..after a dip in a yogurt container
I’ve always been a cat person. I love animals of all sorts, but my affinity with cats has never been replicated with any other species. Their independence, their quirky personalities – even the ones with definite social anxiety or bad attitudes never cease to amuse me. Maybe in a way I identify with them – their tendency to get spooked by loud noises or unexpected movement, to spaz out with joy when out in the garden, to love a good cuddle, especially under the warm rays of a sunbeam. Cats are cool. Some more than others.
The four Asian exchange students who rented our house last summer were very sweet, if not the greatest housekeepers. They invited us over to traditional Korean meals. They gave us a gift when we got married. So when they said that a kitten had wandered in and they were taking care of it, we didn’t remind them of the no pet policy. We knew that they would soon be returning to Korea and Taiwan, and that their kitten would turn into ours, but we knew we’d figure it out. My husband was much less convinced of this than I, but I knew he’d come around.
We went over to mow the lawn and pull weeds when we met her. John said, “You’re going to melt.” And I did. She was tiny, all black with long white whiskers, a white v on her chest, and white boots on all four paws. She let me scoop her up and nuzzle her; she purred heartily at the attention. I knew she was a good cat, even at so young an age. She was, no surprise, full of fleas and earmites. I ran to the store and got treatments for her ailments, bathed her, cleaned her ears, all while trying to explain how to take care of her to the students whose English was not so great. They did not get the difference between kitten and cat, so I went back to the store to get her proper kitten food. “She is a kitten,” I explained, “Baby cat.”
“Kit-ten,” they repeated, nodding. I asked them if they had a name for her, and they said no.
“Maybe call her Kitty,” I suggested. When they repeated it, it sounded more like “Kittay,” which I preferred anyway. We always called her Kittay.
From then on, I really looked forward to going to the house to work in the garden. Almost every time I was there, she would bound out to help me. I would pull out weeds by their roots, clumps of dirt still clinging, and toss them into the grass. Kittay would wait, crouched low in hunter position, then pounce every time a new weed went flying by. Sometimes I’d grab her belly with my gloved hand and she’d latch on, gnawing gently on my index finger and jack-rabbit kicking my wrist.
Six months went by and it was time for our tenants to return to their homes across the Pacific and for us to move back into the house. “They’d better be looking for a home for that kitten,” my husband grumbled, but he knew as well as I did that she was already ours. On their moving day, one of the kids said to me, “You’ll take care of kittay?” and I nodded quickly, hoping John was not watching. We had a three year old cat already, the kind with a very bad attitude, but I figured he’d adjust. This little one was going to be a good influence on him.
Once we moved back into the house, we realized the full extent of our big cat, Das Boots’ neurosis. He kind of hated the kitten, but we could tell he secretly liked having a little feline company. He’d hiss and scratch her, but on more than one occasion I caught him sleeping with her tucked into him, the little spoon to his big one. They enjoyed a somewhat fragile peace.
Kittay and I, on the other hand, were close to inseparable. I work mostly from home, so she was with me a lot – laying on my lap as I worked at the computer. Watching with great interest as I made my lunch, and of course, staying close by when I worked in the garden, in case there were any weeds to catch. In the beginning I somehow convinced John to let her sleep with us. She would switch positions throughout the night; a little while wedged between our warm bodies, some time spent tucked behind John’s knees, and then my secret favorite would come early in the morning. She would need to be close to me, as close as possible to what she recognized as me, and so would crawl up to my head, scooping her skinny little body underneath my chin, laying cheek to cheek and purring like a motor boat. Of course it was not really possible for me to sleep like this, but I’d let her stay for a bit, because I loved her so much. I loved that she wanted to be that close to me, and I loved having her that close. Silly little kittay. Sweet baby girl. Then I’d lift her gently and put her outside of our room. I hated to do it, but she always forgave me quickly – ready to run off and start her day of butterfly chasing. A few hours later when I woke up, she would already have returned from her sunrise romp, looking up at me sleepily from her favorite blanket draped over her favorite chair in the living room.
The truth is, I worried always that something would happen to her. She made us so happy – such a little sprite – she took no time in melting John’s heart, less to capture mine, and even Das, who showed mostly disdain for her, had come to rely on her goofy antics for, at the very least, entertainment. The morning that she woke me up with her motor boat purring at 3:30 instead of 4:00am, I kissed her goodbye and closed the bedroom door, leaving her to start her morning routine a little early.
At 7:30 when I went downstairs and saw her blanket empty, my heart sank. I recovered quickly, thinking that she was just out enjoying the sunny morning. When she had not returned by noon, horrible thoughts raced through my mind.
She appeared in the basement, having come in through the cat door, around one in the afternoon. I knew right away that something was wrong, though she wasn’t bleeding. Her eyes told me something terrible was happening.
Then next four hours (really? was that it?) were a blur of vets and x-rays and oxygen and finally the unfathomable – she was gone. Blunt force trauma. Perhaps grazed by a car. Could have been kicked. My little girl, John’s little buddy. How could this have happened? She was curled up under my chin that morning. Now she was gone.
We all drew closer. Das stayed near to us, something he normally did not do. He brought us gifts – first moths, then unfortunately a baby bird. We forgave him for his murderous ways – he was confused but clearly sensed our sadness.
John and I treated each other tenderly – one would comfort while the other mourned, then vice versa. We proved to each other beyond any doubt that we were a good team. It was the greatest gift that wonderful little cat left us.
We buried her under the butterfly bush, a plot she would have chosen herself – to give her a perfect perch from which to stalk and a shady spot to nap the summer afternoons away.
I’m sure she won’t be the last kitten to cross our path, but she will always be remembered as a particularly special friend. Her time here was brief – she was just a year old – but she made a lasting impact in many ways. She was what I would like to be – a faithful companion, a comfort to those who knew her well, and unafraid to love unconditionally and unabashedly.
She will be missed and remembered forever.