Dear Pepper,

I met you unexpectedly.

Yes, I worked at the local animal shelter, and yes, I loved all of the cats with an unbearable desire to save them all, but at the time we didn’t think we could take in another cat. Your adoption was fairly spontaneous, but it turned out our hearts had much more space than we expected was possible. We found one another, two beings out of billions, and it seems to me that we were meant to know each other all along.

I remember it was a hot afternoon; sun pouring in through the windows of the Herkimer Humane Society cat wing. You had just been brought in because your previous owner couldn’t care for you any longer. Skinny, hungry, worm-ridden, with broken teeth. What life experiences made you who you are? Five years old; five years of your becoming of which I will never know.

I remember it was a busy day at the shelter, many people moving in and out of the crowded musty space. I’ll never forget the little boy who tugged on his Mom’s skirt and said “I like that one!” as he peered in at you through your small, barred cage. I remember your loud peeps and how excited you were to just be noticed.

White fur, with orange and black and brown spots, calico beauty with a big personality. Vocal, and brave, and direct, and so incredibly sociable. I always found it amazing that you would look up, piercing green eyes full of presence and sentience, a genuine desire for connection. Kinship, and relationship, and physical affection were what made you, you. You taught me so much about what love should look like.

You became just what I needed Pep. You gave me more love than so many of the humans in my life did or could. You were there for me through all of my 20’s: through every year of college, every heartache and break-up, through more moves than I can count, through all of the growing and changing and crises, through all of the tears, you held for me a deep and unwavering affection and kindness. You were steady and sweet and like a Mother to me. You gave me love every moment along the way, and it amazes me that somehow your love and gratitude has only grown in your time of slowing down.

I’ll always remember the way you used to come up to me and stick out your head for a kiss. Bowing in vulnerability and an intimacy that I am still learning to understand. And I’d reach my head down to meet yours, forehead to forehead, so much understanding for one another.

I wonder if I did everything I could have to take care of you the way that you deserved. Because you deserved all of the best Pep, often you deserved so much more than I could give to you. You deserved every butt scratch, every Fancy Feast treat, every head kiss, and you especially deserved someone just being so incredibly present with you. You deserved all of my heart, and still do.

Many years have passed since I met you for the first time, and all of the weight you put on when you finally got the food you needed has disappeared again as you’ve grown sick, and so much of your peppy energy and love that made you who you are has faded, and some days it’s like a veil covers yours eyes as you drift off into another place. And yet, just about every day we still find a moment where we can be back where we always were, just us girls, full of gratitude, hearts fuller than we ever could have imagined they could be, and reaching out to say “I love you”, forehead to forehead, heart to heart, so happy to have found one another.

Photo provided by Erica Jean Schwabach

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