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 we learn how to overcome everyday fears as part of our development. 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.
When I graduated and moved 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 live in Washington, and my wife and I, in San Francisco. I often remind her of that day and what she did for me. Twenty-five 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.