I was telling someone about my cat Desmond who had lived to be 20 years old.
"Oh, yes was that the cat that saved your life? Your mother told me about him."
My Mother is a sensible woman and if she believes this is true, then it is.
I had been working at Edith Wharton's house, The Mount, finishing her library before the grand re-opening. It was a spring and I was glad to be out of the city so I went for walks before work. I was glad to be out of the city and I missed the forests of Maine so one morning I decided to dig up a hemlock seedling to take back, as a memento for my small balcony garden.
What I did not know was that I was also digging up poison ivy, with my bare hands. When I returned home, several days later the ivy sprouted from the base of the hemlock and I was head to toe covered in a painful weeping rash.
I recovered but a change began that I could measure.
I was busy at work and we were planning to move, to an old farmhouse in Maine. I wanted to be closer to home. I was just tired, I told myself, must be allergies, I am getting old.
But I went to the doctor and was tested for allergies and nothing, healthy girl. Not old!
Several months later I was still complaining off and on about my breathing being funny and trying yoga relaxation to ease the worry.
"Your Chi is off balance" I was told with great authority by the son of a doctor.
"Are you sure you are not becoming a hypochondriac?" my husband asked this gently but I wondered if he was right.
One night my cat, Desmond woke me up. He jumped up onto the bed, directly onto my upper chest. I sat up as a reflex and then passed out, falling over onto my husband, who woke up.
I called the doctor the next morning and could say with authority that something was wrong. The doctors were puzzled, why would the weight of a cat be enough to make you pass out?
There were more tests, everything looked fine. But in science you only get the answers to questions you are asking.
Finally the right picture was taken and there was something there that should not be there and had to go soon because it was winning. "It" was in a place, and of a size where it could not simply be removed, between the heart, lung and esophogus.
Right where Desmond had jumped onto me.
"It's tiger country," the surgeon told us,as he mapped out the biopsy surgery and the risks. But looking at my chart assured me that he had graduated from medical school when I was born.
While I was recovering Desmond got heart disease, taking care of him was the same as taking care of myself. There were pills and needles for both of us.
He took to sleeping with me, stretched out against my exposed belly, both of us fragile, both of us tough as New England.
We had moved, from New York to Maine, into a creaky old farmhouse. When I went to bed at night I could hear Desmond's steps coming up the stairs, the only sound in the deep quiet of the house and the acres of woods around us.
Patter, patter then jump, he was on the bed next to me asking to come in under the covers.
We spent a year like that. If I woke up in the night, I wasn't afraid, Desmond was right there.
He was 20 years old when he died. He spent a year with us in the farmhouse.
We buried him, in the yard, in a wooden wine crate.
I went to sleep, the night we buried him, and woke up to hear his footsteps, coming up the stairs. Patter, patter, in the quiet house, and then jump. He was on the bed, I felt his weight on my thigh and I lay still, not daring to move, knowing that if I moved the spell would be broken.
Slowly the weight evaporated and he was gone.
I lay awake and listened to the sound of rain which had begun to fall.