Right In Front of Me

by Noelle Sterne

Numb, I sat in the car next to David. It was still dark out and we’d been up all night. But I felt no fatigue. I felt nothing. In my lap I held the precious small body wrapped in the towel from his bed, and I stared straight ahead and couldn’t speak.

Earlier in the evening, our beloved cat of ten years had had an accident. I was stirring a pot on the stove and heard a horrible crash. I rushed over, my stomach hollow. Timmy was on the floor, bloody and whimpering, glass all around him. 

David quickly put a blanket on a clear spot on the floor and I carefully lifted Timmy and placed him on it. Then David quickly looked up 24-hour emergency vet services—by now it was 11—and got on the phone. But one after another yielded only endless rings. 

I blotted the blood off Timmy as gently as I could and offered water to him, but he refused and kept gasping for breath. I kept murmuring to him that it would be all right, but in my gut I knew otherwise. I watched in horror as his gasps came slower and finally stopped. 

Still unbelieving, my face frozen, I went to the bedroom and pulled the soft towel from his bed. David and I wrapped him in it. 

David suggested we take him to the local ASPCA. They would know what to do, he said. I nodded, feeling paralyzed. None of this was real. Timmy was waiting for us at home at the door. 

Sitting in the car next to David, I kept waiting to awaken from the horrible dream. But I couldn’t deny the motionless weight in my lap.

David parked and asked if I wanted to come in. He said it might be good to see the homeless kittens, maybe even bring one home. Shaking my head, and in dry-eyed anguish, I handed him the bundle and sat like a stone in the car. 

I couldn’t bear to think of a replacement. Couldn’t even think of any ritual. For closure, they advise. But it would just add to my agony. 

The memory of how we found him rushed in. We were looking at apartments in a different part of town, and an orange-and-white striped kitten wandered in. He followed us, cavorting through the empty rooms. We asked the realtor about him. “No name tag,” she said. “No chip or ID.” 

He ran in circles around us, as if he was trying to get our attention. David and I looked at each other and didn’t have to say a word. We both nodded. When we’d finished our conversation with the realtor, David took the kitten in his arms and brought him the car. I held him on my lap on the ride home. Like I held him this early morning in the blanket on my lap.

Timmy had given us such love! Such loyalty! Such fun! He’d greeted me at the door with great excitement when I came home, scratched on my leg for food at predictable times, snuggled on the sofa with me during television shows. He’d followed me around everywhere. 

I couldn’t face going back to the apartment without looking forward to his eager greeting. 

As I sat alone in the car, staring out into the gray light, reliving these memories, honey and poison at once, my mind whirred with the night’s events. Agonized questions arose and self-recriminations slammed. If I’d only watched him more closely. . .  not turned my back to check the stove at that instant . . . called a vet sooner . . . . 

Why, Lord, why?

The sadness rose, a geyser from deep inside suffusing my entire being. It gained strength, and I couldn’t stop the sobs. I gave in, alternately shaking and moaning loudly.

As the weeping and cries subsided, I felt in my handbag for a tissue. The morning light was dawning. I blew my nose, and something made me look up. A car had parked in front of ours. 

My eyes riveted on its license plate: “I AM.”

The message was unmistakable, and its perfection made me sob heavily again. This was the reminder I needed: the perfect car in the perfect spot. This was my reassurance at that moment that God was here. That famous Bible passage emerged, where God says to a questioning Moses, “I AM That I AM” (Exodus 3:14). Moses was satisfied. As I now was. I held onto this statement and kept repeating it to myself. 

My tears dried and my grief softened to great gratitude. That license plate had been placed there perfectly at that awful moment. It told me that God was always here, wherever I was, in every situation.

A neighbor in AA once remarked, “God is in the gutter too.” That sorrowful, early morning, God was in the street in the car ahead of me, right in front of me.

I saw David coming down the street and mopped my face. Maybe in a week or two, I’d suggest coming back and looking at the rescue kittens. 

© 2023 Noelle Sterne

Author Bio BIO: A lifelong writer, Noelle Sterne is also an editor, writing coach, workshop leader, academic mentor, and spiritual counselor for mainstream and academic clients. She has published many articles, stories, and poems in writing, literary, spiritual, and academic venues and contributes two monthly columns. With a PhD from Columbia University, she mentors graduate students yearning to complete their dissertations. Her handbook, Challenges in Writing Your Dissertation: Coping with the Emotional, Interpersonal, and Spiritual Struggles, was published by Rowman & Littlefield (2015). In her spiritual self-help book Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams (Unity Books, 2011), she helps readers release regrets and reach their lifelong yearnings. Honoring her own dream, she is completing her third novel. Please visit: https://www.trustyourlifenow.com