my apologies for the delayed post…i have a very silly job with unpredictable hours and i wasn’t able to get to my post on time. which you’d think would give me some sort of advantage, but this post will likely prove how untrue that is!
honestly, the first thing that came to mind was that of companion animals – which in this day and age can range from anything from a lizard to a miniature potbellied pig, it seems. but i was more thinking of our own pet, our old, creaky cat, who has been our companion since we rescued him as a sick, skinny, sneezy little tabby in the spring of 2002. he’s having a pretty rough time right now, and we are really trying to love him up extra (despite some of the gross, noisy, and annoying habits he has developed recently) because we’re fairly certain that he’s near the end. he has lost most of the muscle he had as a younger guy, his bones clunk when he sits on his haunches, we can’t seem to get ahead of his overly active thyroid (despite medication), he moves so much more tentatively, his litter box aim is horrendous, and sometimes he just wanders around yodeling aimlessly, as if he has forgotten where he is and what he’s doing here.
but he is still my guy.
he still knows exactly when i need him. will make his way to wherever i am, in whatever state of despair, to roost on my chest, or press himself against my thigh, or stretch a paw out to touch my arm. despite being mostly deaf, he still does his squinty happy eyes when we talk to him, and starts to purr at deafening volumes, even without us touching him. honestly, his purr my favourite thing about him, it’s SO SO loud (ask pocketbrit! she can hear it when we speak on the phone!) and when he’s really pleased, kind of squeaks at the end of the exhale. it’s the best.
there was one time when we tried to give him away. i don’t even remember quite why, i think it was because of my then-partner (now wife)’s terrible asthma and allergies, which were particularly bad for a couple years in 2004-2005. neither of us wanted to do it. in fact we could hardly stand the idea of it, but her health was really suffering and we didn’t know what else we could try. so we arranged for him to go to one of our friends, who lived in the country, a lovely woman who adored animals and would take wonderful care of him.
from the moment L picked him up, in his little harness, and packed him in the car, we were a fucking disaster. i remember sitting on the kitchen floor, leaning against the wall, sobbing, and looking across to WOPC, similarly splayed out, leaning against the stove, doing the same. it was so horribly quiet. no cat toys. no whiff of stinky wet food. no purring. no chattering back at us, as he wove around our calves, no racing us up the stairs, no chirping out the window to the birds. it was abso-fucking-lutely awful.
and it was for him, too. he cried ALL night, L said. ALL NIGHT LONG. she couldn’t handle it. called us at 6am and said, i think this is a bad idea. he misses you, he was looking for you, his heart is broken. and when the car pulled back in our driveway a couple hours later and we were reunited, he took one sniff at his bowl, bit my partner on the arm (retribution) and then promptly laid between us on the couch and fell asleep for hours. and then his two mommies apologized and kissed his nose and face and held his paws and cried some more and vowed never to leave him ever ever again.
and we kept our promise. he has moved with us five times over the years. he has flown with us across the country to our parents’ houses. when we have gone on vacation in more recent years, we always have people come and stay in the house with him, because he’s not the kind of cat who you can just leave. he needs companionship, ours in particular. he’s a one-family cat and we have stayed a one-cat family, because he’s ours and we love him so, so much.
i also thought a lot about my grandfather when i was musing over this word…what companionship is. it makes me think of aging, somehow, of how the old couples who have stayed together often seem to love, above all else, each other’s company.
shortly after my grandmother died, after a long horrific battle with cancer, my grandfather was decimated. we all were. i was, particularly, because growing up, she was one of the only people i ever felt was in my corner. one of the only people who protected me from the rage and impatience of my mom.
when she died, i was fifteen, and i didn’t understand it. losing her convinced me that god wasn’t real, couldn’t be, and if he was, that if he was selfish enough to take her away from us, i was permanently unsubscribing to his fan club. i was angry and i was grieving and i felt so, so alone.
but just shy of two years from when my grandmother took her last breath, in the bed they had moved to the den on the main floor of the house he had built for their family in the 1970s, my grandfather started spending a lot of time with this other woman, who had also recently been widowed. and what freaked me the fuck out was that mrs s was nearly exactly like grandmother. her hair was the same, her glasses were the same, she wore the same perfume, which really upset me at the time (27 years later, i still have, tucked in my underwear drawer, a small bottle of my grandmother’s perfume. which, to this day, transports me to her arms, when i was small enough that she could wrap them around me). mrs s was soft spoken like her, even had a creaky voice like her.
so of course, i hated her. and for awhile, i hated him, too. i missed her and couldn’t imagine how he didn’t. (alas…that was the point, but i was too young to know it then. it was more that he missed her so much he couldn’t bear it.)
all i know is that at some point, i grew up, and grew to love mrs s. she was a very kind, sweet woman, who wasn’t trying to take anyone’s place. she was just loving my grandfather. and she absolutely made him better and happier. they never, ever moved in together, continuing to walk and drive the five blocks from each of their homes in their small rural town, eating most meals together, planning, planting, and then harvesting their separate gardens together. they baked bread, made pickles, made tomato juice, volunteered at the local senior centre together, and sat dozing, side-by-side as the nightly news blared from the television. they went on road trips together. held hands when they went for walks together. she made his eyes sparkle and kept a spring in his step. they brought meaning to each other’s lives, staved away the loneliness of their respective widowhood.
i remember my grandfather shaking his head at one of my aunts, after she teased him about saving money by moving in with mrs s. still shaking his head, he turned to me and said, you know, dolly, i will never get married again, i will love your grandmother until the day i die. mrs s just keeps me from being so lonesome. and that stayed with me. he, like all of us, just needed company. companionship. presence.
and when his health started to fail and he made the decision to sell the house in which he raised four girls and in which my beloved grandmother died…and then decided to leave the small town in which he and mrs s had lived most of their lives and into to an assisted living facility for seniors in the big city (nearer to my parents and one of my aunts)…he didn’t last much longer. they spoke on the phone (despite her advancing dementia) but it wasn’t the same. he lost weight. the light in his eyes dimmed. he was fearful. he got quiet. he was preparing his exit, i think.
so maybe companionship is that thing to which we all strive, our whole lives…that sense of being absolutely comfortable and comforted by another’s presence. the sharing of the mundane and the important and all that is in between.
it’s so interesting that companionship came the day after a post on friendship, because i think there is overlap. but i also feel like it refers to something deeper and more significant than friendship. that it is a comfortable, easy state of being between two people…the kind of deal where you just enjoy being together for hours, speaking or in silence, regardless of what you’re doing. where you can be yourself without pretense or need to self-edit. where bras and words and hairbrushes are optional. if you’re grumpy, you’re grumpy. if you feel like taking a nap, you nap (and unabashedly snore like a chainsaw, if you’re me) (although this makes me feel pretty squidgy, coz snoring is SO EMBARRASSING AND GROSS). if you feel like not showering and laying on the sofa for seven hours, intermittently reading and watching terrible TV, that’s what you do…maybe even whilst eating popcorn for breakfast and cereal for dinner in the same set of pajamas in which you awoke. and you do it because there’s no reason not to, because the other person will barely register any of it, because how you are is completely and utterly fine with them. they do their thing, you do yours, but you always come back together.
it necessarily includes love, intimacy, comfort and acceptance of the other person. maybe it happens over time. maybe it happens when you know someone from the inside-out. maybe it’s an acquired (and advanced?) potential stage of any relationship. i don’t know. but when i imagine meeting with pocketbrit, i feel like that comfort…that level of intimacy…is exactly what we have, and what will continue to deepen.
(also, i bet that i can stay in my manky old pjs longer than she can before showering…we’ll see how companion-y she feels about that bit.)