Yesterday, at 3:00 PM Pacific time, Pando’s wonderful and heartfelt caretakers for the better part of a year drove her to the vet and said goodbye for the last time. She’d been sick and on painkillers for about a month, slowly fading away. She’d formed a real bond with Em’s cousin and her daughter, living in a house of cats in a certain isolation while she waited for me to be able to handle the emotional implications of bringing back an animal who was a living reflection of the marriage that was taken from me. Sadly, she didn’t make it to that day. I didn’t make it to that day. And I couldn’t be with her on the day she shuffled off the mortal coil, wriggling out of it like the blue harness I used to walk her in on sunny days in Berkeley and Princeton.

A search of “Pandora” on this website reveals 83 resultant pages, “Pando” adds 26 more. The cat was an essential feature of my life for eight years, non-coincidentally the eight years I lived with Emily before she left me. Those eight years make Pando the longest-running pet in my life’s history, surpassing Bags and Tappy, prior beloved felines, as well as Patty Duckworth (duck), Cadbury and Nepal (rabbits), and even Rilla (another rabbit). Eight years can seem like a short time, I guess, given that it’s only a quarter of the era I’ve logged on this planet so far, but it’s feeling remarkably like eternity right now, those eight years in particular. Pandora witnessed the happiest, most fulfilled time of my life and was no small part of that sense of fulfillment.

We welcomed Pandora to our home, the tiny studio on Curtis Street in Berkeley, on 8 November 2002. She was about four years old at the time, born probably almost exactly when Emily and I met in a novice semifinal round at Brown University in November 1998. Emily and her partner ran one of those classic “there is a law cases” about something busted in Louisiana, made all the more aggravating by the fact that the case wasn’t at all clear from her partner’s opening constructive speech (and there were no points of clarification sessions in those days). Suddenly the case became clear in MG when Em got up to speak, leaving my partner to construct the real opp to the case as we now understood it. We dropped the round and I was annoyed (the next week’s Waltham Weekly included this scathing review: “We debated 5 rounds against both novices & non-novices, then proceeded to novice break rounds, losing semifinals on a 2-1 decision to a snotty Princeton (am I being redundant?) team.”), but the MG had nonetheless caught my eye as both attractive and intelligent, launching a nearly three-year interest that I wrestled with as she displayed poor judgment in her choice of relationships and yet did just enough to keep me interested.

Where was Pando during all that time? What was she up to on the mean streets of Berkeley? These things are not recorded, were unknown to us when we got her. About all we knew was this when we picked her up:

We have a cat! She’s a 4-year-old gray tabby/tortoise mix who ends up looking like a mottled mix of gray, brown, & black. We got her at the no-kill animal shelter about a mile away. It took her about 3 hours to really warm up to the house & us, but now she’s feeling pretty much at home. A name is pending.

The next day, 9 November 2002, I wrote this on Introspection: “Last night, I was falling asleep while reading a solid book, holding my future wife, & listening to our new cat purring in my lap. I think in that hour, I truly discovered inner peace.”

We named her three days later, both deciding to replace the shelter’s temporary appellation of “Charlotte” with a more interesting and apt descriptor. I’m not really sure what drew us both to “Pandora”, though we both quickly discovered the power of box jokes for the lifetime indoor feline. Somehow those failed to get old for pretty much the rest of her life, if the testimony of her last caretakers is any indication.

Pandora, of course, spent most of her life in conflict with said box, which became a major source of strife and tension for those dealing with her. She was fine and well acclimated for a couple months, but when we left her in the company of a local friend for a lengthy December trip to Albuquerque, we returned to find that she had soiled the bed utterly. She was never quite the same again, often confusing cloth and bedclothes and futons for her litterbox. She would go through periods of improved behavior and seem to be on the mend, but much of our lives were spent with plastic sheeting on cloth-covered furniture whenever we left the house.

It occurred to lots of people during these years that we were making a lot of sacrifices and bending over backwards to accommodate a cat who had a little bit of a screw loose. But she was honestly the sweetest and kindest animal I think I’ve ever encountered, though Patty Duckworth may be competitive. She actively desired human contact at almost all times, approaching with her trademark headbutts as she bid whoever her targeted human was to look away from the computer or book and pay attention to her. She enjoyed TV and movies at times, lively eyes darting to keep up with the rapid movements on the screen, but also taking advantage of the sedentary human attention that left laps open and hands free for scritching. The top of her head was her favorite place to be touched, but she also liked the chin. Her defensiveness about her hindquarters and the tufts of hair there seemed to indicate she may have had a litter in her days as a stray, but this never kept Emily from pushing the envelope at times to rub her belly. Only at these times would Pando actually bite and Em took such bites personally at times even though she admitted egging them on. She jestingly said that Pandora liked me more than she, but I don’t think she ever really meant this. At this point, though, who knows.

Pandora moved with us from Curtis Street to the Big Blue House on MacArthur, becoming a fixture in the long sunny hallways and befriending our roommate Fish with all the wrong moves (frequently mistaking his bed and his laundry pile for the box). They had a bit of a rivalry at times and she probably had more to do with his eventual decision to move out than any one single factor, but they also had plenty of good times, including and especially Fish’s discovery of her theme song, an obscure Tori Amos number:

Many was the afternoon Fish would serenade Pando with either a capella or pre-recorded renditions as she darted around the high notes and looked altogether uncertain what was being expressed to her. She did spook easily, a product of never going outside, prone to mewling plaintively whenever she was in transit to the vet or a place to board and often scrambling full-tilt across a hallway or room when she encountered unexpected movement. She would jump at insects, but rejected all possible toys she was showered with except bread twist-ties and the occasional hair-tie, and, discovered far too late, pipe cleaners. This latter was the only lasting thing she enjoyed competitively with drowsing in an attentive lap.

She never particularly photographed well.

But she followed us back to Berkeley when we moved into Grant Street, adjusting well to the reduced space and falling into a rhythm of slightly better behavior. I drove her down to LA contemporary to Jake’s wedding in 2009 as we prepared to move across the country in a long slow roadtrip and here she was first introduced to the household in Altadena where she would conclude her days. She stayed there for a good bit of the summer and Em’s mom flew her out to Tiny House in Princeton to spend a good year in cramped quarters. We’d taken to walking her in the yard in Berkeley on a blue harness and continued this tradition in Princeton, allowing her to chew on tall grasses that swarmed in the heat surrounding the decrepit building, though such encounters were often cut short by encounters with passing cars or dogs or people, sending her darting into the house and taking cover ‘neath a couch. Those lazy sunny days in the grass, few though they were, stand out like monuments to a happiness I am fairly certain I will never feel again.

The last day I spent with Pandora was one of the most frustrating, described in incredible detail in this post from June 2010. She spent the whole day before resisting insertion into her cat carrier like never before in her life, and I recall thinking that she was sending me some sort of message that in retrospect seems plain and compelling, nestled as it was roughly halfway between Emily flying to Africa and her undertaking the events that would unravel our marriage. I was flying to the wrong place as it turns out, taking too much time and attention to friends on the opposite part of the planet from that which might have kept my life together. I had no way of knowing at the time, of course, as constantly reassured and missed as I was by Em, but the lessons best learned are the ones that only become clear over time. So we spent a day in the Philadelphia Airport together, me desperately concerned about Pando’s hydration and ability to get through that much stress, waiting for a backup flight that would wing us to LA, back to Altadena, and to what would eventually remain her home.

I would never see her again.

Granted, of course, this was by my choice. Pandora, as is clear, was a symbol of Emily and I, a representation and living manifestation of our time together. We lived together for a handful of months in total without Pando, she was born when we met and died just now as we struggle with the effort to talk to each other every couple weeks without upsetting each other. I was in no position to take her back and take care of her in her final months as she struggled to hang on, as I myself struggled to hang on as I continue to do. I have spent enough time dodging ghosts and pictures and reminders and mementos to not have to hold the living, then dying manifestation of what I have lost.

And yet I feel guilt, of course. I was worried that even the mere trip back to the east coast would kill her, but I feel tremendous guilt for leaving her to die without me. Not that she was not loved or taken care of, and I am deeply indebted to those who did so, but I still feel a gnawing, chewing sadness that I was so distant from her in her closing year.

All I can come back to for solace is another post, a giddy night in October 2009 when the world seemed alive with presence and feeling and meaning, when I tried to bank the sense that the universe made even in the face of tragedy. The whole post is called (grandiosely but simply) “It All Makes Sense” and you can see the whole thing here. But if you yourself are rushing, are exhausted by the 2,000 words on display mixed with these images and overwrought emotions, I can leave you with this summary.

It opens like this:

This post is an antidote, a message in a bottle, a documentation of a sensation and a perception about the world that is here and irrevocable. It’s something that I may lose, but no one can take away from me. And this is me, planting my flag, staking my ground, putting forth my chronicle of feeling this way and knowing these things at this time.

It all makes sense. All of it. What happens, what doesn’t, when, why, how. We are all so blessed and so privileged to be able to participate, to take part in this experiment with free will and this existence that is at once driven by our own whims and yet interminably destined to make itself work. It is punctuated by tremendous pain, yes, and tremendous anxiety, but it is all so very worth it. And I can see the pain and see the past and I know that every bit of it is worth it for everything.

And closes with this simple line:

I went inside to find Pandora staring at me as though she’d been waiting this whole time.

I’ll miss you, Pando. You and everything you saw.