It’s sometimes said that the way in which we begin each year sets the tone for the rest of it. My experience was just the opposite: 2016 started off so well. My new husband and I celebrated the New Year at a carnival-themed party during our honeymoon in Venice, feeling happy and optimistic, thinking that 2016 would surely be a year full of blessings. Bells of the Venetian churches sang in beautiful choruses within earshot of our hotel.
Like so many newlyweds, we were actively trying for a baby. The last time I was pregnant, it had happened so fast — I’d actually been pregnant at our wedding. Though that pregnancy had felt like it was “meant to be,” it ended up not being viable. Such a strange time it was when my body expelled what I so much wanted it to keep inside, the harsh reality of life continuing as normal as my body was so abruptly transitioning from pregnant to not pregnant.
When the miscarriage was over, I still felt like a mother-to-be, even though I’d been recently robbed of that title. Something in me had shifted when I’d seen that pink line on the pregnancy test. A miscarriage takes away your pregnant status, but the maternal feelings don’t just go away. You’re in the process of a major lifestyle shift, and then — poof — the cells that were turning into your baby aren’t doing that anymore.
Consciously, my husband and I wanted to fill the gap where the hope had been. A good friend who’d had a miscarriage told me that becoming a pet owner had been, for her, a proactive way to deal with the grief. She said that the unconditional, adoring love a pet gives you, the kind of love that is endorphin-creating, is not only hugely satisfying, but also lifts the cloud of self-reflection a little. With a pet, your focus becomes on “the other” again. We weren’t looking for a baby substitute because nothing could replace that particular dream, but we liked the idea of building our own little family.
At the cat rescue center, we were introduced to an adorable calico kitten with green eyes like saucers. To my surprise, she immediately started purring when I placed a hand on her back. The sound of her purr was remarkable in its volume and steadiness. I tried to feed her a treat, but she was more interested in being stroked and held. As she started rubbing her face against mine, I began to cry. I think they were tears of grief for the baby we lost, but also tears of joy about encountering such a loving, affectionate being.
“We’ll take her. My wife is crying; I think it’s a done deal,” my husband told the lovely lady who had introduced us to our new love, whom we named Golda after our grandparents’ mutual love of Yiddish. Just like her name, she was a ray of light; I could tell this from that fated first meeting.
Quickly, Golda became our little feline Jewish princess. It was fun to watch how doting my husband was with her, how much he adored her — it gave me an inkling into what he’d be like as a father. It’s hard to summarize the impact of a new family member on a household, and a cat is undoubtedly a family member.
Golda is loving, affectionate, and comical at times, too. She waits for me by the door as soon she hears my key in the lock, and once I’m through the door she sits on my lap for a long time, kneading, kissing my face with her nose, and purring loudly. She pokes her head out from under the duvet cover when I least expect it, and I can’t help but laugh out loud.
Then, on a strange day last spring — about three months after we adopted Golda, the same week that our baby would have been due — my husband came home from work as usual. There I was on the sofa, Golda purring beside me, when I asked him whether he thought we should have sushi or pizza for dinner. But he didn’t want to talk about dinner. He told me that he had to talk to me about something big. I saw his lips moving and I heard the words, but I didn’t understand. He’d changed his mind about marriage and children — suddenly, and with a steely determination, he wanted to leave our marriage.
To say I was shocked would be an understatement. We were newlyweds, trying for a baby and very much in love, or so I’d thought. I believed that my husband was a man devoted to marriage and to the grit and stamina it requires of us, and I think he thought he was that man, but it turns out we were both wrong . He decided that he couldn’t be married, or he simply didn’t want to be. I’ve written a multitude of other essays about this upturning in my life; there’s too much to say on this topic to write all of it in this one essay, which is really about my pregnancy loss and Golda.
It’s December now, seven months since my husband’s abrupt departure from our marriage. There is no honeymoon, there is no party . Instead there are divorce lawyers and some downsizing and economizing. I can hear the steady trickling of Golda’s water fountain and the sound of her munching on the dry food kernels that are her dinner. Twelve months ago, I never could have imagined I’d be ending this year in an apartment across the city from my husband and with a loving fur baby by my side. It’s hard to believe it’s been almost 365 days since I heard those beautiful bells in Venice.
These days, these strange days, Golda follows me around the apartment from room to room, like a shadow, like she’s making sure I’m okay. She is surely an angel with whiskers — brightening every day with her antics and her kisses, making me smile. Her love makes the apartment in which I live feel like a home, and her contented purring and effusive outpourings of affection are genuine tonics. Golda is certainly not a baby replacement (or even a husband replacement), but she is something to give my love to, and she’s helping.