The Toes Girl Bear

This past weekend David and I travelled to Gatlinburg where we met my family and stayed in a mountain cabin. Like most lodging in the area, the place was filled with woodsy themed decor, but unlike past places we’ve stayed, the decorations in this cabin were contemporary. For instance, over the couch there was a dark toned, broad stroked painting of a deer head that when caught in reflection in a facing window made it look like a real deer was out on the deck.

The main room featured lamps and a chandelier constructed from faux(?) antlers and in the downstairs bedroom there was an intricate metal stamped cutout of a man fishing in a pond. At the bottom of the stairs on the lower level hung a canvas print that listed the cabin rules–one of which was RELAX. RELAX. RELAX. I spent most of the weekend wearing bear pajamas in observation of this mandate.

My favorite piece of decor was a small bear statue with a humped back and stretched out neck that reminded me of our cat Toes. It’s been almost seven months since she passed away, but David and I still talk about her daily often repeating the phrase Kitty Cats. Toes Girl. That’s our girl. in a singsongy way and meowing at each other in Toes fashion (e.g., with a radar meow). During our stay at the cabin, David arranged it so the Toes like bear statue stood under a faux (for sure) potted plant, paying tribute to Toes’s penchant for sniffing at the bushes in our back yard. I don’t have access to a picture of Toes engaging in this exact activity, but you can still observe the similarities below:


Tuesdays with Toes – The Makeover

The first time I took Toes to have mats trimmed from her fur I went to a groomer. He attempted to put a plastic collar around her neck to keep her from biting and scratching, but she was ultimately deemed too hostile.

The same thing happened when Toes went to the vet for a hair cut and a checkup. They told me the visit would be more pleasant for her if she had a sedative beforehand so we rescheduled for a later date.

The process of giving Toes the sedative was not sedate. I thought I’d be able to administer it easily since I was used to giving her fluids, but she was not having that pill. Her writhing in a towel as I tried to make her swallow is one of my worst memories of my time with her. Right along with that is her appearance after the drug took effect—her back legs immobile. I worried she’d never walk again.

When I gave Toes the sedative before her vet visit, I pictured her enjoying it like a housewife taking a Valium. She’d relax, have her hair done, and emerge glamorous.

I should have known better—most of the change I’ve undertaken in my life hasn’t been pretty. I’ve never movie montaged my way from glasses gal into swan. I’ve either made hard fought slow progress, barely noticeable day to day, or resisted change until I was forced to make it. In the latter cases, I was often heartbroken–picking up shattered pieces of myself that never fit together the same way again.

I’m at the end of a period of change that feels like it’s been a couple years in the making–a mix of heartbreak and slow progress. I’m happy with where I’m at now–excited about new endeavors and making peace with the old.

Change brings beginning and endings, and one of the things I’m ending now is this series. It’s been a joy writing about my life with Toes–remembering the small moments I had with her like when she came home after her fur trim and was so soft to pet.

I loved petting her, I loved being with her, and I’ve loved sharing our story here. Thanks for tuning in to Tuesdays with Toes.


Tuesdays with Toes – Strange Places

The strangest place I ever went with Toes was a tire shop in Lexington, Kentucky. We were driving back from Cincinnati to Atlanta together–she in her carrier in the back seat and me alone in the front when the low tire pressure light came on. I’d had a tire fixed right before I’d come up to Ohio to pick her up so I didn’t want to take any chances. I took the next exit to have it checked out.

Luckily, I had some practice navigating road trip tire troubles before this. I’d blown a tire going over a gnarly pothole when David and I were taking a road trip from Atlanta to New Orleans. We ended up in Saraland, Alabama for the night biding time until the local Pep Boys opened in the morning.

Toes and I ran into our troubles early in the day. Off the exit, we found a tire shop that bore the last name of a girl I was briefly best friends with in middle school (a time of frequent friend turnover). The guy working the front desk knew relatives of mine from his high school days in Cincinnati so we bonded right away like good former Ohioans.

He told me to pull the car into the shop, and it was fine if Toes stayed in the backseat.

It was a large body shop that felt like a warehouse–dark concrete walls echoing sounds of scratching metal. They hoisted the car up and removed the tire for inspection.

I waited by the car–staring in the window to Toes’s carrier. I wondered what she thought of all of it–the tilt of the car and the sounds of the high pressure equipment being used in the shop.

“It’s okay Sweet Girl,” I reassured her.

And it was okay. It turned out it wasn’t the tire I’d had repaired that needed fixing but another one. They removed a twisted piece of metal from it and were able to patch it up so Toes and I could be on our way. Back to Atlanta and our lives together there.

Tuesdays with Toes – Hunger

Last week I was driving home from the gym approaching a stop sign when a striped orange cat crossed the road in front of my car. Inside the cat’s mouth dangled a plump dead mouse, it’s tiny tail pointed down.

The cat reminded me of my parents cat, Orange-y, who was born to a stray cat named Mama on their porch. Mama would be spayed but not before she gave birth to mini-Mama, her look-a-like, and Socks, who Toes resembled and who she was named after.

Seeing the orange cat with the mouse reminded me of a similar experience I had in London last summer when I spotted a black cat like Toes capturing a mouse on the city streets. I snapped a blurry picture, which you’ll find below.

Seeing the stray cat in London made me think about Toes’s life before we rescued her. She must have hunted. How successful she was at it I don’t know. Although I will say when we dangled a play mouse on a string in front of her, she pounced with a fierceness that frightened me. And she loved eating. Wet or dry food–it didn’t matter–her jaws would chomp together mashing her vittles with a wet gravelly breath followed by a shallow swallow, consuming the food as fast as she could.

Her vet told us that at some point her chronic kidney disease might decrease her appetite, indicating she was nearing her end. As far as I know, that never happened. Toes stayed hungry.


Tuesdays with Toes – Empty Spaces

I went home this weekend to visit my family in Cincinnati. There were many happy reasons for the trip–Easter, my aunt’s birthday, and spending time with one of my closest friends who was also in town. There was also a sad reason–I wanted to be where Toes was before she passed away.

The kitty litter was gone from her room in my parent’s house as was her cheetah taco bed. There were no signs of her fluids or her food.

“She’s really gone,” my mom said to me while we were in there.

Back in Atlanta, David had plans to clear her stuff from our garage during my trip. He checked with me in advance, and I knew what he proposed was the right thing to do. But I didn’t like it.

“I don’t want to move on from the time with her in my life,” I told him.

Accepting the reality of Toes’s death not only means coming to terms with the fact that I no longer have a cat but also facing the inevitable march of time and how death will continue to change the landscape of my closest relationships.

There are spaces now that are filled by people I love, and like Toes’s garage, one day they’ll be empty of them.

Tuesdays with Toes – The Tropical Storm

It was windy this past Sunday, and on Monday morning before it was light out, I drove past a downed tree–a large one–on my way to the gym. It reminded me of an experience Toes and I shared a couple of years ago.

September 11, 2017–the day Hurricane Irma came to Atlanta, GA. By the time it arrived, the hurricane had been downgraded to a tropical storm. But Atlanta still braced for it’s impact.

I was living by myself in our house at the time. David had gone to Madison, Wisconsin for a few months on a sabbatical. Toes was here with me, living in the garage.

We knew the storm was headed our way for days ahead of it. And on those days, I worried. All the news stories leading up to the storm talked about how many trees in Atlanta would come down. We had a large beech tree in our front yard that had been deemed high risk for falling by a tree company. A date had been scheduled for the tree’s removal, but that date wasn’t for a month or so.

On the day of the storm, I gathered my emergency supplies, watched the weather radar, and waited. Our garage is only accessible from outside our house so I knew once the storm started Toes and I would likely be separated for awhile. Before the rain became too heavy, I went out and made sure she had everything she needed: water, food, clean kitty litter.

I tried to give Toes fluids, but she was not having it. I attributed this to the fact that animals have a sense for impending danger. I imagined her thinking, “I don’t need you to stick a needle in me right now. Don’t you know what’s coming? We might not survive.”

I did know what was coming. Before I left the garage, I scratched Toes’s head and said, “Hopefully I’ll see you on the other side of this.”

Then I went back into the house to ride out the storm. Together with Toes in a way since we were in close proximity to each other, but separate in the sense that I couldn’t reach her without going out into the rain.

I watched the storm from my couch in the living room. I witnessed my neighbor’s tree falling into a power line sending up sparks. The downed tree would hang suspended in the air between the bottom half of it’s trunk and a smaller tree on the other side of the street.

The branches of the beech in our yard swayed in the wind but the trunk stayed upright. Thankfully, that tree wouldn’t come down until it’s appointed day with the tree company. Others in my neighborhood were not so lucky. I drove past at least two downed trees that had fallen onto houses and left gaping holes in their roofs–my worst fears realized.

Toes and I were without power for a few days but other than that we emerged unscathed. Soon after the storm, Toes acquiesced to receiving fluids, and I knew then that the danger had passed.

Tuesdays with Toes – Mourning

As you may have gathered from my Cemetery Recommendations page, I am a big fan of cemeteries. I visit a number of them here in Atlanta on a regular basis, and I love discovering new ones when I travel.

The day Toes passed away was a sunny one. A nice day. I had to drop David off at work, and afterward, I knew just where I wanted to go: a cemetery. Decatur Cemetery was the most convenient.

I went there, parked, and walked around. I cried a bunch, which I don’t usually do in cemeteries. But this day was different–I was there to mourn in a spot dedicated to such activities.

I visited my favorite part of the cemetery–a small path that’s enclosed by greenery where they have urn burials and a monument dedicated to people who’ve donated their bodies to science.

Wind chimes of all different sizes hang in the trees in this section, but on the day Toes passed away, there wasn’t much wind. To the sound of faint chimes, I scanned the small monuments atop the urn burials and found one that brought me peace: a small stone statue of a sleeping cat with angel wings.

Cemeteries satisfy me because they make me feel connected to fundamental forces that shape the human experience: birth, death, family, and love. When I go to a cemetery hurting or longing or hoping, I often find what I need in that moment.

Release. Perspective. Inspiration.

Cemeteries contain the wisdom of generations. They’re a reminder that life is brief. And they’re a great place to mourn.

Tuesdays with Toes – Cats in Heaven

“You know pets can’t go to heaven.”

I was a teenager when a strange man said this to me at a bookstore. I was browsing the religious section with my younger sister. I’d recently become more involved with a youth group and was looking for books that would support my deepening faith—books that would provide evidence that Jesus was the savior of the world and make me feel good about my choice to follow him.

As a child, my version of heaven had always included pets. Because if heaven’s a perfect place, then of course my pets who I’d loved would be there. Our cat, Jinx, who was hit by a car in the street right before my basketball game. My sister’s pet bird, Tweety, who our cat Clamboy killed when he was on his own deathbed. My rabbit, Hoppy, who was attacked by the neighbor’s dog after the dog had jumped over the fence and into Hoppy’s pen.

I’d been nearby when all of these pets met their tragic ends, and it was a consolation to believe someday I would be reunited with them.

When I met the strange man in the bookstore as a teenager, my faith was at a turning point. I’d grown up Catholic, but it wasn’t until I joined a youth group outside my church that I was introduced to the notion of accepting Jesus into your heart in order to receive the gift of eternal salvation.

This challenged my conception of what heaven might look like. Suddenly, it wasn’t guaranteed that all the people I knew would be up there with me. And if this man at the bookstore was to be believed, my pets might not be there either because—according to him—they did not have souls.

I don’t remember how my sister and I came to be talking to the man in the bookstore or how the conversation eventually landed on the topic of pets in heaven. I do remember, though, thinking he was a jerk for saying animals wouldn’t be allowed. 

The man had convictions about Christianity—I’ll give him that. Ones that I  would come to share as my faith deepened and ones that would fall away again as I grew older and less sure of things.

I don’t know where Toes is now except in my heart—where she’ll always stay. 

Tuesdays with Toes – Time for Goodbye

Toes passed away today. On a Tuesday morning. My mom was with her.

She put the phone near Toes so I could talk to my sweet girl before she passed.

I told her how much I loved her and thanked her for how much she taught me.

I’ve missed her so much these past few months, and I’m going to keep missing her.

I was so lucky to have her in my life.


Tuesdays with Toes – Earning the Pride of Toes

When I studied abroad in college, I regularly received emails from my cat Darcy. She’d update me on her life at home with my parents, my sister, and the other cats and dogs. She’d talk about how much she missed me and marvel at my adventures through Central Europe. For a long time, I was under the impression that my dad sent these emails on behalf of Darcy. It wasn’t until years later when I was talking to my mom about how clever my dad was for dispatching them that she exclaimed back, “I sent those!”

“Toes is proud of you.” I received this text on Friday, a couple of days before my marathon. I was busy when it came through my phone, and again I falsely assumed the message was from my dad. But this time I realized my mistake within a couple of hours when I reread the text.

On Saturday, my mom surprised me by showing up in Atlanta with my aunt, who I knew was coming to cheer me on in the marathon. They’d driven down to Pigeon Forge from Cincinnati the day before to break up the drive.

“You weren’t even with Toes when you texted me,” I said to my mom later on Saturday evening. “How could you know she was proud of me?”

“She was. She is,” my mom assured me.

It’s funny how much I want that to be true even though there’s no way Toes could know about my marathon and why I decided to leave her in Cincinnati. Similarly, when I was in college, I wanted my cat Darcy to understand why I wasn’t living at home anymore and to be proud of the risks I was taking to discover the world.

“You think cats are a lot more complicated than they really are.”

Another aunt said this to me during my last visit to Cincinnati in response to a statement I’d made about how much Toes probably missed me while she was staying with my parents.

My aunt is right, but at the same time, I know I find comfort in attributing complex narratives to cats. It’s as if they are an extension of me–a way of viewing myself and my actions from the outside and making peace with them.

Toes may not have known that I was running a marathon on Sunday but believing she wanted me to succeed (and thus believing in myself) helped me cross the finish line.