Oct 18 2014

Forgiveness

Melissa Crytzer Fry

This is a story of forgiveness – forgiveness wrapped up in the wiry, gnarled fur of an old orange tabby cat named Obie. This is our story – mine and Obie’s – over the span of 20 years.

Meet Obie, named after my roommate’s high school mascot (a big orange Bengal tiger). Click to enlarge.

Obie was a gift from my above-mentioned college roommate, Stacy, who’d heard me – for years – go on about how much I loved tigers, and how someday I’d have an orange “tiger cat” of my own. One day during our senior year (1994), maybe she grew tired of my cat-want, because I came home to our off-campus apartment to find a tiny ball of orange stripes curled up on my bed.

A cat of tremendous affection from the start, Obie nestled to sleep in my hair each night (and later adopted the annoying trait of licking said hair). I could throw him over my shoulder like a sack of potatoes. He tolerated me trying to potty train him in a human toilet (he never took to it). He purred like a madman. When I moved to my first solo no-pets-allowed apartment, he willingly hopped in my laundry basket or duffel bag for rides to Pennsylvania to see Grandma and Grandpa (I lived in Ohio then). There were a few close calls when, like a meerkat, he popped his head out of the disguised cat transport vehicles before I reached my steel-gray Cavalier getaway car. Each time, though, I was able to set him free in the car, and he’d watch out the window as we headed across state lines.

But then… one night I came home to my apartment after work and saw orange paws feeling blindly under the door and out into the hallway. It wasn’t long after that I got the call: move out or rid my apartment of my buddy. Clearly Obie was reaching out to the neighbors while I wasn’t home, and someone ratted him out.

Enter “grandma-to-the-rescue.” She agreed to take my little boy (her “cat grandson”), and I would see him during the weekends when I could. We did this for a few years until I was, ironically, offered a job at the college in my Pennsylvania hometown. We were reunited after three years!

But then… when once-roomie Stacy needed a home for her giant white cat (whom I’d affectionately nicknamed Fatty Boy), I stepped in, excited to take in this friendly feline. What a mistake. I had no idea that cats required specific introductory rules (like getting them used to an article of clothing with the other cat’s scent on it first, then allowing them to smell one another under a closed door only, and then, finally, face-to-face introduction).

I did it all wrong. I rushed Fatty Boy upstairs in the carrier in search of the shower (he’d had an accident). Obie was at the top of the stairs waiting. He saw me. He smelled the other cat. Obie was – to be sure – pissed. Betrayed. Heartbroken.

His adoration for me disappeared in a flash. My once-loving, hair-sucking cat was now swatting, hissing and growling at me. I tried, heartbroken and forlorn, for months and months to find my place in his heart again (I even re-homed Fatty Boy). Until … I realized just how futile it was. Obie was downright violent, trying to bite my legs, arching his back at even the hint of my touch. Yet he’d let others pet him. He’d accepted my dad. He’d cozied up to the dog.

And then… I accepted a job in Arizona in 1998. I wanted to bring Obie with me. But how? He no longer tolerated me.

He hated me. I loved him.

I suffered tremendous guilt at my unknowing behavior years earlier. And my mother said, again, “Leave him here.”

So I did. And each year I’d come back home to visit, I’d hope for some reconciliation. 1999. 2000. 2001. 2004. 2005… Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.

2006. Something. A stolen pat to the head without resistance.

2008. Something else. A few chin rubs and no ankle biting.

2010. Something more. Obie crawled into my lap; my eyes filled above him.

And 2013. This:

IMG_6775 By now, Obie was 19 years old. His eyes were clouded. He was mostly deaf. But he accepted me without hesitation.

And then in August of this year – 2014 – when I went home, there was Obie, a smaller version of himself, if that were even possible, a shadow: matted fur, bony face, visible vertebrae, unstable gait. A weariness. I asked my mom if the humane thing might be to …

But she assured me he was fine. “He’s happy,” she said. “He gets around. He and the dog are buddies.” (Third chocolate lab by this time).

“At least,” I countered, “Let me get him some canned food. I’m sure he’s got rotten teeth or no teeth by now.”

And so, while I was home for three days, he ate like a king: cans of Fancy Feast at his disposal. He let me love him. He had a noticeable spring in his 20-year step. He had normal poop for the first time in years. He begged for food. He abandoned his sleeping post with my dad and his dog, Tank, and slept near me. Me. He picked me.

He slept in the nearby room under the table on my fabric.

When I left for the second leg of my trip to South Carolina, this is where he remained: under the table, lying upon the fabric infused with my scent. This is also where I bent down, kissed him, and whispered, “I love you. It’s okay to let go.”

Two days after returning back to Arizona my mom called. “Your kitty isn’t doing so well. I think I need to take him in.”

She sent this email later: He was so frail, it was like picking up air. He laid on the seat, didn’t move. He was ready. Tank went and laid beside him on the floor before we left. The doctor that gave him the shot said, after, “He is gone now; he can run again in heaven.” They have a little chapel set up, it was quite nice really. Dad said he couldn’t go with me. I buried him between the pine trees in the back yard.

I can’t explain what this cat’s forgiveness has meant to me. His presence in my life and his actions are an illustration of what I already knew: that animals feel, love and understand. This little guy taught far more, though: he showed that betrayal can sometimes be overcome.

***It has taken me months to write this post because I just wasn’t sure I could. Yes, despite an extended estrangement, the bond – and my own guilt, I admit – ran deep. I can only hope his final acceptance indicated that the bond was, in the end, felt both ways.

For Readers, For Writers, Everyone: What is forgiveness to you? Have you ever had a special bond with an animal? Do you enjoy stories about forgiveness? Stories about animal-human bonds? Why is it sometimes so hard to forgive?


30 Responses to “Forgiveness”

  • avatar Julie Says:

    Oh my goodness. I’m crying like a baby in my closet right now. I had two babies that grew up with me from 15 years old, through college, to a new state, a husband and even children. It is so hard to say goodbye! So so hard. Glad you got those last bits of love in to cherish.

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    Oh, Julie… I’m sorry to have saddened you so much, but your own experience illustrates that you know exactly the kind of bonds form over that length of time – the blessing of having cats as pets. Wow – through a move to a new state, marriage and children. RIP your kitties.

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  • avatar Kathy Becraft Says:

    Melissa, you have touched my heart. I fully agree that animals have joy, love, faithfulness and many more emotions that we humans do. Thank you for sharing such a wonderful story from your life. I like Julie cried when I read your story, it was a good cry. The creatures of our Earth can love and lean on each other if we take the risk. Obie is a complex creature that will be in my memory for a long time.

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    What a poetic way of putting it, Kathy, about leaning on one another — and the true risk (of suffering broken hearts — esp with pets’ lifespans) when we do. But we do gain so much more, for the risk.

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  • avatar Rose Says:

    I can understand why it took a while for you to be able to articulate your experience. It was well worth the wait as you did it superbly. Thanks for a wonderful story.

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    Thank you, Rose, for your kind comments.

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  • avatar linda anselmi Says:

    Melissa, my heart goes out to you!

    I learned so many life lessons from my pets. We got our cat Zane Grey when we first got married. She even went camping with us. She was just shy of 20 yrs when she had a stroke and became paralyzed on one side. It was our first experience with having to euthanize…

    And yeah, I think animals are way more loving, compassionate and forgiving than we ever imagine.

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    I love the idea of a camping kitty, but I’m so sad for what you hd to witness with her paralysis and then the dreaded euthanasia. I went through that with my husband’s (and my adopted) girl about five years ago. I realize that I should have been the one to take Obie, but I just couldn’t bear it, honestly.

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  • avatar Sharon Goemaere Says:

    Broken heart as I weep for you and your loss.Animals are such gifts from God.Our 2 black rescued kitties,Shadow and Ninja are still with us at 4 and 8. But I know a time will come when they won’t be here.I will enjoy them as much as possible now.Thank you for this wonderful story of forgiveness.I have seen the same thing in our cats when we have accidentally stepped on a paw or tail that got underfoot…Sharon in Salem,Oregon

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    Nice to meet you, Sharon, even under these circumstances. I love the names of your rescue kitties (my mother-in-law always accidentally calls our cat, Niña, Ninja — so I got a good chuckle out of your cat’s name). Indeed, cats seem to forget almost immediately — USUALLY — when they’ve been accidentally wronged.

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  • avatar Laurie Buchanan Says:

    Melissa — as an animal lover, you’ve touched my heart to it’s very core. Thank you.

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    I know you love your canine friends as much as I do my feline pals, Laurie.

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  • avatar Cynthia Robertson Says:

    I love this post, Melissa. You had me in tears. I wouldn’t have known how to introduce two cats, and probably would have made the same mistake. We can learn so much from our animal friends, can’t we? I’m glad you and Obie had the chance to ‘make up’ before he passed on.

    We had to euthanize our 20 + year old
    rescue cat five years ago. We cried for days, and I didn’t think I would ever get another cat – and you know, being a writer too, we NEED our cats! But this past summer Maya (a grey and black shorthair) adopted me, and it feels like once again having something important in my life that was missing. I’m so blessed that she found me.

    I fully agree that animals have emotions and feel things. The old expression ‘it’s just an animal’ doesn’t even begin to fly with me. The same spirit animates us all, tree or cat or human, it’s all just the wonderful variety the creator loves.

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    I think euthanizing a pet is one of the most painful experiences of my life; I remember what happened when we had to do the same thing 5 years ago (this was Steve’s cat, a lovely stray — same color as Obie == whom I adopted as my own, even though she was surely a daddy’s girl). I still get a lump in my throat thinking about it…
    I love that Maya found you — and that you feel a sense of completion with her in your life, filling that void. I felt lost when I was catless. Yes, so many writers need their feline friends don’t we?
    Don’t get me started on people who truly believe “it’s just an animal.” Argh! I LOVE your last line…

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  • avatar Beth Hoffman Says:

    This is such a beautiful post. I’m weeping. Our precious fur-babies fill our lives with love and wonder, and when they pass away we’re heartbroken but miraculously and forever changed because of them. Bless Obie’s sweet soul. I’ll bet there’s lots of Fancy Feast at the Rainbow Bridge.

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    Thank you, Beth…. Your comment about the Fancy Feast at the rainbow bridge got ME going again. Knowing what a huge heart you have and the advocacy you do for shelter animals (and the very adoptees in your own home), I can understand your reaction. Obviously this was a tough one to write through bleary, swollen eyes.

    Yes to the love and wonder — and change — they bring us.

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  • avatar Diann Says:

    What a sweet looking and beautiful cat! Melissa, thank you for sharing this beautiful post. It brought me to tears, and I can only imagine how difficult it was to write. It’s all so heartbreaking, starting with the innocent event that created the break, the difficulty in his upset, and the ultimate reconciliation, followed by a sad farewell. There’s obviously a lot of complex emotion there even beyond just the fierce and pure love we have for our pets. I hope writing this helped to bring you peace, and remembrance that Obie’s love will always be in your heart.

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    I know we share personal experience here, Diann. Writing this did help me in a lot of ways, as I know writing about your companion loss did you. I hope things are getting better for you. And, yes, there is an undefinable emotional connection between humans and their pets.

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  • avatar Annie Neugebauer Says:

    You have me crying over here. I’m so sorry for your loss, but thank you for sharing this story. It’s so hard when our pets can’t understand certain things we do (like taking them to the vet) or why. I’m sure that if only you could’ve explained, Obie would have forgiven you long ago. The bond was obviously deep between you. I hope you found some peace in his renewed affection at the end. <3

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    You hit the nail on the head about the difficulty of communicating certain things to our pets (vet visits are traumatic here, as evidenced during our annual trip last Friday). I like to think that you’re right: that maybe if Obie had understood the good intentions of my Fatty Boy rescue that he’d have forgiven me sooner. I’m just glad, in the end, that he did. He gave me the ultimate gift as he left, and I hope I provided a small amount of comfort (and meals for a king) at the end.

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  • avatar Christy Peterson Says:

    Eloquent words fail me, but I love this. Thanks.

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    Your words are quite eloquent in themselves!

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  • avatar Shary Says:

    It amazes me when people say that animals don’t have emotions like we do. Of COURSE they do.

    I’m allergic to cats, so have never been able to spend much time with them to get to know them, but I love dogs and can’t imagine life without a canine companion. I’d be heartbroken if Lola lost her love for me and I’m glad that you were able to mend your relationship with Obie in the end. Life is so much richer with animal friends in spite of the sadness caused by the relatively short length of their lives.

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    Oh yes… I know how close you and Lola are; it IS devastating to break a bond with an animal like that. Life IS so much richer with our animal friends; I agree that the gamble we take of opening our hearts – despite their lifespans – is worth it (though in the case of cats, as you see, they can live for 20 years!). Sorry you’re allergic to kitties.

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  • avatar Mary Ann Nissen Says:

    Thank you for sharing your story, brought back good & bad memories of Precious & Crumpet, 2 wonderful dogs each with their own personalities. Having to let them go was so heart-wrenching,but; what they gave us in life is priceless.

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    I love your dog’s names! Precious and Crumpet sound wonderful. Thanks for stopping by, Mary Ann.

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  • avatar Claire 'Word by Word' Says:

    What a beautiful cat and a wonderful lifelong story, what a special friend, thank you sharing the story and the photos.

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    Thanks for stopping by, Claire — and for your kind words.

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  • avatar Leah Says:

    I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to comment on your post. But let me say it’s such a beautiful piece! I cried so much reading your and Obie’s story. I’ve found cats to be amazing creatures and I love that he came back to you. Thanks for sharing!

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    Thank you for stopping by, Leah. You know, I thought of you a lot while I wrote this… Knowing you had to say goodbye to two of your furry friends i close succession this past year. Cats are incredible animals… life is dull (for me) without them.

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