In 1999, I moved to Washington, DC — well, Silver Spring, Maryland — to go to grad school. I was pretty ambivalent about the move and that stressed me out. I was excited to be pursuing what I thought would be my life-long career at one of the top counseling psychology programs in the country. But, my mom’s health had worsened, her husband had left her and she was very low. I felt a little guilty for leaving her there all by herself.

I was determined to make it work. After a few months, however, it became increasingly clear that I was not very happy. I hated the short days, the cold and the gray slushy snow. I felt like an intellectual outcast in my department, having come from another field (journalism and cultural studies) and with the expectation that we might actually study psychology as theory as well as practice. I was sick all the time and I developed a rash all over my torso.

But when I talked to my mom back home, I focused on how upset Sophie had become because of the move. I told her that Sophie was anxious and not sleeping. Sophie had developed a new, obviously stress-related habit of chewing the plastic threads in the carpet. She would chew endlessly all night! It drove me crazy! Sophie’s asthma was also acting up.

Clearly something needed to be done because Sophie was having such a hard time with things!

Eventually, I came to terms with my own unhappiness and made the best decision of my life: to quit grad school. I got a job at the National Organization for Women and found what would be come the general direction of my professional career for the next 15 years. And, within the next year, Sophie and I moved back to Texas.

I’m paying a lot of attention to Sophie this week. She is now 18 years old. Over the past few years, she has gradually (although the overall contrast is actually quite shocking) lost a lot of weight. Once a little butterball, she’s pretty much a little furry bag of bones now. But, she’s just as cranky and ornery as ever. She wants to play and fight, and she purrs and wants affection. She goes outside when she feels like it and lays in the sun. She eats, drinks and uses her litter box.

But I’m hyper sensitive to any changes in her behavior.

When Benny moved in, she wanted nothing to do with him. She stayed in the back bed room all the time. She took up an anxious habit of compulsively cleaning herself. She licked most of the fur off both sides of her body, and all of the fur off her stomach. It took three years for her to ease up, emerge from the back bed room and grow back her fur.

Who knows if she was anxious because of Benny, or because she sensed MY anxiety about Benny. Whichever it was, it affected her. And I’m worried about her now, as Lenny’s death and absence are starting to really hit me. She walks around the house meowing. Is she looking for him? Will my worrying be the death of her?

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