I didn’t expect to fall in love with Lucky.
I also never expected to have a cat. In 2003, I was on deadline, writing a news story, when my cellphone rang. My wife Devorah’s number appeared on the screen. “We’re at the animal shelter in Salem, and Aaron and I fell in love with this gray cat, and he really wants it. How would you feel if we brought him home,” she asked.
If you are married to a journalist and ever want to sway the decision-making in your household, it’s best to spring the news while your partner is on deadline. Deadlines supersede lots of things, including clear-headed decisions about life outside of the newsroom.
“Sure,” I heard myself say. But as my fingers ran across the keyboard and I put the finishing touches on the article, I knew that my life – and our family – would change.
When I arrived home, I found a small gray cat perched in our living room in Lynn. Aaron sat next to him on the floor, and Devorah raced in with a big smile.
“This is Lucky,” she announced.
How does a person who has never had a pet – save for numerous goldfish acquired at Purim carnivals – begin a relationship with an animal? I had little experience interacting with cats but I knew that my father’s family loved them. My bubbe, who left Kovna in the early 1920s for Chelsea, had named her cat Commissioner and my dad had a soft spot for him. My Aunt Esther also had several cats over the years in Lynn. Now, a part of me felt obligated to follow that tradition.
It turns out Lucky didn’t need much attention. That’s one of the reasons why Devorah and Aaron chose him. At the shelter, several cats vied for their affection, but Lucky seemed independent and lost in his own thoughts. Now, he was moving through the house with authority, tiptoeing into rooms he had never seen as he was smothered with hugs and kisses by my wife and son.
It was Aaron’s cat. He played with Lucky nonstop, and cuddled with him on the couch in the TV room. After school, he carried Lucky throughout the house and sang made-up songs and played games with him. Devorah took on the tasks of feeding Lucky, grooming him and changing his litter box.
I mostly watched, and tried to get to know him. I noticed that he was mostly interested in eating, snuggling, and staring out the window. I had no idea that cats liked to look deep into a person’s eyes or sleep at the feet of people’s beds. At night, he’d alternate between Aaron’s bed and ours. I never quite got used to it and I complained about it, but it did no good. Lucky had settled into his home.
Lucky was supposed to stay indoors, but right away he dropped hints that he preferred to be outside. He stood for long periods by the front door, and then one day when the screen door was closing he took a running start and burst through the entrance. He was now an outdoor cat.
In the beginning, he mostly stayed by our front lawn. But slowly, he grew bolder, and I would see him headed back from the beach toward our house. He particularly liked going out in storms – everything from nor’easters to snowstorms. When we moved to downtown Marblehead, he found happiness in an adjacent boatyard. And when we moved to Swampscott, he’d jostle the other neighborhood cats and hiss at the wild turkeys. A couple of times a year, he’d go on benders – all-night runs where he’d travel to backyards and nearby woods. I worried about him those nights, but he always came back in the morning – sometimes looking a little ragged; sometimes wounded from fights with other animals. Those all-night runs seemed to empower him. Devorah would treat his wounds, fuss over his food and nurse him back to health.
Lucky also seemed to be happiest around people. He was always front and center on Jewish holidays, and often would be in Aaron’s arms during the Seder. He watched every Super Bowl and World Series game with us, and would tiptoe along the top of our den couch before squeezing in between our warm bodies.
Over the years, as Aaron grew and went off to college and moved out, I spent nearly every evening with Lucky. There were many quiet nights where I’d initiate a conversation with him. Mostly, I told him how much we appreciated him. I have heard that cats do not really understand language, but I knew Lucky understood attention. His soul radiated compassion. He seemed so interested in our lives and had to be in the middle of everything. I often wondered if he was a reincarnated relative checking in on us and reporting back to the heavens.
Lucky grew older but didn’t seem to slow down too much. Earlier this summer, as I was opening a side door, he ran outside and stayed there for six hours. And then, a couple of weeks ago, his breathing grew heavy. The vet took some tests and told us he would not live much longer.
A week ago Lucky left us, and I still feel his presence. He was an unexpected gift who taught us so much about unconditional love. As I age, I understand that all of life is a mystery, and there are few answers. But there are presents along the way. Thank you, Lucky, for passing along so many lessons of love that I could not learn from human beings. May your spirit continue to impart wisdom from your perch in the next world.
Email Steven A. Rosenberg at email@example.com.