Mika was the cat I had through a large majority of my childhood. She was the most beautiful (but ornery) Siamese-Himalayan mix and my mom named her Makalu, after the famous peak in the Himalayas (probably because it was the only word she knew that had anything to do with the Himalayas or that region of the globe). At two-years-old, though, this was quite a mouthful so I took it upon myself to change her name to Mika.
Mika had been very well-behaved in her younger years, but as she aged she became increasingly difficult. It was never anything big like clawing up furniture. It was more that she would get into things or knock things over just to be a butthead. She also had no "full button" when it came to food. After she ate her fill, she would go lie down or do some other cat activity for a few minutes and then come back and meow incessantly for one of us to feed her again.
The majority of her diet consisted of the dry cat food, but we did also give her some of the canned stuff. My mom would stack up those little cans of cat food on the kitchen counter so it was somewhere I could reach it when my mom decided I was old enough to start feeding her myself. Mika would jump on the counter and push the stack with her head until they reached the edge and ultimately fell off. We could be anywhere in the house and when we heard the sound of cans crashing to the floor, we knew Mika was at it again. I am sure she thought if they hit the floor hard enough they would pop open so she could pig out. Sadly, this was never the case. Each time she acted out was met with me saying, "Mika, that's enough!" When she heard this she would freeze for a moment and have that whole "deer in headlights" look about her, and then scamper off to another area of the house. When her antics became a daily occurrence, my mom made space in one of the cupboards for the cat food, no doubt thinking the cupboard door would deter her from getting at the cans. This worked for about a week until we came home one day and found the cupboard door open and cans scattered across the floor. She was nothing if not determined.
I had a canopy bed while growing up in Las Vegas that Mika always seemed fascinated with. Early one morning while I was fast asleep, her curiosity took over. She jumped on my bookcase and then jumped on top of the canopy fabric. Much to her surprise it wasn't some new surface she could walk or nap on. The second her weight hit it, she came crashing down on my bed below, landing on top of me in a cloud of lavender heart-patterned fabric. I didn't find this to be the most polite wake-up call in the world and started screaming for mom and yelling at the cat. This first time happened when I was about 9 and repeated itself a few more times over the rest of her life (though I suspect these subsequent times were just her trying to be a butthead again).
Mika died when she was 15-years-old and with her went my closest friend and confidant growing up. We knew it was coming for a while (her eyesight and hips had been deteriorating for a while, and while she wasn't in any pain, she was definitely showing signs of age) but expecting the loss didn't take away from the pain of it. This was especially true for our other cat, Tabitha, who couldn't understand where the playmate she had her whole life had gone.
A few weeks after Mika passed, I was playing with Tabitha on the floor. We were playing with a shoelace which had been Mika's favorite toy. Mika didn't like sharing anything, but least of all her shoelace. Whenever Tabitha was playing with it, Mika would swat at her with her paw and hiss up a storm. So imagine my surprise when as Tabitha and I were playing, she looks away from the shoelace and ducks like she is avoiding being swatted by some unseen paw and then hisses. "What are you doing, crazy girl? There is nothing there!" She looks at me for a moment, then back in the direction she was looking, and then runs off in the opposite direction. I don't know what she saw but whatever it was made her appetite for playing with the shoelace quickly dissipate.
About a week or so after this, I was sitting in the living room watching television. The house we lived in had an open floorplan so the kitchen and living room were one big room, separated by a long island-style counter on the kitchen side with a raised breakfast bar on the living room side. After Mika's passing, we returned to putting the cat food out on the counter because Tabitha never touched it. On this particular afternoon, I heard what sounded like the cans sliding on the granite countertop. I stood up immediately and looked over the breakfast bar to figure out the source of the noise. My mom wasn't home so I decided to try and find Tabitha. I walked into my mom's room where her little bed was and, sure enough, Tabby was asleep on her bed. When I was in my mom's room, I heard a big crash originating from the kitchen. I ran out to the kitchen to find all four cat food cans on the floor. The only residents of the house were mom, Tabby, and myself and we placed the cans far back on the counter by the backsplash so they couldn't have simply fallen. I just had to laugh.
A few days later, I was washing some produce in the prep sink that was part of the island-style counter, so I had my back to where we kept the cans. I had just turned off the water when I heard the noise again. It was really quick, as if you were to slide a can just a few inches. So, I quickly turned around and, in the half-joking tone I used all those years prior, said, "Mika, that's enough!" The cans didn't hit the ground at all that day. Interestingly enough, when I later thought to check the cans out, they were sitting about 4 inches forward of the backsplash. When I originally placed them there, they were pushed all the way back. It was about two weeks until this happened again, so I guess gently scolding Mika must have worked. I was watching television again and heard the same sliding noise, this time longer. When I stood up, I noticed that the cans were about two inches from the edge of the counter. Curious more than anything, I stood up and walked over to the breakfast bar and sat down in one of the bar stools. I watched the cans for a few minutes while nothing happened. I was just about to get up when the entire stack went right over the edge and hit the floor with a loud bang. Startled, I let out a little yelp! My mom, who was home at the time, came rushing out of the laundry room, asking me if I had hurt myself. She took one look at the cans, then one look at me on the far side of the bar with a startled look on my face and said, "You're kidding!" She was thinking exactly what I was thinking. She sat down and proceeded to tell me about how, from time to time, she thought she would hear Mika meowing. (A bit of background: she had a very unique meow. There was no "me" it was just the "ow" part. So when she would talk it was like "ow, ow, owwww". Tabitha's is like "mrrrow" so its very different and we had never heard one cat replicate the other's. My mom always told me that's what made her pick Mika over the other cats at the pet store. I guess my two-year-old self got a kick out of it and my mom thought, "awww! Poor thing lost her 'me's!'") So just randomly my mom would hear this "oww" sound but then tells me she thinks its just grief. I was so disappointed because I have had a lifetime of experiences (and I know she has, too) but right when I think she is going to open up and we can bond over this, she shut down. So eventually I did, too.
A couple months go by, and I am feeling a bit depressed about the situation and everything my mom told me. Knowing you are having all these experiences (and knowing your parent is as well) and having them all shot down and feeling like you are about to have everything validated for you only to be snubbed... That had a real way of emotionally kicking your butt. Mika had been my protector from the time I was in diapers. She was my partner in crime for most of my childhood. I knew that she was trying to let me know that she was still looking out for me. I knew my mom recognized this as well and the fact that she ignored her instincts and mine had me really upset.
On one particularly low evening after school, I ignored my mom most of the night and hung out in my room. After a couple hours of homework, I read a fashion magazine and talked to my then-boyfriend on the phone until I became sleepy. I set my alarm for the usual 6:00, giving me enough time to eat breakfast, get pretty, and get my butt to school in time for first bell. I must have fallen asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow because the next thing I remember is waking up to the sound of silence. No alarm buzzing me awake so I knew it must have been earlier than the time I set my alarm for (I actually thought it was the middle of the night). I was groggy and probably still half-asleep because it took me a while to think to check the clock for the time, and even longer to register the sensation of fabric against my face. I am a very claustrophobic person and will never sleep with my duvet over my face. I can't even have it up around my shoulders. But this fabric was over my entire head. Feeling the panic of claustrophobia setting in, I pulled the fabric off of me and turned toward my nightstand to turn my bedside lamp on. It was at this moment that I noticed the time - 5:25am. So it wasn't my alarm that woke me up, I am assuming it was the fabric covering my face. I turned on the lamp to check things out. Even in my groggy state, the second the light illuminated my bed I recognized the fabric from the canopy on my bed. There was no clearer sign she could have given me. When Mika was alive, the canopy fabric only came down when she jumped on it. After her passing, besides this, it never came down.
When I recognized this as a sign from her, I started to cry. Happy tears. I felt I was able to let her go fully now that the previous signs had been validated. Regardless of my mom's inability to be honest about her experiences, I was now able to be honest with myself about mine. This is the realization I came to as I was sitting in bed at 5:30 in the morning. After a few minutes, I felt my bed move. It was the slightest bump in my bed, but it startled me a bit. I froze. A moment later I felt the far right corner of the bed dip down slightly and then spring back up. But it wasn't a lot of movement. Just very gentle. It felt exactly like a cat jumping off the bed. I got the feeling that this was her way of saying that she is still with me, but that its ok for me to let her go. It felt like it was a sort of goodbye, that I would never have these kind of visits from her again. And I never did.
I firmly believe that pets are not just animals we keep around, but members of the family. Important members, just like a brother or an aunt. When Mika passed, I had never lost anyone close to me before. She had been my buddy from as far back as I could remember. I think she needed to come back to visit me just as much as I needed it. Her messages, especially the canopy one, were her way of saying, "Hey kid, keep your chin up. I'm here for you."
In life, we create powerful bonds (even with animals) that transcend death. It's a beautiful thing that I don't think should be taken for granted.