“NO! We are NOT getting a kitten!” I insisted.
“But Mommy, he’s so CUTE! And he already loves me!!” cried my equally insistent six year old daughter Julie, who’d spotted the prospective adoptee earlier that day.
That’s all we needed. Another fuzz ball to fall head over heels for, only to have our collective hearts smashed to smithereens when it died.
Don’t get me wrong. I adore cats. But after losing five of them in a row to feline leukemia several years earlier (a condition very much like the human AIDS virus), I vowed I’d never have another one. It hurt too much to say goodbye.
I considered the matter settled until my husband Ralph tossed in his two cents worth, also voting to adopt. With both of them chipping away at me I didn’t stand a chance.
To halt the onslaught of propaganda, I went to the animal shelter to take a look at the kitten. Based on reports from his eager spin doctors, I expected him to have the beauty of a pure bred Himalayan.
Instead, he was a short haired, skinny gray tabby, and not a very cute one at that.
What he lacked in appearance, he made up for in charm. Purring like a riding mower, he nuzzled my cheeks, batted playfully at my curls, and poked my warm nose with his cold one. But what closed the deal were his unnervingly clear jade-green eyes. The moment he clamped his unwavering gaze on me, I was as powerless as an alien receiving a telepathic command from the mother ship.
“I’ll take him” I said to the attendant, before I could stop myself.
So much for no more cats…famous last words.
On the drive home I collected my wits and coolly informed the kitten that he was Julie’s pet, not mine. I wasn’t interested in having a cat, or even being friends with one. It was nothing personal. I just couldn’t afford the emotional investment. I’d dump food and water into his bowls, and change his litter box, but he wasn’t to expect any more out of me than that.
I could have saved my breath. I was too stubborn to admit it at the time, but he had me at “meow”.
Our newest family member quickly let it be known that despite my little speech that he alone was in charge of deciding who he belonged to.
To Julie’s dismay and my horror, he picked me.
He was also quite adept at choosing his own name. We’d decided to call him “Figaro” after Minnie Mouse’s kitten.
Our selection was not a hit. The first time I tried it out on him, he stared at me as though I’d lost my mind.
“Mommy I don’t think he likes his name. He looks mad.”
I tried it again. No response.
I tried an old standby.
“Here kitty, kitty, kitty!”
Then Ralph hollered out from the bedroom “Here puss, puss, puss!”
The cat nearly broke his neck scrambling around the corner.
From that day forward, he was “PussCat”.
A few weeks after his arrival, Julie and I were bedridden with the flu. As much as we tried to discourage him, PussCat kept a constant vigil over his feverish charges. Curling up alongside my neck, he patted my face with his soft little paws, lulling me to sleep with his rhythmic purring. After I dozed off to dreamland, he slipped into Julie’s room, where he managed to keep a fidgety first grader in bed. So long as PussCat was in the bed, she’d rest quietly…a miracle. Florence Nightingale could have learned a thing or two from our four-legged nurse.
Over time our scrawny, non-descript kitten has become a radiant picture of lazy feline health. His idea of exercise consists of wandering fifteen paces or so, yawning, and flopping to the floor like a bean bag. A trip to the litter box and a subsequent self administered bath are usually all the physical exertion needed bring on a three hour nap. My father jokingly remarked that if PussCat were human, his official occupation would be “surface tester”.
As a result of inertia, PussCat has developed a fuzzy, golden paunch that drapes beneath his belly, swaying to and fro like a pendulum as he walks. Although adorable, and altogether kissable, the additional appendage tends to botch his dismounts from the bed or couch. When he jumps, the forward momentum propels his paunch forward, then backward, where it slaps against the inside of his back legs, often toppling him to the floor like an albatross. After a staggering fight for balance, he haughtily lifts his chin and assumes a dignified stroll, regally dismissing the peasants who dared chuckle at his unfortunate display.
Of course there are a lot of mature, pampered kitties who share PussCat’s struggle with pudge. But our kitty’s saggy tummy was special; it possessed healing powers.
Like many people in their forties, I began losing an assortment of loved ones to death…grandparents, aunts, uncles, even friends. The end of the line is an irrefutable fact of life, but there are some people who are so cherished that they become irreplaceable…like my maternal grandmother. Despite having great parents, Grandma was the center of my world from the day of my birth, my best friend, confidant, and measuring stick for all that I did or aspired to. The day the doctor diagnosed her with probable Alzheimer’s disease was one of the darkest days of my life.
Little by little she drifted further and further into a world where I couldn’t reach her, and I tried steeling my heart for the inevitable. Yet it wasn’t until after she passed away, that I realized the enormity of the void in my heart, one that no one else could fill but my grandmother. I was acutely depressed, barely able to put one foot in front of the other, sleeping long hours, missing work, and avoiding family and friends. I couldn’t find the strength to rise above the suffering. Despite medications, and grief therapy, I was drowning. My family was frustrated, and scared. They weren’t alone.
So was I.
Then one afternoon I was napping on the sofa, when a streak of clanging gray tore by me, nearly startling me to death.
When my heart resumed beating, I threw off my quilt and followed the shrieks of laughter emanating from Julie’s room. Demanding an explanation was a waste of time as she had collapsed into convulsive giggles, all the while the wailing streak burned tracks around the living room.
JINGLE, JANGLE, JINGLE, JINGLE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
My daughter had tied a huge sleigh bell around PussCat’s belly so as he ran, it whacked against his back legs and paunch like a triangle. No matter how he moved, the offending racket chased him like a pack of wolves. After I managed to corner and free my poor traumatized baby, he shot under the bed to safety, and I cackled until my sides ached.
Laughter, a sound that had rarely passed through my lips for weeks bubbled up like a fountain, bursting through the thick fog of pain that had enveloped me like a shroud. I’d forgotten how wonderful it was to feel good…to allow myself to feel something other than misery. A small, silly animal and an ornery kid unwittingly gave me the jolt I needed to swing the bat again, and work harder to rejoin a world I’d all but given up on…to heal.
It’s clear that PussCat didn't just wander into my life. Someone knew I needed him. PussCat is one of my greatest blessings, one I can’t imagine living without.
And to think, I didn’t want a cat.
Famous last words.