonderful vet, Dr. Kulman. The third one was too much and we simply decided to let her go as long as she was not in pain and functioned, which she did with some help. Inevitably, however, the day came when it was painfully clear that she was ready and I was being selfish...so I made the appointment.

     Emma was a loft cat, an art cat, an inside cat; occasionally she’d venture out onto the fire escape to stretch in the sun and watch the traffic go down Mercer Street. This day was different. I simply couldn’t cab over and meet that appointment. It was much too quick. We had been together too long for that. So, I wrapped her up in a bright red towel and we walked from Mercer Street to 17th and Park, a good twenty blocks. It was a beautiful day. We walked across SoHo, past the Grand Union, across the park and I quietly talked the story of our lives to her, from my first love affair with her beautiful coat. Many people stopped us.

     “Is that a cat?”

     “Oh, she’s beautiful!”

     “May I pet her? She’s so soft!”

     Well, this was not Ms. Congeniality. She was my girl, but this day she belonged to me and to the world she was experiencing. The horrible oozing tumor was tucked in the towel and all that was visible was her beautiful head and two front paws. And didn’t she take it all in!!! The girl that was so lethargic that morning was wide eyed and in the moment. We sat together on a sunny bench, more people came over to say sweet things and when we finally got to Dr. Kulman’s we were both ready.

     I held her in my arms and we never looked away from each other. The last thing she heard was my voice thanking her for everything, telling her I loved her, I would always love her and asking her to wait for me.
It has been many years since that afternoon, yet my heart and mind are full of my darling Emma, and the love I have for her is as sweet this moment as it every was. I think once we have experienced our pet’s life they stay with us in a present tense, perhaps the way American Indians respected and knew animals. We know our beloved pets and their spirits never leave us. For now, she walks beside me in spirit, but someday I’ll join my darling Emma again.

© Joanna Gassisi 2004 All Rights Reserved

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