Emily was a gift for me, meant to be a companion while the Stork (who was in the Navy when we first met) was supposed to be away at sea for six months. About a week or so before he was supposed to leave (two weeks after we married if I remember correctly) we went to the house of some acquaintance of the Stork's to look at the litter of kittens they were trying to re-home.
She wasn't the kitten I wanted, I had my eye on her brother, but she instantly bonded with the Stork & immediately after that figured out that she had to kiss up to me in order to get to live with him. And boy did she ever. While I was cuddling her brother, the Stork handed her to me to hold too & she climbed right up my arm, onto my shoulder, nuzzled my chin, purred & won herself a permanent home.
She made it quite clear once we got her home that her affection for me was only a means to an end & that I was only good for cleaning up after her & feeding her. The Stork was her human & I was only there because he liked me, so she let me stay. Seriously, she would physically shoved between us if we were even five feet from each other on the couch. He was hers.
Our relationship continued this way for more than a decade. It did mellow with time, especially when I gave her her boy, the Squab. She loved him more than she loved the Stork. Was always there to help feed, change, bathe & love him. She'd nap at the foot of his crib or on the couch with him. He was hers.
By the time the Chicken was born, we had settled into an amicable routine of occasional loving, when no one else was around. She would lay with me when I was sick (as she did with her boys) & if we were the only ones home, she'd talk to me or let me watch her yell at birdies. She also took to the Chicken the same way she did the Squab. He was hers.
Em, as we occasionally called her, even begrudgingly welcomed the other two cats. She knew that they had chosen her boys (again by kissing up to me) & that her boys loved them, so she tolerated them. But she made absolutely sure that everyone knew, she was THE QUEEN.
Fast forward to July 17, 2009. Em is fourteen. Still occasionally feisty, but with arthritis in her hind quarters & happier to nap on her favorite couch than anything else. Which is why when she started batting at the blinds on the window behind the couch I was on, it struck me as odd. Something she hadn't done in years.
I thought there might be a stray cat in the yard. Our subdivision still had a lot of strays at the time, due to the large number of people renting in the area while their homes were being built. They'd leave the cats behind when they moved, rather than take them or try to re-home them.
So when I swatted playfully at her & she hissed at me, I knew something else was going on. That's when I saw the light.
As I looked out the window at the backyard & realized that our wooden deck was on fire, all I could think about was how odd it was for Emily to care about a fire. It wasn't until hours later, when I was informed that the firemen had found our sweet baby girl's body, that I realized she was trying to warn us.
We lost a lot that night. Half the house was gone. We lost furniture, clothing, pictures, mementos, heirlooms & Emily. She was the most precious thing that we lost. They found her in one of her favorite hiding spots, under the ottoman that we inherited from my grandmother. We like to think that she made sure that everyone else, including Mongo & Kalei, made it out of the house, but because she was old & sore, she decided it was her time. We've prayed that she wasn't scared. The firemen & veterinarian told us that she didn't suffer.
They say that animals have the best instincts. They say that dogs are man's best friend. They say that cats are selfish. Well, animals do have the best instincts & we need to learn to trust them when they try to tell us something. Dogs are not man's only best friend. Cats are not selfish, they are just as caring & loving as dogs, they just show it differently.
The first thing we learned from that night, the first thing the fire taught us, is that even the oldest, most broken or hurting members of our families, of society even, are capable of great things. We learned the true meaning of love & loyalty from Emily that night.
This is the first time I've written about my girl, because despite our mutual animosity for each other she was in fact MY GIRL, since the fire.
None of us humans were hurt. Kalei suffered burns to his hind paws but was able to make a full recovery.
Our insurance did cover the damages & we were able to rebuild & replace the things.
Despite what some might think, the fire started with some ashes (cool to the touch but still smoldering at the core) from our meat smoker, the fire marshal determined that the fire was in fact an accident. Extreme heat (the temperature was still over 100 degrees when the fire started after 9 pm) was a factor.
The Stork knows rationally, mentally that it was not his fault, but emotionally he still feels guilty.
In my irrational panic getting everyone out of the house, I grabbed my purse as I ran out. It had my copies of the car keys & my cell phone.
I locked the front door on the way out. I don't know why. Despite the fact that everyone & everything points to Emily not wanting leave (Mongo & Kalei got out through the screen door to the backyard), I still feel like I'm the reason she didn't get out. I still occasionally have nightmares that replay the night & in them I see her running behind me as I slam the door. I struggle to not blame myself. I am constantly telling myself that she was suffering & the arthritis made her cranky & miserable, but after the fire she was free.
The second thing we learned from that fire, is that guilt, no matter how misplaced it might be, does not always go away. It may, hopefully lessen at some point, I'll let you know if it does.