I don't remember much about the only cat I've ever owned, except for her name, Dina. A gift from my aunt for my fifth birthday, Dina was skinny and gray, and owed her handle to the feminine contraction of dinosaurs, my chief childhood obsession. Thinking back, the name suggests the brief period when worries consisted not of insurance premiums, first dates and looming deadlines, but of trivia you wish you might still take for granted: the wingspan of a pterodactyl, the batting average of José Canseco, the voice of the evil Shredder. You know, the really big stuff.
The only other memory I have of Dina is her death, or at least how her death felt for me, a skinny 7-year-old who supposed that things like cats and best friends and baseball card collecting-as-religion were what your parents meant when they used words like "forever" and "always." Dina died in my mother's laundry room, a tiny rectangular space with a deep industrial sink and floors of textured vinyl. She withered slowly of an intestinal problem, Mom had said, and, for some reason, long after she'd been buried, the smell of her death stagnated in the cramped space. Thick and noxious: It became my lasting impression of something I'd loved.
I didn't dislike cats after Dina's death, but I didn't trust them, either. Since Dina's death, my parents had stuck with dogs. Several of them had died: Bogie and Casey, dalmatians that smiled every afternoon when I returned from school; Chief, the husky that sidled up close against bare legs. But they had died suddenly—a leap from a pickup truck; a collision with a car speeding down a country road; a still-mysterious poisoning over which Mom and Dad cried for days. These deaths seemed natural, like the way life went. Dina's death, for years, had simply suggested torture, for both Dina and me.
Last week, I was walking through downtown Durham toward my car with two friends. Someone spotted a tiny black stray skirting the wall behind us. We waved the slender waif over. She was playful, calm, ostensibly healthy, maybe eight weeks old and alone, wandering dangerously close to a busy street. One friend already owned two cats. The other had to soon fly his cat to his new home nearly 1,000 miles away. Another friend informed me that rescue groups were already bursting with animals lacking foster parents. I was its only option.
On the drive home, she sat in my lap, curled and sleeping against my stomach. By the time she'd been fed, I'd selfishly named her Brazos. For nearly a week, Brazos ate from a salad bowl, attended to her litter in a turkey-basting pan, napped in a desk chair and used newspaper bundling bands as toys. Nothing permanent, I thought: My roommate has an extreme cat allergy, so she had to go.
As I'm typing these words, Brazos has been gone for less than four hours. Two old friends, Sam and Leah, offered to raise her, and I couldn't have asked for better help. Still, as Sam walked to his car with Brazos Monday night, I moped. We were together long enough so that she learned to trace my every move, to bound at my feet when I didn't spot her under a table and to sleep through the night in my twin bed. That's a lot of reconciliation in less than a week—not for her indefatigable, trusting sweetness, but for the disappointed kid in me.