by Andrew Scal
When I was young, fear was a strong influence on many aspects of my life. I’ve since come to understand that many people go through this, and that as a part of our development we learn how to overcome everyday fears. But it took me a long time, and I needed the help of another person.
In my junior year of college in Boston, I adopted a cat. It wasn’t a well thought out idea — especially since I lived in a school dormitory! Fortunately I had a single room, and Neebo, as I called her, was perfectly happy there.
She would acknowledge and greet visitors, but was utterly devoted to me. Just having her sit on my lap and purr as I petted her was soothing.
As I graduated and moved on to New York, Neebo went with me. She never complained, was always waiting for me when I came home, and came whenever I called her. When times were tough we shared ham sandwiches until I could afford cat food. In the mid-80s I decided to go abroad for a year to work in Japan.
I arranged for Neebo to stay with an old friend in Brooklyn. About three months after I arrived in Tokyo I got a phone call from my friend: Neebo was not taking this change well. She took every opportunity to escape, wasn’t eating, and seemed quite disturbed. I had decided to stay in Japan for a while, so we made arrangements to ship her to me. She
arrived, and after a few days we quickly resumed our life together.
After a couple years I noticed Neebo licking a sore on her abdomen. As months went by, the sore became an ugly wound. I avoided taking her to the veterinarian because, what if she had something serious or terminal? I dreaded losing her more than anything else at the time.
One day my good friend, Kathy, noticed Neebo licking her wound. “Andrew” she said “I think it would be a good idea if you took Neebo to the vet and had that checked out.” She didn’t scold me or point out that I was endangering my beloved cat, she just told me what I ought to do. And so I did.
Neebo did not live much longer. The vet told me her form of cancer was fatal even before symptoms arose, which slightly assuaged my guilt.
Kathy and I are still friends, she and her husband in Washington, my wife and I in San Francisco. I often remind her of that day and what it did for me. 25 years later, I have never let fear stop me from doing something I know I have to do. That’s the lesson I took from Kathy’s words that day in Tokyo, and it has served me well time and time again.