Note: This piece was begun the week after Coco, my family and I’s beloved cat, disappeared. Coco disappeared on January 10th, 2018 and, seeing as how I was never able to finish the piece in the year since I have decided to finish it now that the one year anniversary of his disappearance is approaching.

Demons do not come from above or below, they are not angels in disguise or servants of the Devil. Demons do not have curling horns, glowing eyes, or trailing flames. Demons slither, crawl, and creep from your past; they crash, tumble, and roar down from your future, and they manifest in your present. They come silently and depart suddenly. Only you truly know when your demons are present because the prison built by those demons seems to have no door.

Around this time last year, a demon placed me within a prison with seemingly no door. For four years a light of joy had been almost constantly in my life. This light was described by my mother as a “dog in a catsuit.” That light was my family's cat, Coco. That skinny Flame Point Siamese cat began his journey with our family quite innocuously. Around five years ago Coco began to sleep on the hillside in the front of our house, he would stare at us as we walked around outside, and he would meow at us. Eventually, he began to assert with emotion-laden meows and pleading eyes that he should be let inside our house. My family and I had never been 'pet people,' mainly due to my father who did not desire a pet and the extraneous effort one would require. As such my family and I let Coco hang around our property, but made sure he stayed out of our house. The irony of the story is that at some point amongst the many hours my father spent on the patios of our house doing yoga, exercising, reading, and drinking coffee, Coco’s personality convinced my father to let him inside our house. The man had fallen in love and the rest of the family soon followed suit.

Within, what seemed like seconds, but what must have been a few weeks we bought paired food dishes and began to regularly buy cat food. Coco loved the outdoors just as much as he loved the indoors and as such spent most of the day outside, basking in the sun and sleeping soundly. He would return to the security of our house for the night and began to sleep in my parents' bed. During the winter Coco would migrate to spending his days indoors, nestled in one of our laps or playing around the house. Don’t get me wrong, Coco was not all playtime and snuggles. When he wanted to be let outside he could turn into a terror, wrecking the furniture with his scratching and running endless rounds of our house. He got those ‘crazy eyes’ that cats get when they are going wild.

Coco’s presence brought endless joy and peace to our family, because of his loving and calming nature. There are people who say that their dogs are their ‘kids,’ and while I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Coco was my parents’ third child, I will say that he was definitely the fifth member of our family. For four years that member was deeply cared for and looked after. During Thanksgiving break of 2015 my family and I were planning on taking a trip to Portland, OR, but at the last minute, we discovered that Coco had a growth on his neck. My parents took him to surgery and the veterinarians took good care of him, he came back home with a cone around his head so that he wouldn’t scratch his healing wound. We decided to stay home, in Los Angeles, and take care of our beloved Coco.

This dynamic that was so constant and fulfilling at our home played a major role in the emotional struggle that I endured while establishing myself independently during my first quarter at college in 2017. Beyond the fact that I was deeply troubled by leaving my family and home to attend college four hours north in San Luis Obispo, I was also struggling with the fact that I was leaving my beloved Coco. Which made my return to my family and home during 2017’s Thanksgiving break all the more glorious: I got to spend time with Coco again, too. Then when I returned, a few weeks later, for Christmas break I was able to spend three and a half weeks amongst the peace and love that Coco provided our home. In the moments before I hopped into my car to drive back up to SLO for the new quarter after the break, I spent my time saying goodbye to my parents, sister, and Coco. I distinctly remember Coco lying peacefully on a living room table. I crouched down next to him, rubbed his side with long, slow strokes, kissed his head, and took a picture of him as he looked up at me. That was the last time I saw our Coco.

A few days later, as I sat in a crowded coffee shop on campus, my dad called me. Now my family and I have a rough system: we text each other for normal, day to day matters and mostly only call each other when there is an urgent or important matter. As such, I was expecting my father to have something urgent or important to ask or say to me. The moment that I picked up the phone my father exclaimed in a pained, tear-choked wail, “We can’t find Coco!” I was shocked and scared, so I quickly made my way outside. As the conversation progressed I began to understand what had happened: the night before my mother had let Coco out of the house at around 10 pm, which is later than usual but Coco wanted to go outside, the next morning when my father got up for work Coco was not at the door waiting to come inside as he usually was. That irregularity unnerved my father, so he told my mom and sister to keep an eye out for Coco. Later that day, when my sister had gotten home from her high school and my mom from her job, they both looked for Coco and could not find him anywhere on or around our property. The fact that no one in our family had seen any glimpse of him all day, especially in the morning, deeply shook them all, leading to my father’s mournful phone call. Indeed, I had rarely, only once or twice before, heard my father so distressed.

I am one who always tries to keep a cool head in a stressful situation and so I commiserated with my dad, I was heartbroken at my dad’s pained cries and at not being able to locate our Coco, but I also did my best to stay positive and create a game plan for finding our cat. I explained to my dad that Coco was probably being extra-independent that day and would show up later that evening. I detailed places that they should look in our neighborhood and tactics for finding out if anyone knew where Coco was. Despite all of this, my father was not convinced that Coco would turn up, he was too disconcerted by the disappearance, so I ended the phone call with the promise that I would come home for the weekend to be with the family, but I was unnerved as well.

The next day, when I pulled into the driveway at my home, my father was waiting to help me unload my car. After putting my bike in the basement I turned to my father and asked him how he was doing. Coco still had not shown up, all but confirming my father’s fears, and so we both began to cry into each other’s shoulders as we embraced. Through tears and choked words we did our best to console each other. Over that weekend there were many tears shed over the loss of our beloved family member, who never showed up again, that weekend or any other.

Over those initial days of grief and the following months’ moments where we thought we had found him but had our hopes dashed by the realization that we hadn’t, the demon that I spoke of before manifested itself through the constant reinforcement of the fact that Coco was indeed gone. That loss, and the sorrow that surrounded it, deeply impacted my life. It played a major role in building that Winter quarter following the loss to be one of, if not the, hardest and most emotionally difficult times of my life. One of the most valuable tools that meditation teaches the practitioner is to respond instead of react to a situation, to take a step back and breathe. That lesson seemed to be lost to me during that quarter. It took me quite a long time to find the door out of that emotional prison and when I did, I did not emerge unscathed. While it may seem overdramatic to characterize the loss of a cat as contributing to such emotional and mental turmoil, I say that it was a cruel severing of the love I felt for my Coco and that loss played a major role in shattering my stability amongst difficult situation.

Now that almost a year has passed since Coco’s disappearance I will definitely say that the biggest lesson I learned is that there are no shortcuts. There was no button to immediately erase my struggles and return to unfettered joy. The only way I overcame those challenges was by being there with them, working through them, engaging with them, and doing my best to apply lessons and tactics I knew very well could help me, but that seemed to be hard to reach (like responding instead of reacting). That process was one of great suffering, but now that I have hindsight the only thing that I can do is be grateful for what it taught me and do my best to learn from the mistakes I made in approaching that sorrow and those challenges.

I love you Coco,

Jarod Contreras

Call for comments:

Have you ever faced a loss that deeply impacted your life? If so, what was it (if you feel comfortable telling) and how did you overcome it? What did you learn from the process?


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