My aunt Millie named her Midnight. I called her my Princess of the Night because, like most cats, she loved to roam at night and she was black as black can be. She came into my life just over five years ago when I first returned to North Carolina, and my life, both personal and professional, was at its lowest. One day, like an angel disguised in a black ball of scruffy fur, she showed up at my doorstep where I was living in Nash County. She had one ear torn, weighing all of 5 pounds, and was hungry. I gave her some milk and picked her up to find that she had a mass the size of a softball under her belly. Unemployed at the time and thus counting pennies and over the objections of my more fiscally responsible family, I took her to the vet.

They found she had been spayed and the incision had become infected, so they had to do surgery. Four hundred dollars later, and cut from stem to stern, Midnight came home with me to heal, and to heal me, and she never left. When we moved to Raleigh and I returned to Poyner Spruill, she came with me. She never left my side. She was the most beautiful, solid-black sleek cat you ever saw, with piercing green eyes. And she was smart. She would sit on her haunches before crossing any street, look both ways, and then confidently cross the road. She would meow once when she wanted to go outside, and then again with “the look” if I didn’t let her out fast enough. She did everything in her own way and in her own time.

She taught me many things, including that I was supposed to get up every morning at 5 a.m. sharp and feed her and begin my day. A daily, punctual soft paw on my cheek and a lick of the tongue eventually allowed me to throw away my alarm clock.

She endured all my moods, my moves, my new house, and the adoption of two brothers, both shelter rescues – Hachi, my Korean Jindo, and a recently new brother, a Corgi-Chihuahua mix named Skidmore (aka “Little Bit”), and she never complained.

She also taught me to let those I love live life their own way. She liked to wander the neighborhood, and everyone knew her. My friends said, “Keep her in the house where she’s safe,” but she was a free spirit and I had to let her fly. She liked to walk when I walked the dogs but fussed all the way, probably because her short little legs couldn’t keep up. So she’d go a hundred yards or so and then lay down with a look that said, “I’ll catch you on the flip side.” And she would, always waiting to accompany us on the last hundred yards back home. She’d roam in the evenings but was always home by 9 p.m., tapping her little paw on the window by the door to say, “Hey, somebody let me in; I’m back.”

When I was sick, she hovered. When I was away, she endured. When I was home, she stayed close by, and she always kept the boys in check, letting them know she allowed them in our home but after all, she was Midnight, the Princess of the Night.

On February 3, just after the big snow, she calmly went out for a morning walk but didn’t come home at 9 p.m. I panicked. She didn’t come home the next day at 9 p.m. either. We searched and called and searched, but no Midnight. Then I prayed, “If it’s her time, just don’t let her suffer or die alone in the cold – that’s all I ask.” Two days later, while I was home with an awful flu, waiting for a client’s deal to break and two cases to settle, I went to the door again as I had every half hour for three days, to call for her. And there, in the pouring rain, I saw her struggling to get across the street, to come home.

I scooped her up and rushed her to the vet, where they tried heroically to save her. She lasted nearly all day, but at 5 p.m. I got the call from Dr. Leone and the incredible staff at Banfield Animal Hospital in Knightdale who take care of my brood – Midnight had tried hard but couldn’t hang on.

I used to laugh at people who got all weepy over departed pets until it was my departed pet, my Midnight. I’ll never make that mistake again. We learn life’s lessons in unexpected ways, and I learned many, many lessons from that little black ball of loving fur. For one, I was reminded that God does answer prayers, because I believe Midnight went away to die as pets do, but my prayer that she not die alone, cold, in the rain, and afraid was answered. And I believe she fought to come home one last time— not for her comfort but for mine—and she made it. She made it.

A dear friend, also a pet lover, sent me a poem called “The Rainbow Bridge” that talks about pets who have passed on waiting for their beloved humans, wagging their tails when they see us coming at life’s end, rushing into our arms, all tongues and kisses. I loved that poem.

We buried Midnight on a cold, rainy Saturday on our family farm in Nash County, where I first found her. That’s as it should be – she loved to roam the country. You’ll think me silly for all this emotional rambling about a cat, and that’s okay. Midnight taught me that it doesn’t really matter where you learn about unconditional love, or about being there when you are needed, or whether love comes in human form or on four legs, but only that you learn about it, experience it, and return it. She also taught me about loyalty and the simple pleasure of being loved and sharing what you have with others (even two annoying doggy brothers). She taught me about loss and letting go, and the place grief holds among our memories, and healing. And she taught me about courage and determination as she dragged her sick body across a rain-flooded street, not for herself but to make me feel better.

Few people have taught me as much about life as this graceful black beauty, so I thought it only fitting that I give her the kind of tribute she deserves. I hope you know someone in your life, or some cat, or dog, or bird that touches you the way this little black ball of fur with the incredible green eyes touched me.

So to my little Midnight, my Princess of the Night, thank you. I’ll see you at the Rainbow Bridge (with treats).

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