SNIFF NOTES: What now?


I didn’t expect the house to be so quiet. I knew it would be a little strange, but this is almost cacophonous in its silence.

When I helped Lilly move into her dorm room last weekend – the younger of my two girls – I knew my life was going to change. Anna went off to school two years ago and she’s doing so well, I couldn’t be prouder. I knew Lilly will flourish just like her sister did.

Being a single mom was so tough. There were some days I really didn’t think I was going to make it, but somehow the three of us battled through and came out on the other side and I have two very strong, intelligent young women who I am not only proud to call my daughters, but also honored to have as friends.

It’s just.

What do I do now? Sure, I’ve got work and it’s good and I’ve got friends there, but for the last 20 years, my true purpose in this life has been to care for my kids and make sure they had what they needed and that they were okay.

Some days I catch myself just standing in one of their bedrooms, looking around. It’s kind of skeletal. Nothing of them really remains. Remnants from when they were younger, sure. Stuffed animals and a few dolls and childhood trappings, but the essence of them, I know, is really somewhere else.

Can you believe I leave the television on that ridiculous Kardashian show just to make it feel like they’re still here?

I know it’s crazy and yet.

Here I am. Just me. Not really sure who to be anymore.

Weeks pass and I’m working myself into what I think may be a serious depression and I try to feel valuable somewhere, somehow, and I absolutely treasure the phone calls I get from my girls when they tell me about their lives and their classes and the friends they’re making, but it just doesn’t feel the same. It’s different from when they were right next to me talking about that kind of thing.

I call in sick for the second day in a row even though I don’t have any real symptoms – I just can’t seem to get out of bed.

I’ve managed to turn on the coffee pot when I hear it. This odd sound. It’s almost like the cry of a baby, but not really, and I would swear it’s coming from my front bushes.

I’m in a horribly stained robe and worn out bedroom slippers when I open the front door. There, under the boxwoods beside my porch is the tiniest little kitten I think I have ever seen. The little thing looks up at the noise of the door and he doesn’t run. Not at all. In fact, he takes a hesitant step forward – one little paw on my porch.

I whisper, somewhat reverently I’m afraid, “Hey there, little one. Where did you come from?”

The meow this time is much louder and the steps toward me are far more certain. I can hear the purring already.

When the ball of orange fur gets to my feet, I swear he looks up, right into my eyes and something happens. It’s as though I can hear him ask, “Can you help me?”

And in that instant, on that somewhat chilly morning on my porch, I know my house won’t be quite so empty anymore.

I get him an appointment at the vet and find out he really is a “him.” I name him Oliver and I get him treated for fleas and purchase all sorts of supplies for him and that first night, I kid you not, he sleeps on a pillow by my head.

From that moment on, we’re pretty much inseparable.

He greets me at the door when I come home at night and we watch TV together (no more Kardashians for me!) and it all just somehow fits.

I become the lady at work that’s always showing pictures of her cat to all the other employees and I know it drives some of them crazy, but I just love little Oliver so much.

The girls say things like, “We were never allowed to have a pet growing up and now you have a cat???” But the first time they meet him, they fall as hard for him as I did.

And this time, when they pull out of the driveway to head back to school, I feel that same pang in my heart I always have, but just as I finish my sigh, Oliver hops up beside me and I know that even though my girls may be growing up and getting on with their lives, I’ll always have someone to care for.

Little Oliver, who arrived just when I needed him, seems just fine with it.


Jennifer Vanderau is the Publications and Promotions Consultant for the Cumberland Valley Animal Shelter and can be reached at [email protected]. The shelter accepts both monetary and pet supply donations. For more information, call the shelter at 263-5791 or visit the website CVAS also operates a thrift store in Chambersburg. Help support the animals at the shelter by donating to or shopping at the store

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