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Tag: boy and cat

“will he make it home?”

will he make it home

dispatch from 02139 (in which the furriest member of our traveling troupe seems to be fading before our eyes, and we all wonder — silently — if we can please, please get him home to the garden he believes is his own personal stalking ground…)

from the start, there was one condition to the then-fifth-grader’s willingness to up and plant himself anew in the cobbled city by the river charles: “i’m not going without turkey baby. either turkey baby comes or i don’t. period, the end,” the adamant one declared.

and so it was.

(turkey baby, for the uninitiated, is our long-beloved cat; TB, short for the breathlessly hyphenated moniker: turkey-baby-meow-meow-choo-choo-hi-cat-bye-cat-space-ship-baseball-hockey cat, a name acquired by an imaginative young lad’s stringing together of his serial obsessions. that lad, now a college kid, long ago — when he was four and the cat was but six weeks — carried home the mewing ball of black-and-gray striped fur in the cardboard hollows of an otherwise vacated six-pack of icehouse beer. so begin legends, right?)

back to cat tale:

yes, on that pre-cambridgian day when cat allegiance was proclaimed and etched in promise, so ended any scattered thoughts of whom we might appoint custodian of cat whilst we ditched east to 02139. no foster dwellings for Le Fat Cat.

he was stickin’ with his People.

alas, unbeknownst to the four-pawed fellow, he was — for 11 months — leaving behind his leafy life along lake michigan, trading it for what would amount to third-floor incarceration, with nary a skittering critter to pounce, and no patch of grass in which to writhe ecstatic.

wasting little time, we began to explore the myriad modes of transport. or rather, I — being the sole coordinator of these nitty grits of daily life — began exploring how to shlep fat cat 1,000 miles from where he’d   long and blissfully roamed.

transport, mind you, is a daunting thing for a cat who’d not do well with sitting tight (say, confined to the airline regulation 18-by-11-inch satchel), a cat who had not spent a single day of his existence bound beneath a roof.

our fat ol’ cat, you see, was the original ramblin’ man. from farm fields he did come, and unto farm fields he would forever roam (admittedly, our cat has vivid imagination and must have imagined hydrangea bush to be his rows of corn, prickly rambling rose to be his blackberry brambles, etcetera, etcetera…i wonder if he imagined me his scarecrow?).

didn’t take more than a minute to rule out packing ol’ TB in the back of the little black sedan for two days, interrupted — somewhere deep in pennsylvania — for one mere night’s respite, with unbound motel acreage.

so it fell to me, thank you, to swoop him through o’hare international airport, no longer the world’s busiest, perhaps, but busy enough for me, honestly, when weaving through its landscape with my not-so-cheery cat. (remind me to retell some day how he nearly leapt from my arms in Terminal 1 when the nice TSA fellow musta figured it’d be funny to have me unzip the unsuspecting traveler’s little travel bag and mr. cat clambered, trembling, into the crook of my arm before spying — and nearly ejecting onto — his escape route.)

stuffed under the airplane seat in front of me, in a jazzy little black zipper bag profoundly doused in oil of lavender (prescribed for calming powers — for me? for him? what really does it matter?), there he mewed, until the mews turned into MEOOOOOWs that, if not for the deafening decibels of airbus turbines, might have prompted the vast population of flight 1477 to turn and clobber me for disturbing their celestial peace. (and never mind the eyerolls from the chick two seats away on the aisle, the chick with low-rider jeans that rode so low my once-innocent fifth-grader quickly grasped all there is to know about the rise and fall of the female derriere.)

suffice it to say, as i’ve said here before, that the short flight from chicago to boston was a messy one, one that i sported billboard-like across my chest as i de-boarded said plane. and let me add that it’ll be a cold day in hades before i ever again skitter onto a plane with scaredy cat in tow (snazzy black cat sack or not).

for all the troubles getting here, though, there’ve been umpteen-million times when that ol’ cat did just what the doctor ordered: in his own furry way, he made the young boy feel like his whole world had not turned tipsy topsy.

that fine old cat curls on the boy’s bottom bunk by the hour. snuggles beside the kid as they both soak up the $159-a-month cable-sports package. rubs his little head against our shins when it’s vittles time again, and always seems to thank us when we oblige.

but, slowly, and incessantly, signs of trouble cropped up here and there. most often in the deep dark of night, with a howl to wake the block. i’ve come to know the guttural bellow as the uh-oh-move-now-or-else-you’ll-spend-the-wee-hours-scrubbing-the-landlord’s-rug meow.

i’ll spare you details other than to mention that, these days, we could probably count the poor guy’s ribs, and any minute now we’re heading to a vet on the far side of the city, just to figure out what lurks within.

the other night, stroking not-so-fat cat’s stripes, the boy who loves his cat, the boy who’s known the cat — called him “my little brother” — his entire living breathing days (the cat’s been around going on 16 years, the sixth grader, a mere 11), looked up and put words to what i’d been wondering of late:

“will he make it home?” he wanted to know.

and so do i.

the sadness of that question hung in the air, unanswered but a minute before i bumbled into some half-wit band-aid of, “oh, i think so….”

i sure hope so.

i can’t quite figure out how we’d do it any other way. i could not leave that cat, not in any form, here where we won’t be for too much longer. i can only imagine him forever residing in our garden. even if that means, yes, a few feet down.

why, back home, we’ve a whole cemetery for the critters we have known and loved, if only for a few days or even a few hours, in the case of one rather mangled baby bunny we tried to rescue. (p.s. to wordsmiths, i know that’s redundant but i am making the point that the wee bunny was maybe three inches long, new of fur, and new to the world at the moment when we found him, panting, breathing, barely holding on to life. but we nursed him still on that tried-and-true formula of pipettes of carnation condensed milk from the little red-and-white can that all but promises curative powers.)

i’m sure most minds wouldn’t leap to the task of trying to figure out such things, but i’ve been strapped with the sort of brain that never sits still in the moment, and always leaps round the bend and four mountain climbs ahead. and so i think too many things, untangle knots before they’re noosed.

we’ll see what light the vet can shed. and believe me, it’s a might load of worry that gets me to dial up a slew of strangers, searching for a D.V.M. with appointment slot and inclination to take on a sad new case. for the first time since that messy flight back in august, i will stuff mr. TB cat back into snazzy bag, head out into the howling winds (for spring has temporarily ditched these parts and we’re back to winter once again), and await the diagnosis.

could just be old age, in which case i’ll hedge my bets and wager that i’ll get the old cat back to the haunting ground he knows and surely searches for in his purr-stoked dreams.

or else it’ll be something more nettlesome, and hard to cure.

these are the sad truths of making room in your traveling troupe for furry, purring heartmates. we would not leave home without our trusty cat, and by hook or by crook, we’ll not go back without him.

there is only one true answer to my sweet boy’s question: you betcha, he’ll make it home.

has there been a long loved furry (or hard-shelled) friend you count among your dearest inner circle? has he or she or it (for hermaphrodite worms might be your choice in pet) stuck with you for the long haul, and could you imagine your days without the fine one’s ways? 

starting the goodbye

that old cat, a country cat, has been a feisty cat since the day he sprang forth from the icehouse beer cardboard six-pack in which he’d mewed the whole way home.

he was a kitten then, a wee striped thing, and he’d come to fill a gaping hole in our little family.

you see, we’d had our hearts broken time and time again back in the baby-hoping years, wishing and praying for a someone to carry home someday for our little one, who’d turned from 1 to 2 to 3 to 4, and still was all alone, without a someone to share a room, to fight over books in the back seat, to venture off into our tiny back yard and spend the afternoon making like it was the amazon jungle, or the dark side of the moon. or, heck, looking down the road (and that’s what mamas do), there was no one yet whose hand he’d hold on the someday when i die.

fact was, there’s only so much breaking a heart can do, and then it’s time to wipe away the tears, make peace with what you’ve got rather than long for what you’ve not, and, well, when talking to a friend, a friend with many cats, and more on the way, you nod and murmur, “hmm, maybe…..”

and then you rejoice at the news that your kitten has been born. you wait six weeks, and when the father of your four-year-old is out of the country, for heaven’s sake, you drive out to the farm to meet the furry little fellow.

and, oh, you feel your heart go thwallop. and you see your little boy melt down onto the floor to meet what will pass for, um, a brother.

and you tuck the little ball of stripes into the nearest carry-all you can find, in this case the cardboard six-pack left from someone’s weekend beers.

and home you drive.

and out you let those stripes.

and he hightails it straight for your toes.

so many toes he charges for, he nibbles, he pierces with his razor kitten teeth, you hear these actual words come from the mouth of the father of your child, once he’s back from faraway country: “either he goes, or i go,” you hear him say. (and deep inside you snicker because you know forever more you’ve got one fine yarn to tell.)

and of course neither the ferocious toe-smitten kitten nor your mate heads for any door.

and you grow to love said cat. you catch your little one curled up with him, stroking him, making houses for him, trying to coax him into his kindergarten backpack.

you screech when said kitten leaps from tree limbs onto rooftops and when, uh oh, he can’t get down. and you hold your breath as the one who issued he-goes-or-i-go declaration hauls out the ladder and climbs precariously to the little rascal’s rescue. again and again and again.

and you walk through city alleys, crying, calling his name, every time he goes and gets lost for days on end, stuck in tight spots and dark cellars where, egad, drugs are sold. (you discover the latter after you’ve tiptoed through the labyrinthine basement blackness with the helpful chap who gangbangs on the side.)

oh, lord, that cat puts you through the wringer. and you love him more with every cock-eyed hair-raising chapter.
and then, some 13 years pass, and the cat you never could contain, the cat that roams all night, and leaves body parts on your doorstep, he slows down one summer. loses weight. is hardly his feisty self.

you fear he’s slurped too many murky waters from the birdbath, darn it. or perhaps he swallowed one too many critters from the tall-grass jungle.

and the boy who once carried him home, who stroked him, and cooed to him the whole long way, the boy who loved to tell the story of his name, how he came to be turkey baby choo-choo hi cat bye cat, the boy whose legs are now so long they spill beyond the borders of the bed (though the cat finds room to curl there, each and every morning), he is the first one to crumble when you point out the cat’s all bony just beneath his fur.

when you point out how he barely leaves the hollowed-out spot beneath the old roses in the garden, where he now spends hours napping. or is it that he’s feeling rather ill, and just can’t muster what it takes to up and stumble toward the house?

all at once, you all realize how time has passed and this chapter might be coming toward a close. how this cat that carried you from all alone and four to seventeen and very much a real-live brother has shared some fine adventures, stories to be told forevermore. and how, along the way, you’ve come to count on that rare breed of loyalty a boy and cat can surely share.

and you realize that even if it’s not the very end, the goodbyes begin in measured spoonfuls.

and so for a whole hour one summer morning, you sit on bricks, beside the spot where he’s gone limp, you stroke your blessed furry cat, you honor him with gratitude that’s deep, will last forever. you whisper words to him, tell him he was mighty in his glory days, showed what cats are made of, hauling home whole herds of chipmunk parts, and mice tails too, fierce hunter.

you consider the gentle side of that ol’ cat, how he climbed upon you in the morn, pushed his paws into your chest, as if kneading breadloaves, one paw after another, sure sign of cat love.

you think back on all the times when that cat, he leapt to your rescue. how when you were sick or sad, he always had a knack for climbing in your lap, for licking you with that scratchy sand-paper tongue of his. uncanny, how the cats smell hurt rising from the ones they love.

and with a cat–or any creature, after all, maybe even with a caterpillar if you name it, feed it, let it out for so-called walks (though more likely bends-and-stretches)–love’s a two-way street.

and, oh, what with college round the bend, and all this slo-mo cat decline, it seems we’ve come to the part of the story where the grace-filled parting starts unspooling.

where we gather up all the hours and the days of our entwined lives, where we sift through the parts that make us laugh out loud, and the ones where we held our breath and begged the heavens for his safe return.

love is like that towards the end. if you’re blessed to see it coming. if you’re given long slow mornings where you have a chance to look into each other’s eyes and hearts, say thank you for the bond that will not break, the bond that got us through a dark place, the pawing at the door so many times, when in on cat feet crept the next best thing to a little brother, one who never fought for books, but did play along in the amazon jungle.

that old cat is moving slow now. and we are mustering the start of our holy blessed vespers, the sacred rites of thank you and thank you before the last goodbye.

not always do we get the chance to tell the stories one more time, to whisper thank you and good bye. i know too well how suddenly sometimes death can come, and we’re left gasping. without goodbye. i know too that cat or dog or bird love is real. and its loss leaves a gaping wound. hopefully that old cat has a few romps left. he’s the cat my boys grew up with, he’s the cat who’s made us laugh and cry. and one thing’s certain, there’ll be more of both. have you been blessed to whisper long goodbyes? or were you too cut short?