Writing about the life and death of Mr. Zig yesterday unexpectedly left me feeling much lighter and stronger.
I realized that, as painful as some memories are, embracing and acknowledging them takes away some of their power to hurt you.
And that is when I realized that I finally needed to talk about Neva.
In early 2015, my wife and I were living in an extremely small apartment with three cats: Mr. Zig, Noodles, and Luce.
Mr. Zig had disappeared around February, giving us three long weeks of anxiety and misery. But then one miraculous morning, he reappeared at our window, seemingly no worse for wear after his odyssey abroad.
Luce, the eldest of the cats, had some long-term medical issues. A family in Moldova had generously agreed to take her in, giving her a lovely life in a bucolic setting in the southern part of the country.
In mid-March of 2015, just two days before Luce was going to be picked up, I left our apartment to go run an errand.
As sometimes happens in this part of the world during spring, the weather had quickly changed from being warm and balmy to cold and windy, and patchy bits of wet snow started falling from the sky.
At the entrance to our apartment building was a small black and white kitten, clearly cold and miserable.
In our neighborhood, there were dozens and dozens of cats running around, and I’d seen plenty of kittens. But something about this little ball of black and white fur touched my heart, so I picked her up and held her to my chest, feeling her purr as she grew warmer and drier.
But still, though, as cute as she was, I knew there was no possible way we could keep her. Our three cats were already quite a challenge, and having Luce go to a better place would give us a little room that we urgently needed.
Therefore, after some minutes, I forced myself to set down the little kitten, and then I went on my way.
Neva Comes Inside
Later that day, at some point, the snow started to come down harder.
I found myself unable to stop thinking about that little kitten and whether or not she was okay.
After a long interior debate, I decided to put on my coat and go check on her.
And there she was in the same spot in front of our building, even colder and more miserable than before.
I do not remember what look she gave me, but all I heard in my heart was, “This cat needs food and then a warm, dry place to sleep.”
Again, though, I knew it was absolutely nuts to adopt another cat at this point. Not only did we definitely not have enough space for a fourth cat, but adopting a kitten meant a lot of expenses like trips to the vet for shots and de-worming, and we most assuredly did not have the money for that.
But Neva was there, shivering and cold and clinging onto me for dear life.
That’s when I bent my head down and told her I would make her a deal. Since we did not have the budget for fancy “kitten food” from the store, the only way Neva could live with us is if she could handle eating raw meat and fish like the other cats. So I told her, “If you can eat the food we have, you can stay.”
I took her inside, pulled out a piece of meat from the refrigerator, and set Neva down on the windowsill.
I gave her the meat, and she instantly began chewing it down with supreme savagery, polishing it off in less than a minute, even though the piece of meat had been almost as long as her tiny body.
Neva had fulfilled her end of the deal, so I realized that I had to fulfill my end.
As crazy and as ridiculous as it was, we now had four cats!
My Wife Comes Home
I don’t remember why, but my wife had been gone all day on the day that I took Neva home, and so she had no idea that I’d even played with a new cat, much less adopted one. So when my wife came home, she didn’t even immediately notice Neva’s presence.
After a couple of minutes, I said, “You’re never going to believe what happened today.”
Neva, of course, charmed my wife just as easily as she had charmed me, and we both agreed that yes, it was crazy to adopt her but also that yes, we were already in love with her and had to keep her.
Two days later, we bid our sad farewell to Luce, knowing that we’d never see her again.
As sad as we were to see Luce go, Neva came into our lives at the exact right moment.
Money was tight, and my wife and I had both gone through quite a lot and were only just getting back on our feet. In the meantime, we were squashed together in a rather sad little apartment.
During our darkest hours, Neva brought us a much-needed spark of joy. Neva was happy go lucky, hyperactive kitten in that little apartment, and she had enormous fun exploring every single nook and cranny of that space.
Even on gloomy days when little sun would come through our one window, or other problems were weighing us down, Neva’s kitten pranks and hijinks always cheered us up.
One of Neva’s very many kitten tricks was to wait until we put food on the table and then try to come up from underneath and hook it with her paw.
For some reason, my wife and I would always say, “Oops! Looks like our landlord has a bit of a RAT problem,” laughing as we’d point at Neva’s cute little face.
Over time, this somehow resulted in us calling her “Ratty” much of the time, even though her “official” name remained and will always be Neva.
“Ratty” sounds like an awful and terrible name for such a wonderful cat, but somehow, it always felt like the name suited her, especially when she’d give you one of her fierce looks, her eyes shining with excitement.
A New Home
About two months after Neva dove headfirst into our lives, things started working out better for my wife and I, and we were able to move into a much nicer place, a semi-detached two-story house on the other side of Chisinau.
Our new home was right in the heart of downtown but in a very quiet back corner of it. Set up in the form of what Moldovans call an “ograda” (courtyard), there was a front gate at the street that opened up into a long, narrow courtyard containing five or six houses.
Our house was nearly all the way at the back, so a good 20 or 30 meters from the street.
The upper level of the house had a gorgeous, big covered balcony that was shaded on one side by a large tree.
After spending the requisite two weeks indoors to get acquainted with their new home, we let Mr. Zig, Noodles, and Neva onto the balcony, and they instantly fell in love with the place.
By opening the balcony door, it was simple for the cats to use the tree to get down to ground level. Or they could follow the rooftops and explore a few other surrounding courtyards as well.
Neva was a bright and inquisitive cat, but she never had that diplomatic bearing that Mr. Zig so effortlessly employed.
Somewhere in her first couple of months at the new house, Neva got into a tangle with a neighborhood cat and received quite a vicious wound in her shoulder.
When I saw her injury, I packed her in the cat carrier and raced her down to the vet, who was just a five-minute walk away.
When the veterinarian examined her, he said that she needed to have surgery right away to stitch it up.
Knowing that it is impossible to do surgery on a cat without anesthetizing her first, I asked him if we shouldn’t wait until the following morning so that Neva wouldn’t be anesthetized on a full stomach.
I also asked him if he didn’t need to weigh Neva first so as to calibrate the dosage of anesthetic.
But the vet insisted that he knew what he was doing, and I, to my chagrin, did not stand my ground.
Less than ten minutes after giving her the anesthetic, Neva started puking and retching. Clearly, there’s a good reason why you don’t eat the night before a surgery, but this guy was just in too much of a hurry to make a buck.
Without any other options, though, I had to let this idiotic veterinarian do the surgery. Luckily, it was a flesh wound, and the veterinarian did an acceptable job sewing her up.
After I forked over the cash through gritted teeth, I took my still-unconscious cat home.
Normally, after surgery, cats wake up within an hour or so, although it may take them several hours to fully recover.
Neva, on the other hand, was not waking up even after two full hours.
Furthermore, her body was limp and growing cold. Neva’s heartbeat was weak, and she was breathing very slowly.
A couple of weeks earlier, my wife and I had been talking about getting a dog when we passed by a little store in the mall that sold dog clothes and accessories.
Very oddly, we decided to buy a cute little dog sweater even though, remember, we did not actually have a dog yet. We were doing better financially, but even so, we didn’t have a lot of extra money, so buying a dog sweater before getting a dog truly made no sense.
Astoundingly, that little dog sweater saved Neva’s life.
Desperate to find a way to keep her warm as her coma continued, I found that dog sweater in a box somewhere and slipped it over Neva’s limp body. It was a perfect fit.
Wearing her fluffy warm sweater, I placed Neva in the chair on the balcony right in the full rays of the sun, and slowly, she started to get a little bit warmer.
But after four hours, she was still limp and unconscious.
Furious, I ran down to the veterinarian’s office and confronted him, but he blew me off by saying, “Relax, she’ll come out of it.”
Shaking with rage, I stalked back home and kept my vigil over Neva.
It was only six hours after her surgery that Neva started stirring, and I was delirious with joy knowing that my beautiful cat had returned to us.
By the next day, she was fully back to being her Neva self.
Later, we did adopt a dog (Tina) who did enjoy wearing sweaters. But the one we bought that I used on Neva was too small for Tina even when we first got her.
After she recovered, Neva certainly had no more use of that sweater, but I kept it in my desk drawer as a memory of that scary time.
And now that Neva is gone, it is the only tangible memory I have left of her.
A Brilliant Mind
In our first apartment in Chisinau, we chalked up Neva’s inquisitiveness and curiosity to her being a kitten.
But after we moved to our new house, it became clear that Neva was an incredibly intelligent cat.
There was a fierce and bright intellect that you could see behind her eyes, and she learned to do things very, very quickly. When there was a problem or puzzle to be sorted out, Neva always found the solution way before the other cats.
We adopted our dog Tina in June, and Neva immediately learned not just how to bond with and play with Tina but also how to “train” her. She knew exactly how to engage with her in play but then tell her to stop when it got too rough.
Neva was always intensely curious about everything, and I remember many times when we were taking Tina for her first walks outside that Neva would follow behind, studying us.
And I’ll never forget one pre-dawn early morning when I rose to take Tina on her walk. As we exited through the street gate, we heard a loud meow and looked up to see Neva talking to us from the second-story roof of a nearby business.
Neva was clearly telling us, “Hey, wait up a minute. I want to come with you!” and I was saying back to her, “Do not try to jump down from there, it’s way too far. Just go back home, you silly cat!”
But Neva never gave up on anything.
Following along parallel with us as Tina and I walked up the street, Neva kept pace by hopping across the rooftops, loudly chattering all the while, telling me to “Hang on, I’m coming down.”
Finally, there was a corner of a rooftop that was somewhat closer to the ground, and I held out my arms and she expertly jumped onto my chest. She was always bold as hell about that kind of thing, so I only gently chided her as I set her down.
I expected her to run back to the house, but instead, she insisted on following behind Tina and I as we did our entire walk around the block.
I kept looking back, thinking Neva would have broken off and gone back towards home, but there she was, her tail up, “going for a walk” with us as thought it were the most perfectly normal thing in the world.
My Special Girl
Neva frequently “talked” to me, using a variety of different chirps and sounds to convey her meaning. Whereas some cats only meow when they want something, Neva would sometimes “chirp” at me just when she was passing through or when I entered a room.
In our new house, she blossomed into a gorgeous adult, adeptly mastering all of the many routes that led from our balcony to the rest of the neighborhood.
When it came time to curl up on my lap, she always did this hilarious routine where she’d squeak at me while turning in a circle, asking me to pat her fluffy butt a few times before she settled down in the perfect position.
She never had Mr. Zig’s strength to open the refrigerator, but Neva knew very well that delicious food came out of the microwave, so she’d often stage herself right on top of it when I was heating up her fish.
Back in 2010, when I had decided to teach my cats to use the (human) bathroom instead of a litterbox, Noodles learned it fairly quickly, but it took Mr. Zig a couple of weeks to get the hang of it.
Neva, of course, did not require any training at all. She simply saw what the other cats were doing and copied it with no assistance from me.
That’s really why Neva was such an amazing cat. That fierce intelligence and strong sense of self made her an absolute delight to be around.
And I really bonded with her in some kind of unique way. It just felt like all I had to do was think about her and then she’d come in the room and “talk” at me. I don’t speak “cat language,” but Neva always talked with me as though she expected me to understand.
After moving to our new house, Neva quickly mastered the art of hunting. Oftentimes, she’d bring a half-dead creature back to the balcony and then go chase me down until I’d come outside and accept her “gift.”
On one of those occasions, a friend of mine with an advanced smartphone came over to visit, and he captured a short, seven-second video of Neva “talking” about her mouse.
That ended up being the only film ever recorded of Neva.
July 6, 2016
One summer day, more than a full year after we’d moved to our new house, Neva was out on the balcony, taking a nap in the same chair where I’d warmed her up that horrible day after her surgery.
She looked so cute stretched out in that chair that I took a picture of her, luxuriating in the golden sunshine.
A few hours later, she would disappear from our lives, and we would never see her again.
Around eight o’clock, I fed all three cats on the balcony as usual. With the sun going down and a warm breeze blowing, dusk was the ideal time for hunting, so all three cats disappeared off the side of the balcony.
A short while later, Mr. Zig came home. Right before we went to bed, Noodles also came home.
It wasn’t common for Neva to be out so late, but it had happened a few times before, so we weren’t too worried as we drifted off to sleep.
I fully expected to hear Neva meowing in the middle of the night to be let back in, or, at most, be back on the balcony when it was time for breakfast.
But Neva did not return, and I began to get really worried.
Neva wasn’t as passionate about food the way Mr. Zig was, but still, she had never missed a meal, and it was quite worrying that there was no sign of her at breakfast time.
I immediately headed out into the neighborhood to see if I could find some kind of sign or trace of her, but I encountered nothing helpful.
Knowing just how smart and resourceful Neva was, I could not imagine that she’d fallen somewhere and injured herself or been taken in by some kind old lady who was handing out food.
Noodles was a shameless beggar, but that just wasn’t Neva’s style.
Neva was a very vocal and willful cat, so I knew that even if someone had locked her in their house, she would never stop until she had been set free.
In our section of downtown, there weren’t many stray dogs roaming around, but I still did a wide sweep to see if I could maybe spot some newcomers or perhaps identify some dogs who might look like they could’ve attacked a cat, but I saw nothing.
Knowing just how smart Neva was, and with the knowledge that she’d been exploring the neighborhood for over a full year, I just couldn’t imagine that she’d be unable to handle a dangerous animal, person, or climbing/jumping spot.
Although there was a busy street near our house with lots of car traffic at all hours of the day and night, I couldn’t imagine why Neva would go through so much trouble to get there and/or cross it.
I’ve seen cats die from being hit by cars before, and I know that, during the nighttime, they can take even experienced cats by surprise, so I then began the grim task of looking for a sign of a cat being run over by a vehicle.
Without finding any animal corpses or bloodstains, I then began to suspect that perhaps someone had seen the dead body and tossed it into a nearby garbage dumpster.
In that part of Chisinau, almost everyone emptied their household waste into conveniently placed garbage dumpsters located on nearly every street, so I began a doing a grid search.
I combed through every garbage dumpster in a four-block radius, hoping and praying that I would not find my cat’s body.
I never turned up a single scrap of evidence or a clue about what happened to Neva. None of our cats wear collars, so she vanished without leaving a single physical trace.
The Crushing Burden of Hope
As horrible and gut-wrenching and soul wounding as it was to watch Mr. Zig die, even that was better than going through Neva’s disappearance without a trace.
For a day or two, I feared the worst, but when I saw no signs of any animals injured by vehicles (or dogs or anything else), I began to hope that Neva was just inside someone’s house, somewhere.
Some unknown person or persons had just taken her in and locked her up. Neva was a brilliant cat, but maybe someone had tricked her.
I immediately discounted the possibility that someone had taken Neva because of her “value.” She certainly wasn’t of pedigree stock and her black and white fur patches were haphazard and highly asymmetrical. On one of her legs, there was a ridge of white hair poking through the surrounding black fur.
Her coat, although glossy and silky to touch, was quite short. About the only thing objectively special about her was she had one paw with three pink pads and the fourth pad was black. It was quite cute, but no one would snatch her off the street for that.
So maybe it was a mixed-up old lady or a little kid who fell in love with Neva and just had to have her.
Except even that doesn’t make much sense considering that Neva clearly ran into trouble at some point in the evening, not the middle of the day.
Furthermore, Neva was incredibly cunning and willful, so if she wanted to escape, she would’ve found a way. Was this theoretical kidnapper really so intent on keeping Neva that they were willing to barricade her in some house? No way.
Ruling out the mixed-up old lady or pampered kid scooping up Neva, the only other conceivable kidnapper that I could think of was some kind of cruel bastard who snatches up cats to sell to laboratories.
That is a thing, by the way, although in Chisinau it seemed highly unlikely. Moldova is far too poor a country to be engaging in bizarre and expensive experiments on cats.
Secondly, I did several surveys of the neighborhood, and as far as I could tell, all the other countless strays and outdoor cats (including the three who were not ours who lived in our courtyard) were all in place.
Some scoundrel willing to scoop up cats for science experiments would probably have taken as many as he could, not just one little female. Hell, there were two cats who camped out at the dumpster across from my house that hadn’t been molested.
Therefore, I concluded that it seemed highly unlikely that Neva had been kidnapped.
The Avalanche of Hope
As one day turned into two and then turned into three, the waiting became more and more unbearable.
Twice a day, during mealtimes, which were served outside on the balcony, I’d always keep straining my neck to see if Neva would pop out of the darkness, meowing hungrily for her food.
But she never did come.
Night after night, I’d awake at the tiniest noise, my mind racing as I analyzed every sound to see if it was Neva.
Every single time Noodles and Mr. Zig jumped off the balcony, my heart began pounding. Would one of them disappear, too, never to be seen again?
I wanted to lock them inside forever, but of course, I knew I couldn’t do that.
After one week went by and I felt, somehow, that Neva hadn’t been killed, I began to hope that she was plotting her escape and would be back home soon.
Mr. Zig, after all, had disappeared for three entire weeks at our old apartment. And that was during the coldest part of winter.
Neva was far more intelligent than Mr. Zig, and the nights were balmy and warm. She certainly wasn’t in danger from the elements.
When one full week goes by, you feel a heavy stone roll onto your heart. That last carefree memory of seeing her happily leap off the balcony and disappear into the shadows replays over and over and over again in your mind.
The day she disappeared had been so completely normal. Neva ate her dinner with her typical enthusiasm, and I watched her clean her face afterward without even the tiniest sensation that something was off.
When two full weeks passes by and still no sign of Neva, the weight on your chest begins to increase.
But then, at the back of your mind, you always remember that Mr. Zig successfully disappeared and returned home, and besides, you’ve now read dozens of stories on the internet about other cats who miraculously reappeared home, sometimes traveling vast distances.
Having formed such a strong bond with that genius little cat in the short time that you’ve known her, you try to send out your psychic powers into the world and sense if Neva is still alive or not.
I never felt any sign of a hard disconnect to tell me that she was dead. But I also never received a strong signal that she was alive.
As the date approaches for three full weeks since Neva’s disappearance, you brace yourself for extremely painful disappointment, but at the same time, the date feels magical and talismanic. Maybe there’s some kind of connection to the moon as to why cats disappear, and it takes a three-week cycle for them to come home.
It was a crazy thought, but I still had hope.
On the morning of the twenty-first day, I woke up before dawn, praying that my miracle was coming and that I’d see Neva burst into sight, happily meowing to be home.
But no miracle ever came.
A small thought came to mind. I tried to dismiss it, but it began to harass me until I finally gave in.
Yes, we had been living at the new house for more than a year, and Neva had only spent two months or so at the old place, almost all of it indoors, but what if she had somehow “returned” there?
Our old apartment was way on the other side of town, and it took me a full forty minutes to get there by bus. It seemed absurdly unlikely that Neva would somehow trek all the way over there instead of coming to our current home.
But I had to try, you know?
I was quite sad as I looked at the forlorn neighborhood in which we used to live. From behind the building, I spied our old bedroom window that we’d once propped up tree branches against to give our cats a “bridge” to the outdoors.
In front of our old building, I sat on one of the wooden benches, just taking in the sight of the doorway where Neva had climbed her way into my life on that snowy March morning.
I was flooded with memories, including memories of Neva, but there certainly wasn’t any sign of her now.
Of course not.
But I had to try.
Tombstones on Your Heart
Three weeks passed by and no sign of Neva. And then a month passed by.
There was an old abandoned building near our house, and I started to become convinced that Neva had somehow gotten trapped in there.
There were plenty of broken windows, but no opening big enough for me to get inside, so I called out her name over and over again, somehow insanely expecting to hear her cry back in a weak tone of voice, allowing me to break in and rescue her.
I heard plenty of other cats yowling in the streets, but never Neva.
Two months passed.
If she had been kidnapped by someone local, they sure seemed to be quite committed at keeping her indoors.
But then it occurred to me that maybe someone had been visiting a friend or relative in my neighborhood the night that Neva disappeared, and that someone (or their bratty kid) had, for whatever reason, decided to grab Neva.
If they put her in the car, there’s no telling how far they might have taken her. And it might explain why she hadn’t been able to make her way home even if she did have access to the outdoors.
I didn’t drive, and I never used a taxi or bus much in those days, instead walking everywhere.
Now, everywhere that I went, I was constantly scanning for that familiar black-and-white face of my cat. If the theoretical kidnapper with a car was living in Chisinau, I felt certain that I’d have to come across Neva at some point.
But, of course, I never did.
After three months of absolutely no sign of her, the kidnapping theory seems more and more ludicrous.
Neva is probably dead. You should grieve for her but let her go.
But I couldn’t let go.
On my toughest days, I’d take out her sweater and inhale it deeply, trying to catch the last remaining ghost of her smell. That may sound macabre to some people, but it really helped.
One year later, we were still living in the same house.
Mr. Zig and Noodles had gone out exploring from the balcony hundreds of times without incident. It was only Neva who failed to come home.
On the anniversary of Neva’s disappearance, I spent all day long scanning the surrounding rooftops.
I wasn’t delusional enough to think that Neva was somehow waiting to come home on that exact day, but I was hoping to get some kind of sign about her from the universe.
Should I keep up my vigil and eternally wait to hear Neva cry out one morning? Or should I let her go?
It was summertime again, the air warm and redolent of the barbecued meat wafting up from our neighbors.
There was a breeze rustling the tree leaves, and all of the neighborhood cats (including Mr. Zig and Noodles) were out, exploring.
What sign would I possibly receive? Would it tell me that Neva is out there, alive and well without me? Or would it say that she’s crossed over?
There was no sign.
It was just me alone out there on the balcony, bawling my guts out because I really missed my fucking cat.
Another year passed by in the same house.
I had long since stopped twitching during every meal. A third cat had joined our family, and all was well with the pack.
And yet, at least once a day, sometimes many times a day, I’d be hit by a bolt of pain in my heart as I mourned Neva’s disappearance.
Neva had come into our lives as a pure miracle. Surely, she wasn’t meant to be taken from us after little more than a year!
We loved that cat, all of us did, and me with a burning flame in admiration of her prowess and intellect, a cat so lively with personality and emotion that she carried on conversations with me. Why would the universe give Neva to us and then take her away?
And how exactly could a cat as resourceful as Neva let something bad happen to her? On the night she disappeared, Neva was on familiar ground that never once imperiled our other cats, and yet somehow, something major happened to Neva.
Or perhaps Neva didn’t get kidnapped or run over by a car or eaten by a dog. Maybe she intentionally ran away, not to our old apartment, but to some better living conditions somewhere else. She wasn’t kidnapped, she just ran away!
But wait a second. Neva clearly chose us, and she’d never once shown the smallest sign of discontentment. On the contrary, she was immensely happy living in our house, playing with the dog, cuddling with the other cats, climbing up and down trees, and in all other ways enjoying her little cat life.
And where this “better home” was, I sure didn’t see any likely candidates in our little section of Chisinau.
Still, though, it felt good to think of a nice possible explanation for her disappearance, for once. For too long, I had been fretting over kidnappings and horrible deaths. Imagining Neva in her paradise home was a small bit of comfort.
We were in the same house, and Neva, of course, was still missing.
I no longer thought about her every single day, but every time she did come to mind, that hot needle of pain would lance right through my heart.
Mr. Zig and Noodles and our new cat Hera were all great, and I loved all of them, but I still missed Neva quite intensely.
At this point, she had been gone for longer than she had lived with us, so it seemed like all hope should be lost. If Neva was alive and well out there somewhere, she was now more used to that place than our home.
After three years, it seemed highly unlikely that she was “on her way back” from some theoretical kidnapper that had driven off with her one night.
From time to time, I would still expand my psyche out into the night to see if I could get some kind of signal to know if Neva was still alive or not, but I never received anything.
It certainly didn’t feel like Neva was dead or that her inquisitive, brilliant mind had winked out. But at the same time, I never got even the slightest sign about her condition.
Whatever had happened to her, if she was still alive somewhere, the chances of her returning were now minuscule to none.
And then I started searching stories on the internet, discovering tales of cats who had appeared after years of being gone. One cat had reappeared after five full years.
Maybe I just hadn’t waited long enough!
On the anniversary of Neva’s disappearance, I went and looked back through the meager handful of photos and single video that I had left of her.
She had been gone so long that my memories of her were beginning to fade. And yet, a fierce heat shot out from my heart as I dared to let myself indulge in hope for one brief moment that Neva would return home.
If anyone could defy the odds, it was my genius cat Neva.
About a month after the third anniversary of Neva’s disappearance, my wife and I packed up our things as we prepared to move to Tiraspol.
After the truck was loaded, I asked for one brief moment to say goodbye to the place, and I chose to do it on the balcony.
As I looked out over the trees, I realized that this would be the very last time I would get to see the place where Neva disappeared.
A wave of tears began coursing down my face as I realized that, if Neva really was a miracle cat and came back one day, we would no longer be there to greet her.
I knew that it was absolutely absurd and ridiculous that I was “abandoning” my cat by leaving before waiting a full five years, but that is how I felt, sitting out there on the balcony for the last time.
On the fourth anniversary of Neva’s disappearance, I wanted to go back to Chisinau. I hardly expected to actually find Neva, but I thought it might be soothing if I could at least walk around the old neighborhood and talk to her spirit.
Unfortunately, the global panic had caused the borders to be closed, so I spent a miserable day in Tiraspol grieving for a cat that I had no hope of ever seeing again.
But when I went through the ritual of looking at her photos, I found that the pain in my heart had begun to hurt less.
I still missed Neva intensely, and seeing the photos instantly brought back to mind so many wonderful memories, but she’d been gone a long time.
And with three cats and a dog at home, we had a full house. There wasn’t much room anymore to miss Neva’s presence.
As the fifth summer rolled around, it was Mr. Zig and his illness that took up my thoughts, not my long-missing cat Neva.
But on the anniversary of Neva’s disappearance, Mr. Zig was having a good day. The borders were now open, but I did not feel any call to return to Chisinau to our old neighborhood.
Throughout the day, I felt a dull ache in my heart, but all the searing heat was gone. Wherever Neva was, or whatever she was doing, vast swathes of her life had passed without me. At most, I was nothing more than the dimmest memory in the back of her mind.
And if she was dead, well, then she was at peace.
About a month later, as Mr. Zig grew weaker, and I knew that he was coming to the end of his life, I began looking through my computer and phone for pictures of him.
Somehow, I wanted to prepare images and memories of him during the happy times so that those images would be what I carried with me after he was gone, not the awful, miserable memories of his death.
Being the friendly little guy that he was, there were countless photos of Mr. Zig with other cats, including long-ago neighborhood cats that I no longer remember. I found Mr. Zig with every single cat who had ever lived with us, and I cherished all the memories that flooded my mind when I saw those photos.
But it was one photo with Mr. Zig and Neva that took my breath away.
Taken on a warm summer day just a short time before Neva disappeared, it shows Mr. Zig and Neva stretched out on the balcony sofa, enjoying an afternoon snooze. Through happenstance, it looked as though Mr. Zig’s outstretched paw was grasping Neva’s, and the whole thing was so impossibly cute that I ran inside to get my camera.
As Mr. Zig lay dying at my feet, I realized that I was looking at a photo of my two lost angels, one who had been taken without explanation and the other who had been cruelly cut down by illness.
That photo causes tears to spring to my eyes every time, but it also gives me a real sense of peace. One cat had been a steady source of comfort for twelve long years while the other had appeared like a bolt of lightning out of the sky, forming an intense bond with us before disappearing like smoke.
And yet as I felt Mr. Zig’s spirit let go of this earthly realm, I also felt in my heart that, whatever had happened to Neva, it was time for me to let her go of her as well.
I’ll never know what forces intervened that fateful day to snatch that wonderful cat out of our lives. As strong and as smart as Neva was, maybe a stronger malevolent force overcame her. I’ll never know, and the pain of not having had a chance to say goodbye will always chafe the lining of my heart.
But, you know what? If you told me that Neva was an angel in a cat’s body, I just might believe you. And if you said she disappeared because she had other miracles to perform, I’d find that a real comfort.
I really would.
I’ll never know what happened to you, my beautiful and amazing and miraculous Neva (Ratty), but I shall always cherish and be grateful for the brief time that we shared together.
You were a bright spark of hope and light at a time when we really needed help, and you were a blessing for us every single day that you were in our lives.
I miss you and love you, Neva, and I always will.