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Top Ten Things I Haven't Mentioned: #9, Fade to Noir

Almost two years ago I wrote about Bryce's security item, a pastel blue generic brand thermal blanket he dubbed "Noir" and gendered as female at the age of two. For whatever reason, he thought of his blanket as a cat, and the only cat whose name he knew was the cat he toddled after at my mom's house; she'd adopted him from me by default when I left for college. Noir the blanket has never spent a night away from Bryce. She has become tattered and torn, strings trailing from her limp, worn, faded cat-blanket body. She has a scent that Bryce relies on as he cradles her in his sleep and holds her to face while he scuffles through the morning hours. When one of us sneaks her into the washer and dryer while Bryce is away at school, he angrily and desperately scolds us when he greets her that evening: "Hey, what happened to Noir's softness? This doesn't feel like Noir!" Years ago we caught ourselves referring to Noir as "her" even when Bryce was out of earshot. Even as I write this I struggle to think of her as anything other than another member of the family.

Two nights ago as I took out my stress whipping the cake mix for Bryce's sixth birthday party the following day, John walked in to the kitchen and in an attempt to dampen the potential hysteria whispered "we can't find Noir, have you seen her?" The house was turned upside-down in the ensuing search for Noir the blanket, the first time she'd been truly lost since Bryce was three. Delaying the emotional turmoil, I grabbed the blanket at the top of Bryce's closet, the faded yellow generic brand thermal blanket that, in an oddly eery twist, used to be MY security blanket. Bryce coped with it all by crafting an agreement with us that we would search high and low until Noir had been found. He was willing to settle for my old blanket as long as he could refer to it as "Noir's cousin, Noir," and between that band-aid and the excitement of the next day's swashbuckling pirate party festivities pillaging through his mind, the night was as drama-free as we could have hoped. As we waited with anticipation for Bryce to fall asleep, John made a comment about how sadly fitting it would be if Noir disappeared right before Bryce's sixth birthday, after months of sidelong glances at her tattered edges and growing holes, the two of us silently wondering how much longer Noir could endure being the recipient of Bryce's emotional intensity. Perhaps she'd finally been worn down to nothing and had simply vanished into thin air having dutifully and sufficiently served her noble purpose.

This summer, the original Noir -- the (male) cat who graciously shared his name with Noir the blanket -- also vanished into thin air one night during a storm just months after my mom and stepdad moved into a new house where his jungle cat role playing had to take place in more unfamiliar territory. We assumed he'd been hit by a car, but his body was never found and none of the neighbors reported seeing or hearing him. It's possible he was attacked by an animal in the undeveloped land behind their house. It's possible he was sick and wandered off to die without having to face the dreaded veterinarian. Whatever the case, from our perspective, one day Noir was there, happily purring and head butting his humans the way I'd taught him when he was a kitten by holding him at eye level and talking to him all day long, and the next day he was just.... gone. I had developed an allergy to cats during college and so he'd stayed with my mom all these years, but when I visited I occasionally threw caution to the wind and let him greet me with his roaring purr engine sound track and his slick black face aimed at my cheeks, then the soft THUD! of contact, the cheapest therapy available. It seems grossly unfair that we didn't get a goodbye head-butt from Noir -- unfair and profoundly sad after 14 years of knowing him.

When Noir the blanket went missing the other night, I thought it was the final heart-wrenching parallel between the cat who'd always happily taken on the emotional intensity of a decade of major change in my life and the blanket Bryce had latched onto in infancy as a place to curb and comfort the emotional intensity that makes him who he is. I was amazed that he accepted my old blanket as a one-night substitute, but I knew the sadness I felt at Noir's mysterious absence was just the tip of the iceberg of the distress and heartbreak I knew Bryce would feel if she weren't found. After Bryce's birthday party yesterday, John was cleaning up the game room and found Noir the blanket under piles of legos and puzzle pieces. After the celebration and lecture about keeping her on his bed so she'd stay safe in the future, John and I heaved a sigh of relief. A few weeks ago Bryce had come to John with Noir the blanket held gingerly before him, having decided that the trailing pieces of this tattered, cherished being should be surgically removed. When I'd come home from work that night, they'd both told me she'd had her long pieces cut off. John told me after the drama of losing and finding her again that he had put the cut off pieces into the box of Bryce's baby keepsakes. "Oh thank God," I thought, "when she really is gone, at least we'll have some remnants for closure." Hopefully it won't happen as suddenly as Noir the cat's disappearance, but maybe now we're all more prepared to say goodbye.