My wife and I have owned several cats and dogs over the years. One of them was painfully shy, another exuberant and playful. One I would characterize as a combination of laconic and sly. Another was resolute and dashing – the cat equivalent of Sean Connery or George Clooney. And then there was Persephone. She was sleek, elegant, fiercely intelligent and, may I say, discerning. My wife got her as a kitten and the three of us quickly bonded. Later, she became attached to our daughter, Gabrielle, and vice versa.
Persephone was a jet-black Siamese, vocal, small (she probably never got above 10 pounds), and remarkably demonstrative. There was rarely a doubt as to what she was thinking or feeling. Her posture, glance, and vocalizations continuously conveyed her state of mind. We could tell when she was annoyed, anxious, determined, blissfully restful. Most of all, though, she was loving. Unlike some cats, she enjoyed and sought out our company. One example: whenever I would be doing yard work or even relaxing in the hammock, Persephone would seek me out to keep me company.
She was also highly perceptive, attuned to what the people around her were doing and feeling. I've lost count of the number of times we intended to take her to the vet, for example, taking care not to ‘tip our hand,’ only to realize she'd gone into hiding. In other cases, she clearly knew when some family member was in distress. (I gave an example in my last post, when I fell down a flight of stairs and Persephone was instantly meowing and in evident agitation nearby.) In a few other memorable instances, she seemed to be able to communicate exactly what she was feeling through her eyes. I vividly recall two such cases where her expression instantly conveyed, in words, what a person in the same situation would say.
At age 14, Persephone suffered a stroke. She recovered to a great extent but we lost her a year-and-a-half later. In the days following her death, something happened that even now is stunning. I want to relate this since it pertains to the deep and mysterious nature of feeling.
In the immediate aftermath of Persephone’s passing, our family was sorrowful but the person most broken up was our 12-year-old daughter, Gabrielle. She loved Persephone as much as anyone, had grown up with her, and the two often slept together on my daughter’s bed. In that bed was kept another constant companion, "Daddy Hoo Hoo," her stuffed gorilla. Daddy Hoo Hoo, aka DDHH, was about Persephone's size and, also like our kitty, furry and black. Gabrielle had grabbed DDHH for comfort when I'd begun to bury Persephone and kept hold of him as we said a prayer in loving memory of our feline friend. Later, she went to bed and took DDHH with her.
The following morning, DDHH was apparently no longer in Gabrielle's bed. We thought he might have fallen out (a common occurrence) but there was no sign of him on the floor, in the bed sheets, between the bed and the wall, or anywhere else in our daughter's room. Over the next 5 days, my wife made it a point to scour the house in search of the missing gorilla. Gabrielle tried to remember where else she might conceivably have left him, and we checked out all those places. Not a trace.
Several nights later, my wife was consoling Gabrielle at bedtime. She remarked that perhaps DDDH had accompanied Persephone to wherever it is she was bound. Gabrielle appeared sympathetic to the storyline but made it clear “I need him here with me."
The next morning, I went into our daughter's room to wake her for camp. I sat down on her bed and, once she'd awoken, noticed a stuffed gorilla on the floor just by my foot. Thinking it must have been a ‘relative’ gorilla (Gabrielle owns a Mommy Hoo Hoo, Grandma Hoo Hoo, etc.), I gave it to her asking which other one it was. "Daddy Hoo Hoo!" she exclaimed, and indeed it was him.
This seems truly bizarre because one of us would surely have seen the gorilla in a spot as obvious as next to the bed. After I'd related his discovery to my wife, I gingerly inquired whether she might have decided, for some unknown reason, to put DDHH away for a few days. This seemed entirely uncalled for, as well as completely out of character for my wife, but I felt I had to pose the question because otherwise we were left with no logical way for him to have disappeared. I certainly hadn't moved the gorilla. But Bonnie replied that, of course, she hadn't – she wouldn't have played with Gabrielle's emotions like that.
In thinking about this, I'm reminded of a term from parapsychology: “apports.” These are household objects said to disappear and reappear literally out of thin air in at least some poltergeist cases. Apports have a symbolic or emotional meaning for the people involved. In our case, while no poltergeist was present, perhaps DDHH symbolized Persephone – so that his absence was a synonym for her absence, and only after Gabrielle made clear she needed him back did he reappear. Or maybe the "daddy" in Daddy Hoo Hoo resonated for me, the dad of the house, whose loving responsibility it was to take care of Persephone in her dotage and who felt as sorrowful over her passing as anyone.
In any event, we all breathed easier knowing DDHH was back. It provided, on the one hand, a kind of closure and, on the other hand, a hint of an ineffable mystery. But the puzzle may not be as baffling as it seems. What our family members felt for Persephone – and what she felt for us – is at the core of what all mammals (and perhaps other sentient creatures) have in common. The feelings that flow within us, I contend, connect us to one another in ways both tangible and intangible. In the next post, I’ll offer another uncanny example, along with an overarching explanatory concept.