By Life Positive March 2012 I visited R at the bookshop today. Ever since her cat died in November last year, I’d avoided going in there. As it happens nowadays, I found out about the cat’s passing on Facebook. There was a recent photo of him on R’s page—a furry coral tabby with generous swatches of pure white on his chin and chest and a full tail. His white socked paws were curled in kitten play. She’d used the same picture to inform her friends about his departure. I had met this cat. I had held him in my arms, nuzzled his soft fur, marvelled at his white paws and pink mouth, and thought how young and beautiful he was. I read R’s note several times trying to gauge her state of mind. I composed and recomposed a short email of condolence to her, to convey just enough sadness and sympathy for her loss. Then I went into the bathroom and cried hard and avoided R for the next few months.br/>Today, when I saw R, she had dyed her hair blonde. She wore her usual welcoming smile. We began chatting as we usually do about books and movies and I relaxed. I began to wonder why I had put off coming to see her for this long? And then she said, “Thank you for your note. I really appreciate it.” “What happened?” I ventured carefully. She told me what happened that weekend; how she hadn’t noticed he was sick until it was too late, the surgery and how he didn’t wake up after it. As she spoke my eyes kept wandering to his now empty box on the shelf with its purple blanket and a toy. I asked R if she was thinking of getting another cat. She said, “I was supposed to go to the shelter last Saturday. But that morning, I realised, I just couldn’t do it. I think my heart is still broken.” I felt my face getting hot. Then promising to visit again, I fled. As I walked home, I realised I had put off seeing R because I was afraid of her grief. Grief can be infectious. Grief is awkward and naked. It is an open wound we can’t look at without wincing. I wondered if R felt the rage and helplessness one feels when something is entirely beyond our control. In my inexperience of death I could only imagine what it would feel like. Would it feel like wading through heavy sea water fully dressed? Or wandering in a stretch of desert with no compass and no watch, just a heavy heart? Then I felt relieved that it hadn’t happened to me. I felt like a coward. I came home and held my cat. We lay together, his small weight close to my heart. I told him that I loved him and I promised him we’d be together forever. Because that’s all I could do for now. Aparna Jacob, Sydney
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