When Selam first came home she really didn’t care for the cats.  She liked other people’s cats, but not ours.  I guess without a sibling to feel rivalrous toward, she chose the cats. If Theo was on my lap, she wanted to be there. If Riddle wanted petting, Selam suddenly needed help with something.

In the last Month or two, though, she’s shifted gears. First Riddle became the object of her affection. Riddle is old and will just sit there while you pet her and coo at her.  She seldom leaves.  Selam will lie on her belly behind the couch and pet Riddle, talking softly to her (Riddle spends most of her time behind the sofa).  Riddle is elderly, and increasingly fragile. Selam seems to get that, and has never been rough with her–even when she didn’t like her, she was never aggressive with her.

Recently, Theo has been added to the list of kitty friends.  You have to get him in the right mood, and luckily for Selam–and Theo–the right mood is usually when he is sleeping in the sunshine at the foot of Selam’s bed. Selam can approach him, then, stroke his silky fur, and sing to him. When I see her with one of the cats I catch my breath, it’s just so sweet. It’s sweet because she’s made friends with them, and sweet because it means she finally feels comfortable enough with me that she’s willing to spread her circle wider.

There’s something special about a kid and a pet.

Sadly, I can tell that Riddle is not long for this world. I honestly wake up every morning and wonder if she’s still alive. She’s so thin that I can hardly bear it. There are two hard tumors on her spine. But for now, she’s still eating and drinking, and purring when the little girl pets her on her throne behind the sofa.  I’m hyper alert now. I will not let that cat suffer–she has been my faithful friend for 17 and a half years. So I watch and hope.

She has had a good life, Riddle has. And I’m glad that Selam has befriended her. I worry, though, about Selam learning that lesson that those we love sometimes leave us, sometimes go to that place beyond. We cannot go visit there, can no longer feel the warm touch,  but can only hold memories in our pockets, pulling them out like soft flannel to rub between our fingers. We do our best to spare our children this particular life lesson.

I know, though,  that Selam already knows this lesson. She cannot speak it with her English words, but I know she knows it in her bones. At four and a half, she’s lost more than I have in forty more. It’s all unarticulated, held just behind the tongue, but it’s there. I see it in her hooded eyes at the Amharic she no longer speaks, at the faces in the photo album of now nameless friends, in the tiny voice that asks in the dark, “was (my birth mother) brown like me?”

I suppose I need not wish her to pull back from this fuzzy friend–to guard that tender heart.  She already knows that you can love those whose language you no longer share, and she certainly knows that love is, finally, fiercer than the grave.


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