To my most beloved and fearless cat, Marleigh Christian-Free-Beyer. I always told you that I was going to give you a funeral and a eulogy. I wasn’t kidding.

When I tell people about Marleigh, “my cat that lives in Cleveland,” I’m almost always met with a confused look. I find myself explaining the situation when it would be so much easier to bark, “Listen, it’s complicated. We’re a non-traditional family. MYOB!”

I was bored one day back in 2006-ish and wanted to have random, fun experiences–perhaps I was trying to channel my inner Sal Paradise. However, since riding cross-country to California to pick grapes wasn’t an option at the time, I suggested to my then-boyfriend-now-husband, Free, that we go to a pet store to visit the animals that were up for adoption.

I had 100% NO interest in adopting an animal–to me, it was a mini-zoo where I could smile at the animals and feel bad for them, wistfully hoping of a better life for them with someone who wasn’t me, as I had never had my own pet and wasn’t really much of an animal person. Free interpreted this as me wanting a pet– and did he ever run with it. Days later, we were at the Western PA Humane Society looking for a friend to come and live with me at my lonely apartment.

You were out on the sun porch, staring off into the distance–plotting your next adventure? Or maybe you were lost in a memory of good times past. When you heard us put the kitty carrier down on the floor, you bolted from the porch and ran right into the carrier, as if to say, “Get me the hell out of this place.” You were far too pretty and classy to be in kitty lock down.

We had the best of times as roomies back in our adorable, Latrobe apartment. You taught me how to stalk birds, I taught you how to karaoke. Both of us were wild, hungry for adventure–but together, we balanced each other out and slowly began to settle into the comfort of family and friends. We basked in the halcyon days of our youth.

I want to say thanks for being there for me back in our bachelorette days. It was nice to have someone to come home to after a long day at work. You were the perfect conversationalist, listening intently and interjecting with a meow at just the right moment. You always knew just the right thing to say; and also when it was time to be quiet, pour a martini, and melt into the couch.

Thanks for always being brave enough to go into dark rooms to check for rapists after an evening of Law and Order SVU reruns freaked me out. You were always so much braver than I could ever hope to be.

That was you–brave– right up until the end, when you tried to tell us that you’d be fine and that we were fussing over nothing, even though we could see you trying to hide your pain and deterioration. And whether you liked it or not, those rascal dogs, Teddy and Franklin, unknowingly gave away your secret. It was obvious in the way they kept watch over you those last few days–how they snuggled close and gave you puppy kisses, and how on your last night on this Earth, they playfully tried to entice you to run around the yard with them, knowing your love for the outdoors and your longing for the days of your rebellious youth– carefree, roaming the Earth as you pleased, never knowing where the Universe would take you. Pure, unbridled freedom.

So as we bring you home in your little coffin and lay you to rest in the flower garden, right underneath Chuffer’s irises, I hope you know that you were loved and that you inspired two girls to live soulfully and wholly, no matter how difficult it may be and with full regard for a quest for an authentic life–to be able to look past the day’s imperfections and find beauty in the darkest corners of the life’s reach.

To some reading this, you were just a cat. But to those who are in tune with the Universe, their intuition, and the interconnectedness of our individual self to a the unified whole, they will understand why you were and always will be my spirit animal.

In the words of your namesake, Bob Marley, “Though the road’s been rocky, it sure feels good to me.”

Much love to you, Marface. You’re finally free.