When David and I came to Hawai’i from Oregon in March 1995 for a 1-year university sabbatical, we left behind our 15-year-old black cat, Pearl. Friends were staying at our home while we were away, and we knew Pearl was in good hands.
About three weeks after we’d traveled, I had a powerful dream, one I will never forget. It began in a dream house in early morning; I was in my nightgown, just getting up. Several young girls, also in their nightgowns, were already up and moving around the house like fillies. A gentle breeze was blowing through gauzy curtains and the light was ethereal.
Then the dream shifted suddenly, as dreams will do. And (still in the house) an unusual being was standing in front of me. She was a perfect combination of a human woman my size and a cat — the body of a woman covered with the silky, shiny fur of a cat, a black cat. Like Pearl. We didn’t say anything, at least not in words. Then we hugged one another, and the hug was so potent, so emotionally charged, it was overwhelming, almost unbearable. As we let go our embrace I took a small step back and looked at her face — and saw a single tear rolling ever so slowly down her black furry cheek. I thought in that moment: I didn’t know that cats could cry.
Within days, the friends caretaking our home phoned. With heavy hearts, they told us Pearl was gone, presumably dead. She had asked to go out one evening and shortly thereafter a big fracas broke out in the backyard, at the edge of the woods. Our friends ran outside but didn’t see anyone or anything; they called Pearl but she never responded. They put off phoning us, looking for her daily in the woods behind the house, calling and calling to no avail. She was truly gone. Because of the sounds they’d heard, they felt a wild animal had taken her.
The news was a blow. She had lived a long, healthy, good life; and that a wild animal got her (a barn owl, I’ve always thought) was, to me, not an unfitting end for one who’d lived free, and true to her nature. Still, the loss went deep: I cried for days. She had been a dear, dear companion.
When I’d hugged Pearl in the wee hours before we left to catch our plane to Hawai’i, I’d had a feeling I would never see her again. I was right — and wrong. For I did see her again — in my dream. She had come to say good-bye.
Hole in the Ground
When our cat Bonnie was young, from time to time she’d take off into the gulch near our house in Hawai’i and be gone for days, even weeks (see Feline IMing). She always returned — skinnier, hungry, but otherwise healthy. Except one time…
She’d been gone nearly a month when I had another dream I won’t ever forget. She’d come to the house, our house in waking reality, where she greeted me affectionately. I petted her for several minutes as she rubbed against my legs and purred.
Then she indicated somehow that I should follow her. She took me to a grassy area with a small knoll where there was a hole in the ground rather like the entrance to a tunnel, an underground burrow. She went through the hole and disappeared. I just stood there, knowing I couldn’t follow. The hole was too small for me to get through.
When I woke up I instantly recalled the dream and burst into tears. I was sure Bonnie had died and had come to show me so we didn’t keep waiting for her return. I knew the dream could have been interpreted differently — she might have gone through a wrinkle in space-time, a thought that had crossed my mind more than once before — yet I was certain the dream was meant as a death notice. Bonnie is a small cat with great intelligence, a big personality, and energy to match — one whose presence and absence are felt intensely.
David and I began to grieve the loss of our animal companion. Bonnie’s half-sister felt the loss too — she kept asking us about Bonnie’s whereabouts. Time passed, and the dream’s apparent message seemed more and more assured. And then, seven weeks later, as we pulled into our driveway late one afternoon, returning from the beach…there she was! She was a wreck: her body painfully thin, her fur ragged, her demeanor making clear she’d been through an ordeal, a mysterious trauma we could never know the shape of. It took her weeks to recover.
Bonnie had indeed gone down a hole in the ground to a place we could not access and an unknown situation we could not protect her from. She had shown me that. Yet despite my strong belief that she had died, she’d survived…albeit barely. Or perhaps — who knows? — she had died and come back: a sacrifice refused. It happens that way sometimes, our teacher Rachel said. It certainly happens that way in stories, and who’s to say some of those stories aren’t true?