When my daughter Rachel was six years old, we went to the local shelter, looking for the perfect cat. We liked a lot of the cats we saw there, but we were especially taken with a mother and her kittens. All the kittens were entirely jet black, except for one. She had a small white tip to her tail, like one bright light in the night sky. We brought her home and called her Star.
Starry was a charmer. Rachel admired her proud manner and enjoyed even more the secret knowledge that it was all an act. Starry could only appear aloof for so long before leaping up into Rachel’s arms to be cuddled and stroked. As time went by, Rachel and Starry adopted certain routines. At night when we watched TV, Starry crawled into Rachel’s lap, and stayed there, purring contentedly. Starry always rubbed her face along Rachel’s chin, ending the love fest with a gentle nip on Rachel’s nose. Sometimes I couldn’t help but feel the injustice of this. I was the one who took care of the cat, feeding, cleaning, grooming yet, Starry was clearly Rachel’s cat. Eventually, I came to love watching their cozy bond.
My little girl grew up, went to junior high and finally high school. Starry was ten and Rachel was sixteen. Starry and Rachel were still close, though Rachel spent less and less time at home. Starry spent most of her day sitting on the sideboard in the dining room, looking out of the window into the backyard. I loved seeing her as I’d pass, her glossy black coat almost sparkling in the sunlight she loved to seek out, the white tip of her tail brilliant against the shining black of her curled body.
One Sunday morning, early in November, Starry got out the door before we could stop her. When Rachel’s friend came over to study that evening, she came in the door with a worried expression. “Where’s Starry?” she asked.
When we told her we didn’t know, she had us come outside with her. There was a black cat lying in the street.
It was Star. The cat’s body was warm and she didn’t appear to be injured. There was no blood or wounds that we could see. It was after hours, but our vet agreed to meet us after our distraught phone call. Rachel was upset, but holding it together. My husband Burt and I told her to stay at home while we took Star to the vet.
Burt and I picked Starry up carefully and rushed her to the vet’s office. The vet examined her briefly before looking up at us and saying, “I’m sorry, but she’s gone.”
When we got home, Rachel could tell by our faces that Starry was dead. She turned without speaking and went to her room.
It had been a hard year for me. My father had died not long before, and I hadn’t totally come to grips with the loss. Rachel and I were in the midst of the delicate dance mothers and teenaged daughters everywhere find themselves performing circling, pulling away and coming together in odd fits and spurts. I took a chance and knocked at her door. When she said come in, I sat with her on the bed and we cried together. It was a good cry, clearing out some more of the grief I couldn’t face about my father and bringing Rachel and I closer as we shared our sadness about Starry.
Life went on. Thanksgiving came and went. Rachel and I both found ourselves mistaking black sweatshirts strewn on chairs or floors for our newly missing black cat. The sideboard looked desolate, empty of the warm presence glowing with life I’d come to expect there. Over and over, little pangs of loss stung our hearts as the weeks went by.
I was out Christmas shopping, when I saw it. It was a Christmas tree ornament in the shape of a “cat angel.” A black cat with white wings and a red ball between her paws. I had to get it, but bought it wondering if it would be a happy remembrance of the cat we’d loved or a chilling reminder of our loss.
When I got home, I painted a white tip at the end of the angel cat’s long black tail and hung the ornament on our tree.
That evening, when Rachel came in, she flopped on to the couch. She sat staring at the Christmas tree, “spacing out” after a long day at school and after-school sports. I was in the kitchen when suddenly I heard her gasp. “Mom,” she called. “Mom, come here!”
I walked in and found her standing in front of the tree, looking at the cat angel with shining eyes. “Oh, Mom. It’s Starry. Where did you find an ornament with a tail like hers?”
She looked about six again. I gathered her into my arms and wonderfully she didn’t resist. We stood together, looking at the tree, feeling our love for Starry and for each other.
Our charming, nose-nipping cat was gone, but now Starry, the Christmas angel, would be a part of our family tradition for years to come.
Sometimes you can make your own miracles.