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  • Writer's pictureSusan Byers

Oh, Charlie!

It was 2004. Our newly adopted siblings from Vietnam, 5 and 10, wanted a cat they could cuddle, and our older cats were having none of it. So we decided to adopt a kitten, a black one, since we knew they were harder to place. Our newest kids and I went to Lillie's house, where there were a bunch of foster kittens; Len would meet us there. Lillie is with Animal Allies, a wonderful rescue that fosters its cats (we have fostered for them), so they are loved and cared for while they wait for their forever families.

Several years before, we had adopted our dear red girl, Kelli, from them for two other children who desperately wanted their own kitten.

Kelli became our nanny, tucking each child in each night and helping wake them each morning. But she wanted nothing to do with the strangers! So off to Lillie we went.

She had two black kittens, Daisy and Charlie. I had seen Daisy online and had called about her. Now, after playing with them both, we were trying to pick one of two adorable little coal-black babies. Little Charlie was reaching up to play with my daughter's long hair while he sat with her and her brother on the sofa. The children were giggling, and they had, I think, decided on Charlie. I was on the floor, and Daisy bumbled over to me. She climbed up into my lap and literally wrapped her front legs around my waist. "Sometimes, said Lillie, "they pick us."

You know how sometimes you just ... know? I called my husband, who wasn't there yet. "Honey, I don't know how to tell you this ..." "We're adopting two, aren't we?" he said.

"We are."

Daisy was born about July 4th. She was found at about two days old, abandoned under a trailer. It would later turn out that she had cerebellar hypoplasia, a condition affecting her coordination caused by an infection in her mother while pregnant. She wasn't badly affected, just a bit klutzy. Charlie was found the same weekend, and was just a couple of weeks old. Both had been bottle-raised. Each had a tiny brush of white, Charlie on his chest, Daisy on her tummy. Other than that and their green eyes, they were solid black--but in sunlight, you could see they were deepest, darkest brown.

Charlie quickly proved to be a sweetheart. Our refrain soon

became, "Charlie loves everybody." And we were forever being touched by his sweetness and saying, "Oh, Charlie." We joked that "Oh" was his first name. He loved the kids, he loved the dogs, he loved Daisy, he loved everybody. But most of all, he loved his mama.

Charlie's favorite place to be was wrapped around my neck. He would ride around the house like that. He would rub his cheek against my glasses and knock them off. He would walk up the length of my body and peer into my face in the dark. His big ears as a kitten earned him the nickname Batman. When he was little, he would sleep on me; later, he had a spot beside my pillow.

Any time I was sick or upset, he would stretch his long body, belly against me, as if to draw out whatever ailed me. When I had knee surgery, he insisted on lying ON my knee and purring. Did you know that a cat's purr is healing? It's true. It has to do with the frequency of the vibration.

Fortunately, when I had surgery on my nose, he contented himself with close proximity.

When a new pet joined the menagerie, Charlie went out of his way to make friends. It wasn't always welcome. Once he rolled over on a new dog's forelegs and reached up to tug playfully on the pup's ears. The dog froze and looked at us as if to say, "Get it off. Please, please, get it off!" But eventually, they all succumbed, because Charlie was impossible to resist.

Charlie, Daisy and Kelli--and before we lost her, our calico Sassy--mostly spent their days curled up in the sun on our bed.

Charlie had a funny habit of hanging over the edge of a shelf or chair or cushion. He looked like Snoopy impersonating a vulture.

If one of us was working at home, Charlie was there, around our necks or across a tummy or chest.

When we watched TV, Charlie was on our laps or draped over a left shoulder. It was always the left shoulder; if we put him on the right, he'd rearrange to be on the left, over our hearts.

But now, he is only in our hearts.

Charlie left us last week.

Last August, as I wrote in an earlier blog, Charlie was diagnosed with lymphoma. Working with the wonderful Dr. Elsa Beck at the Hope Advanced Veterinary Center in Vienna, Va., we were able to give him another mostly good 9 months.

I couldn't heal him as he had healed me, but I tried. I would put my hands over his belly, where tumors were growing, and pray for healing ... or for an easy passing.

Charlie knew somehow that he was running out of time. He stopped sleeping in his spot next to my pillow, and wouldn't even stay if I put him there. Now and then, he'd curl up between us for an hour or so, then slip away. Sometimes, he'd sleep at the end of the bed. In the last three weeks or so, as he began to lose his fight, he didn't want to come upstairs at all anymore.

He spent most of his last couple of weeks on a coral footstool. He was withdrawing, letting us down easy, slipping away--although he was always happy for a tummy rub, even a couple of days before the end.

We finally went to see Dr. Beck, decided it was time and made an appointment for the following Thursday, the day before we were to go out of state for a wedding, But over the weekend, he really deteriorated. So on Tuesday, May 22, we took Charlie to Hope for the last time, just weeks shy of his 14th birthday. He went to sleep in our arms, and then went home.

We brought him to the house for goodbyes from his fur-family, then had his body cremated, like Magic and Kelli before him. When we put down roots again someday, we'll plant them in the garden and it will be home.

In my life, I have been blessed with many wonderful pets, but one feisty dog and three special cats were soulmates: McKeever, my little black schnoodle; my first cat, my lovely white Princess; my feral kitten and first calico, Nellie; and my sweet Charlie. I have said goodbye to so many, but this time it's harder than most. Charlie was so special and went too soon. Charlie loved everybody. And oh, how we loved him.

There are those who believe only humans have souls; I am not one of them. I believe that the spark that makes each of us who we are, that divine something, exists in all sentient beings. We are all of the same Creator, and our sparks will return to their source when freed from earthly bodies. So sweet boy, we'll be together again. But until then, how I will miss you.

Oh, Charlie.

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