He Returns at Last
“It’s just not Teddy,” said Caitlin, blankly staring at the orange tabby with big and hopeful eyes at the local PetSmart shelter.
“I know, sweetie. But would you like to feed him at least?” Joanna, Caitlin’s mom, asked, breathing out the heavy musky air of the small compartment where six cats waited for adoption.
“Ok,” Caitlin replied with a tiny smile, giving him a can of tuna in his fish-shaped bowl.
Joanna understood why Caitlin felt sad that her black cat Teddy had passed away. He was a few years older than Caitlin. He had practically raised her, she’d tease. But it had been over a year since his tiny heart had given up, and her 10-year-old daughter still wasn’t on good terms with death. “It isn’t fair,” was all Caitlin had said over three months. She had refused to play with her friends. It was hard to make her eat. Joanna had to usher her to the doctor’s office, concerned her daughter would become malnourished and underweight.
Joanna thought the grieving process had ended after six months past Teddy’s death. Caitlin’s life seemed to come back to her. Joanna’s best friend Carla had given Caitlin a stuffed animal that looked exactly like Teddy, with the same shade of green in his eyes, according to his young owner. Caitlin had thrived with the gift, and they thought it would be the best way a child could deal with grief.
Caitlin would take stuffed Teddy everywhere with her, to school, to the grocery store, to her favorite pizza place. He’d become her best friend. She’d tell him about her day, about her hard quizzes at school, and how burned her cookies looked when she got them out of the oven. At night she would place stuffed Teddy next to the ashes of real Teddy, as she would call him.
And life went on. Caitlin had moved on — or at least her family thought.
A year after Teddy’s death, her mom kindly started suggesting they could get another kittie. “He’s not a replacement for Teddy, Caitlin,” she would explain. “We just want an addition to the family.” Joanna had grown up with cats and dogs, and so had Caitlin’s father. She missed the interaction of her family with a furry one, but she’d been respectful of her daughter’s grief.
Until it had become a bit of a disaster. Joanna had friends asking if she could adopt someone’s cat because they either had to move or any other scenario. Caitlin would shake her head. Shelters would call them and ask them if they (Joanna, to be exact) were still interested in adopting a cat. Caitlin would change subjects and when pushed she would shake her head. Joanna would cat-sit for her best friend’s cat for weeks while she was enjoying her wonderful trips to Bora Bora. Caitlin would help with the cat, feed him, stroke him, and even play with him. It was natural, not forced, but no excitement would show in her eyes. No emotion. Joanna didn’t know what to do anymore.
When she saw online that there was a cat named Teddy at the local PetSmart, she got her hopes up. Would this orange cat finally be the one to break into Caitlin’s heart? Maybe because of his name?
Disappointment showed in her face as they made their way back to the car.
“Why wouldn’t you give him a chance?” she asked her daughter.
“No, you didn’t.”
Caitlin looked at her mom. “Mom, do you really want him? If you want “orange Teddy,” you can adopt him. I’ll help you raise him.”
“No,” Joanna would reply in her head. “I don’t want the damn cat — I want you to want him!”
So days went by and Joanna had finally given up her quest. Following Carla’s advice, she let her daughter be and decided that she would know when the right time came. So she let go. For months.
Until a rainy day in October. She and Catilin were playing and doing crafts on the front porch when she heard a tiny meow. Caitlin’s eyes bugged. She was curious too. Where was that coming from? They searched everywhere near the bushes and finally found a tiny white kitty soaked in the rain, struggling to get released from the weeds.
Caitlin picked him up and held him in her arms, and Joanna could see her daughter’s eyes were damp — but not from the rain.
“I can’t believe you came back to me,” she said, her lips shivering with emotion.
What did she mean he came back? Joanna asked herself, dumfounded at the look in her daughter’s eyes.
Her daughter looked poised and centered as she stared back at her mom as if she’d heard her question.
“Mom, this is Teddy. He told me in a dream he’d return to me one day. And he kept his promise.”