The First Day of Fall

Naja died on the first day of fall.

It was still relatively warm in Texas, and the mosquitos continued to pepper my legs with bites.  My roommate’s cat, Naja, had been in self-isolation in Jeff’s closet for almost a week, and we’d been worrying over his lack of appetite and resistance to come outside.  I came home from work on the last day of spring and didn’t see Naja – or my roommate – anywhere.

Jeff arrived from the vet soon after, with Naja in hand.  The cat wouldn’t come out of his crate.

“He’s dying,” my roommate told me sagely, his voice tight.

My dachshund danced around Jeff’s feet in a frenzy, whimpering and crying, urging him to put down the fifth member of our menagerie.  But when he gently laid the carrier on the wood floor, Naja wouldn’t come out.  He lay still and weak.  My pup quietly crawled in to find him.

Naja made it through the night, with Jeff curled up on the floor next to him.  But he passed the next afternoon.

It was a year of transition, loss, and goodbyes for both me and Jeff.  We became roommates on the heels of our respective divorces, when we were both wrestling with any number of changing relationships.  I know that Jeff is still unpacking his figurative baggage and making a home for it in his newly-changed life.

As I watched him grieve this next loss, I imagined that letting go of Naja after twelve years must have felt like yet another ending; like another page being turned in the story of his divorce.  Naja was, in many ways, a part of Jeff’s marriage.  Heart-wrenching though it may be, saying goodbye to his pet could be seen as another step toward freedom and a fresh start.

Naja did his job, and he did it well.  The cat saw Jeff through some of the hardest times of his life.  He was a good friend and a warm comfort in a cold bed.  He was there in the rubble when the destruction was done.  He was a constant.  A grounding force when the earth shook.

Jeff and I sat in the living room, crowded around the closet, crying and talking as Naja passed.  And once he did, good friends came over to celebrate his life.  We pressed his painted paw on to a stone from the backyard; made chocolate chip cookies; ordered pizza and drank wine and talked around our tiny kitchen table.

We buried Naja at sunset in a shady spot marked with stones and flowers.  Jeff’s French Mastiff laid down on the fresh soil, looking at us with an open, candid expression.  Jeff took a picture.

The air was warm and sultry like summer, but it felt like fall.