In January 2008, I adopted the best cat in the world. He was named Miso at the time, but his real name was Oscar. He had lived a few years with another family, but his forever home was with me.
I knew this girl, Meghan, who fell in love with Oscar. Eventually, she decided she liked me too. In April 2009, we went on our first date, but no one told me. I was going rock climbing in New Hampshire with some friends, and she came along, even though she was scared of heights.
Meghan introduced me to her large extended family, and taught me a different way of vacationing that involves staying in one place rather than being constantly on the move. I showed her the Western US and later took her out of the country for the first time.
In no time at all, Meghan moved in with me, displacing my long-suffering roommate Igor.
We were very different, but in some ways much the same. When we argued, Oscar would mediate. When we cuddled, he demanded to be nearby. When we came home from adventures, Oscar would be at the door to greet us and loudly complain that we had been away too long.
We got engaged on a ski slope. It was her birthday, December 21, 2010. I think Oscar was happy to finally have a mom.
In February, we bought a fixer-upper of a house in a small seaside town on Boston’s South Shore. Our wonderful friends came out to support us. They contributed hours of sweat (and occasionally blood), helping with demolition, carpet removal, garden maintenance, patching and painting, and lots of advice. We paid them back with pizza, lodging, and many trips to the beach.
Oscar, always an indoor cat, saw his opportunity with the move and engaged in several daring escape attempts. Whenever he would make it successfully past the front door, he was so overwhelmed by the sights and sounds of the neighborhood that he would just freeze, allowing us to scoop him up and bring him back inside.
Then Meghan had the idea of getting him a leash. Oscar did not like the leash.
We spent the next six years turning that house into our dream home. It wasn’t always easy, and there were so many bumps along the way.
Meghan and I had planned to get married in September 2011, but it didn’t work out that way. The move and the home renovation were stressful, and they exposed fault lines that we did not know existed. Our families were wonderfully understanding, and we postponed the wedding.
We tried again, for realsies, in September 2013. We knew that not everything was perfect, but what relationship is? Committing fully to each other was the obvious and best path forward to achieving our dreams. Everyone we knew came out for the ceremony, which was officiated by a dear friend and mentor of mine from college. It was an amazing day.
The party was epic, despite some night-before misadventures with my groomsmen that are better left unexamined. As a prank, my friends turned our car into the “Oscar I” spaceship to carry us on our journey.
After the festivities we went back home, where we found that things were pretty much the same.
Through the lens of social media, everyone’s lives are perfect. Children are well-behaved, it never rains, and no one ever fights about money, or chores, or who should cook dinner. Everything always goes according to plan. And so it was, most of the time, for us, although occasionally the fault lines slipped through the carefully constructed veneer.
Real life is not a storybook, nor is it an Instagram feed. Our arguments and disagreements are no doubt much the same as anyone else’s. But we could never quite figure out how to move past them. The good times were so very good, but the bad times weighed heavily on us. How do you find a balance; what is the right ratio? What do you do when you disagree about important things, and can’t find a shared path forward?
We took some time apart. We discovered important truths about ourselves, and about each other. Oscar stayed with Meghan in Hull, I ventured out to California alone. We talked a lot about how to fix things, how to live our best lives individually and collectively.
We eventually, quietly, sadly, tiredly, decided on a path forward. Or should I say, two paths.
There are a thousand reasons things were not working, and also no reason at all. Sometimes that is just how it goes. Sometimes two mature adults who love each other very much come to the conclusion that what is best for both is to be apart.
It is the worst feeling in the world. But it is also a new beginning. And so we started that phase of our journey. We began to figure out how to disentangle our lives.
While Meghan and I were working out the minutia of bank accounts and mortgage payments, Oscar got sick. My wonderful little cat, my sounding board, my stalwart companion — cancer, they said. I had been away for an entire year.
Last week, our beloved fur ball died in Meghan’s arms, while I was three thousand miles away. He was 13 years old. And I was heartbroken.
Could there be a more poignant symbol of this closing chapter? Meghan loved Oscar before she loved me. He was with us through our entire journey together. He brought us both so much comfort and joy, even in the darkest times.
Losing a pet is a terrible thing. But this is fitting, somehow. It’s like the last piece of the puzzle. Now I have given up almost everything — my job, my house, my workshop, my garden, proximity to my friends, my neighbors, and my vast and wonderful second family. I have given up Meghan. And I have given up Oscar.
Maybe it is the closing of a chapter, or perhaps a whole book. But there is another chapter to be written, or a sequel. I still have my friends, wonderful and supportive even when far away. I have my family. I have an exciting new job full of possibility. I have an apartment now, and I have made it my own. I am meeting new people, and trying new activities, and embarking on new adventures.
Robert Frost says the only way out is through. Ursula LeGuin says that time is never wasted, even pain counts. I am not who I was ten years ago, none of us are. I have learned and grown so much. I am sad, so very sad, but I am excited as well. I can’t wait to see what the future has in store.