What I learned from Wiley and Frank...
I had two cats. Wiley and Frank. Sisters with boys names... or rather Cats with Famous name sakes. They came to me from a stray and traveled from Florida, flees intact to my apartment in New York at the tiny kitten age of four months. Frank lived to be twelve and Wiley made it to sixteen.
I've grown up with dogs and cats all my life and love them both. In fact Wiley acted more like a dog than a cat, following me everywhere, and growing at the doorbell or FedEx delivery people.
They were both a part of my life for a tremendous amount of growth and were often carted across the country to live in different towns while I did different shows. The constant in my life, they made me laugh. When I was away with them at the many jobs I did, I would come home to find them both snuggled together in the warmth of the quilts. Frank was a proud smart kitty, who often played dumb just so she could do as she pleased, a puma in disguise. Wiley was gentle and sensitive, a bit of a scared-e-cat but a spirited cat, who would curl around strangers feet to ask for pets only to hiss at them and run away.
They both loved to sit in the windows and watch the passing people and always greeted me at the door, when I came home. And of course had to follow me or my husband into the bathroom, only to meow for an exit at the most inconvenient time. Wiley would sleep on my head and groom my hair if I let her. If it was thundering she would hide under the bed until the storm passed, Frank would snuggle closer. They saw me at my best and my worst.
When I realized Frank was sick it was a shock. It's as if it happened over night. She looked drawn and skinny as if she had shriveled in her skin. The same thing happened with Wiley but since Frank had gone first four years earlier, I was more familiar with the signs. They both lost weight at an alarming rate and stopped eating even their favorite treats. The strange thing was the way they dealt with water. Frank curled around the water fountain for two days, and Wiley hung her head on her water glass, drenched from her neck to her stomach, staring at it as if it will lead her into that “other” world, I couldn't pull either of them away. I watched their spirits retreat, drawing back from the world I could see. Eventually relief was all I had to give them.
Pets become a part of you so quickly. I had met a young woman several years ago who bought a little dog. He was very cute and she loved him. But one day she was lamenting that the dog wasn’t paying her attention and wasn’t acting the way she wanted him to act. She said, “ I got this dog so he would love me unconditionally.” I was thinking that this must be the reason many people search out pet companionship, to be loved unconditionally. But, the funny thing is pets and Especially cats, have their own agenda, they are little spirits all their own and cannot be controlled. In my opinion they are not here to love US unconditionally, but if we are paying attention, we learn how to love THEM unconditionally.
That was greatest gift Frank and WIley gave to me. They let me love them unconditionally. Over the course of sixteen years, no matter how many times Wiley threw up on the carpets, or Frank sprinted out of the litter box with a renegade dingle berry attached to her butt, no matter whether Wiley was interested in getting attention rather than me paying my bills, or how much Frank wanted my yogurt or chicken right off my plate, no matter how many of my friends only got to see Wiley's “strange” side, I loved them. Wiley would often ask for attention when I was working and I would have to stop and remind myself that I would not always have the opportunity to love her, that one day in fact, she would be gone. They are both gone and I haven't gotten another animal yet... I'm not quite ready...
I am not always good at transferring the lessons I learn into other areas of my life. I carry guilt and fear, anger and self-righteousness around with me at times just like the best of us. I often forget to live in the present and lament the past, or worry about the future. But animals remind us to be present. It always seemed that no matter how many times Frank jumped up on the bed, it was if she's never seen it before, that there was a whole new world to explore among the warmth of the comforters. And Wiley was sweet and always gentle with me, comforting me at times when I was alone and sad.
And now even if I cannot always remember how to love people unconditionally, or not worry about what is over the horizon, or put down my work and seek love and comfort, at least I have a model for future reference.
Frank and Wiley, I miss you.