I’ve loved a lot of black cats in my time. In fact, my first pet ever, Smokey, was one. He was a badass outdoor cat who sometimes hosted all night sing-alongs in our backyard and was adept at dodging the garbage thrown at him. Then there was Puck, named for the Shakespeare character and not the hockey disc, who was my soulmate in cat form. He had spent the first nine months of his life on the streets, had issues with trust, and was often wary. He loved fiercely and did anything for me—including, though he was never prone to car sickness—throwing up all over the backseat of an ex-boyfriend’s car. There were others, too, all coming to us from shelters, Rosaline and Desdemona and Joey (one of these things was not like the others), sharing our home and contributing to it, some lovingly, some begrudgingly. It seems, though we have had cats of other colors too, our house just isn’t a home without a tiny panther roaming the halls.

Our latest black cat, Mary, is the current owner of my heart. Though I swore I would never give myself fully over to another after Puck’s death at the mere age of eight, Mary crept in there silently. She adores me so much I couldn’t help but love her back. Mary spent four months in the NHSPCA before we adopted her, and she was the shelter stunt cat—the one they would put in with other cats, dogs, and kids, to see if they were compatible with a feline. Her nature is such that she’s willing to give pretty much anything a try in an attempt to make a new friend.

Mary is the ideal pet. She’s neat and quiet, loving but accepting of rejection when her requests for scratches are ill-timed, and, despite her roly-poly body and her mild-mannered appearance, a fearsome hunter who protected us when both country field mice and city rats invaded our space. Her meow is soft—creaky, almost—and barely used, but she can screech like a banshee out the window when another cat dares to cross our lawn. She’s what we call a “glommer”—she finds one of us sitting or resting in bed and she must “glom” on to our sides, happy—just so damned happy—to be with us. She’s satisfied with just that.

Just by being who she is, Mary has taught me so many life lessons, things that I’ll carry with me forever. She teaches me that in order to be loved, I may have to be vulnerable. Mary lays before us unguarded, asking for what she needs, quietly. She waits for us to be capable of giving her the affection and gentleness she craves. Mary teaches me to be satisfied with small gestures—that one scratch on the chin, or one hug or I love you, is something to treasure. She teaches me that sometimes I have to appreciate what people can give in the moment, even if it isn’t all that I wanted. Mary teaches me that it’s okay to be afraid of loud noises and bad moods, and that those things pass. Peace comes again if you stay strong through it.

When Mary was young she accidentally got outside and was attacked by a fox, who nearly tore off her tail and punctured her sides deeply. Mary fought tooth and nail to get home to us (literally—she lost a claw or two in the fox’s snout) and, weak and bleeding, made it to our door. In that moment, she reminded me that home was worth any Herculean effort to return to. That the people there would care for me when I was broken and afraid.  And during her recovery, she even taught me, funnily enough, to make the most of opportunity by using her “cone of shame” to keep her brother out of the food bowl so she could nom away, undisturbed. Our other cat did not appreciate the humor of this particular lesson the way that I did.

Perhaps the biggest lesson Mary has taught me is how to be of comfort. When I’m sad, or sick, or depressed, Mary comes to me and sits, silently, asking for nothing in return. She sits through it with me, keeping me peaceable company. She can’t fix it. I have no illusions: she’s just a cat with no answers to offer. But she can be there for me, and offer me her warmth, tenderness, and time. Sometimes—hell, most times—that’s what I really need anyway. Mary reminds me that sometimes the best thing to say is nothing at all. The best thing is just to be there.

Mary is 13 now, and I know that my remaining time with her is limited. The hardest lesson she’s taught me is how to love deeply again after loss, knowing that, inevitably, the same pain of that loss will come when it is her time to leave us. Until that dreaded time comes, I’ll live with her as she lives with me. Searching for the sunny spots and stretching out beneath. Glomming on to those I love and sitting through their tough times with them. Recognizing that home is the best place to be and worth fighting for. I’m eternally grateful for the reciprocal rescue that came at the hands, and paws, of a stranger.

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