My mom died unexpectedly, 10 days before I moved to New York City to begin working on my MBA at Columbia University.
I had left Cincinnati—where I’d been living and working—and moved the 200 miles to my hometown of Barnesville, Ohio, where my parents still lived, for a few months’ vacation before graduate school.
I was very close to my mom. She died young—at the age of 50. The last 15 years of her life were very difficult, because over that time a degenerative disease slowly and painfully destroyed her body. There had been numerous times we’d thought there was a high probability that she was about to die. But this had not been one of those times.
After she died, I spent the next few days helping to plan the funeral arrangements, host out-of-town visitors, and deal with all the other business that a loved one’s death creates.
Then, after the funeral was over and the guests had left our house and our town, I turned my attention back to arrangements for graduate school and the move.
Now here I was, on a hot August night, alone in my new 9th-floor studio apartment at Riverside and 109th on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. It was my first night in New York City.
It was after midnight. I had my windows open, and my apartment was filled with the soundscape of the urban night: cars careening by, people yelling, the occasional cadenza of horns or sirens. This nocturnal cacophony was a shock to my system, and it reminded me in no uncertain terms that I was far away from everything and everyone I knew.
And then I heard one more sound—a sound that cut through the other noise as a great opera singer’s voice cuts through an orchestral accompaniment.
A lone cat began to meow.
This was a distressed, mournful meow. If you are a cat-person, as I am, then you will know exactly the type of meow I’m referring to. This was a cat who was lonely, or scared, or hungry, or thirsty, or in pain, or some combination of these.
This sound, especially juxtaposed against the noise of the unforgiving streets of Manhattan on a humid summer night, was heartbreaking.
My mom had loved cats, and I knew that if she could hear the sound of this poor cat crying, she would be as sad as I was. I thought of the lonely cat, who cried in desolation, and I thought of my mom and how much she had loved her cats and how much pain she’d had to endure for the past 15 years, and how I would never see her again, and I saw myself as a tiny, motherless speck in an ocean of humanity and concrete and expectation, and I knelt at the side of my new bed, and for the first time since my mom’s death, I cried.
Ranjit Souri (firstname.lastname@example.org) teaches classes in improvisation and essay writing in Chicago.