It was the start of February and I was desperate to get away so, while snow rolled over the mountains, Andy and I packed our day packs to head out on a hike . . .
The only problem was that we could not open the door to leave because our kitten Lysander wanted to come, too. Wailing and rubbing his little body against the door, he was undoubtably begging to accompany us — though in his kitten mind, he desired a walk through the courtyard, a roam on the sidewalk, or a stroll through the park. Basically, Ly was not thinking about walking in the mountains.
“Should we take him?” I asked Andy and at that question, Ly knew he had won. Pausing in mid-tearful wail, he waited patiently for us to make our decision. Then — to encourage through little yips — he rubbed his back against our ankles before stretching his little paws up to our waists so that we could pick him up. All of this is well-rehearsed by him, you have to understand, in an effort to make him more appealing and ultimately convince us to slide his harness over his bitty head and body. “We did say we wanted to take him on more hikes this year,” I reminded Andy.
The truth was though in that moment it was not about Ly hiking — It was about me. I suddenly felt as if I could not leave without Ly — that I could not function without him — and so I froze, brimming with emotion that blurred heartbreak, confusion, anger, loss, madness, sanity, more.
This is because what was left unsaid (but understood) was why I could not leave Ly — I could not leave him because Paris had left me.
I hope to one day write about my girl — my child, my love, my world. I have opened and re-opened a page to start typing countless times but how to possibly put into words — to make you understand, to make you feel — how important and how pure and how beautiful Paris was . . . it is impossible. I do know as I type this — almost three months after she has passed, it does not get easier. In fact, each day is harder than it was before. People lied when they told me that it would get easier — They lied. The only aspect that gets easier is lying — lying and not caring that I lie to people. I am not okay, and Paris was not my dog — She was every part of me and the better parts of me. Without her, I am hollowed out — empty . . .
and so losing my Par is why I wanted to get away and go hiking this weekend . . .
and losing my Par is also why I could not leave Ly. I was terrified the moment he was out of my sight, Ly would find a way to leave me too. Plus, denying our son such simply pleasures that a walk can provide — when we were already going walking — felt intentionally cruel.
It is possible Andy understood what was left unspoken because he, too, lost Paris — Pari was his first dog, his first child. She and Ly — he always admitted — were the reasons he fell in love with me. “Alright,” Andy sighed. “Let’s take Ly . . . ”
And so I bent to scoop up our boy but in that moment I was lifting more — I held love and hope in my arms as I covered his kitten body in kisses and lightly cried into his fur . . .
and Ly was wide-eyed and truly smiling between eager chirps that, in his mind, lead us to the door . . .
and Andy slipped on Ly’s harness over his kitten sweater while whispering of adventure in his tiny ears . . .
I want to pause to mention Andy and I also have a daughter named Peach and while we wish we could bring Peach with us, she is not ready — nor would she enjoy the trip. Peach is our rescue cat with a sad and rough past before us. We adopted her exactly a year prior to this hike and, while she has made incredible bounds , Andy and I are both well-aware that leaving Peach to quickly nap in our bed is fulfilling every dream she could have for this day.
As the start of hiking in 2021 proved tricky for us with no parking options and closed national parks — our planned hike for this day was also impossible due to the Blue Ridge Parkway suddenly being closed so we diverted our plan to a noteworthy spot: George Washington National Forest’s Blue Ridge Tunnel.
- A little less than fives
- A low 470-foot elevation gain
- Level Two of Five difficulty
True, this hike is in no way a challenger; however, it fit the peaceful outing we wanted for Ly because this was only his second time on a trail. His first, you may remember, was at Virginia’s High Bridge where he bossed the longest recreational bridge in our state and one of the longest in America. This tunnel-hike was similar to that in both length and design (meaning it was ‘constructed’ — there were paved paths and man-man elements such as the bridge and the tunnel).
Not only was this a good starter trail for Ly but it was a location I’ve wanted to see because of the interesting history behind the tunnel . . .
According to a sign there, the tunnel was designed by a French immigrant then built primarily by Irish immigrant laborers between 1849 and 1859. Its purpose was to allow for railroad access to the Blue Ridge Parkway’s Afton Mountain. Sitting 700 feet below the surface, this tunnel stretched almost a mile long, making it the longest in America when it was built.
Later in 1950s, a gas corporation created huge bulkheads with the goal of storing propane in the tunnel; however, they soon removed those bulkheads because it prevented people from walking through (and let’s be honest — propane under a mountain isn’t that grand of a plan either).
The day was cool but not bitter and depending on which part of the mountain we were on, snow covered the ground. Ly’s eyes were wide and alert and despite the snow-covered path, he immediately begged to get down to explore on his own.
No doubt we will come back at some point but for now, the simple adventure meant more to Andy and me and hopefully Lysander . . .
For Ly, it was an opportunity to teach him about hiking so that one day he can accompany us on longer trails and even camps. Paris is the reason he is an extraordinarily cat — She taught him how to walk on a leash and explore the outdoors. It is because of her Andy and I long for the day when we can pull our hiking packs from the closet as Ly yaps with eagerness because it means we are heading into the forest together . . . and that will happen, but it takes time. Therefore, we want to hide outdoor aspects he may find scary and instead keep his wonder and excitement alive.
Ready for the drive home, I lifted our son from the ground and filled his ears with all the praise in the world.
“You’re such a brave boy!” I cooed as he mewed faintly and kneaded my arm in happiness.
“He always surprises me and does better than I expect,” Andy admitted, scuffing Ly, too.
And so we headed back to our car, knowing and cherishing that Ly is a special cat.
Yes, Ly is extraordinary because Paris was extraordinary and so maybe — when I look at our son — I can now see Paris live on inside of him. Maybe now I can see that my beloved Par did not fully leave me . . .